Ku-ring-gai’s built heritage

Ku-ring-gai as a whole is of national and state heritage significance because of:

  • the outstanding quantity, quality, depth and range of its twentieth century housing, including examples by many of Australia’s prominent twentieth century architects; and
  • the evidence it provides of twentieth century town planning and conservation philosophies.

In 1997 this led to the National Trust recommending that 27 precincts be classified as Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) – more than any other local government area in NSW.

Fighting to retain our Heritage Conservation Areas (HCAs)

The process of putting in place adequate HCAs in Ku-ring-gai remains, unfortunately, a slow one.

In 2002 Council was about to adopt a significant number of HCAs (then called Urban Conservation Areas) when, in May of that year, the State Labor government suddenly withdrew its delegation to Council to proceed with any HCAs, so as to allow unrestricted rezoning for increased residential densities, i.e. the demolition of Ku-ring-gai’s traditional homes for the construction of apartment blocks.

It was not until 2010, and once rezoning planning instruments for apartment blocks were in place, that the State government returned to Council its HCA delegation. In 2011 Council staff decided to “update” its HCA studies. However, Council staff retained two separate HCA consultants – one for the South areas, of Roseville to Gordon, and a different one for North areas, of Pymble to Wahroonga. In addition, the terms of the instructions for the north areas were different to those for south areas: unlike the latter, the former required criteria to be applied in such a way as to minimise the extent of HCAs, and favour potential future development. The inevitable results were minimal HCAs in the North areas and, understandably, community concern.

In March 2011, the National Trust wrote an urgent letter to Council, stating that it was deeply concerned at the very different approach taken by the two consultants for the North and South Study Areas, and that the dramatically different treatment of the two Study Areas will require considerable further examination. The National Trust prepared a map graphically illustrating the contrasting outcomes.

To address these deficiencies Councillors resolved to obtain two separate studies by external heritage planners. These studies identified appropriate HCA outcomes in the north areas, and these were placed on public exhibition in 2015 and 2017. Notwithstanding this, Council proceeded in 2018, to adopt only some of the exhibited HCA areas. In part, Council bowed to some objectors claiming that HCAs involve heritage listing, prevent alterations or additions, and affect property values. In fact HCAs do not involve heritage listing, or prevent alterations or additions; and published studies have shown positive effect on property values.

HCAs protect the valued streetscapes and character which attract residents to Ku-ring-gai. These are attributes and amenity which can easily disappear, as is now so evident – hence the vital role of HCAs. Council should continue the examination of potential future HCAs and actively promote a proper community understanding of the benefits of a HCA to both the area and the individual residents.

In 2008 FOKE compiled A Photographic Record of Sites and Streetscapes impacted by the Ku-ring-gai Residential Development Strategy, Stage 1.  It contains around 2000 photographs of homes under threat from the re-zonings mandated by the State Government.  Copies of the work have been deposited with both the Ku-ring-gai Library and Ku-ring-gai Historical Society at Gordon, and with the National Trust, Sydney.

For more detailed descriptions of Ku-ring-gai’s heritage significance and character, and descriptions of the UCAs proposed by the National Trust report 1996, click here.  For a slide show of some of the heritage destroyed or at risk in Ku-ring-gai, see our heritage photo gallery.  We also have a range of ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos here.  We also have some videos for you to watch on YouTube , showing some of what has been lost already, and what is yet to come.

International expert’s dismay re Ku-ring-gai
When visiting international planning expert, Joel Kotkin, keynote speaker at the Property Council Congress “Cities Summit 2011”, inspected Ku-ring-gai’s suburbs, he was appalled at the inconsiderate destruction of the community environment.  He said “What is happening in Ku-ring-gai is amongst the worst I have seen and dreadful that the surroundings built up over the years is being destroyed by bureaucratic ideology”.  For a full report of his remarks click here.