Heritage vs housing: Gledswood is important test case

HOUSING THREAT: The only advantage many of us can see in squeezing more homesites next to Gledswood would be extra profits for developers and more rate dollars for Camden Council. But does that make it worth it?
HOUSING THREAT: The only advantage many of us can see in squeezing more homesites next to Gledswood would be extra profits for developers and more rate dollars for Camden Council. But does that make it worth it?

NARELLAN’S growth centre, as it booms, has both advantages and disadvantages over the earlier growth centre at Campbelltown.

A disadvantage is the squished-up housing on tiny blocks with rooftops almost touching, whereas most of Campbelltown was created when big backyards were still a thing.

An advantage is that the Narellan estates enjoy parks and other facilities provided by compulsory developer contributions, something that didn’t exist when Campbelltown boomed in the 1960s and 1970s – its poor bloody ratepayers having to foot the bill instead.

Perhaps Narellan’s biggest advantage, however, is that it can learn from mistakes made in Campbelltown. For example, protecting its rich heritage. It also has ramifications for heritage-laden Wollondilly.

Campbelltown was once famed for its history – until our heritage hotels were bulldozed, our grand rural mansions were hidden away behind fences and rooftops, and left-over gems (such as Fisher’s Ghost Restaurant) are often left to crumble.  

If Narellan wants to see how it can do things differently, well, Gledswood is shaping up as a test case.

This landmark was built by James Chisholm in the 1830s and was still thriving as a major tourist site as recently as the 1980s under the Testoni clan. It is now under serious threat as it crumbles and new housing estates loom.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. A decade ago, the former Labor state government actually did one smart thing and established a “heritage curtilage” of 45.5 hectares around Gledswood farm complex to protect it. No McMansions allowed.

Now we read that the new owner – Caldla Pty Ltd – has applied to the NSW Heritage Council to drastically reduce that curtilage so more houses can be squeezed in next to the farm complex.

It’s now with the Liberal state government – that same government that thinks the heritage of Hurlstone and the Scenic Hills isn’t worth worrying about, and is busy pushing huge housing estates along the same Appin Road it refuses to fix.

If Camden Council or Camden’s state MP have held a big press conference to highlight the need to protect Gledswood, I must have missed it. Once again, the educated voices of Camden Historical Society are proving to be such a value to us.

Respected local historian Ian Willis is blunt: “This application appears destined to repeat the same mistakes that were made with significant heritage properties in Campbelltown, where their curtilage was all but destroyed. One example is Blair Athol.”

He is spot on. I was standing on the balcony of Blair Athol homestead a few months ago and felt like crying as I looked across at the wall of rooftops hiding it. How McMansions were allowed within 100 metres of that grand old landmark, let alone a few metres from it, is beyond many of us.

Ian Willis then hits another mark: “This is a simple case of rent-seeking developers compromising heritage values...for profit.” I haven’t heard any good arguments to dispel that view.

In my decades as an editor, one thing I learned is that if I have to chose between taking the word of a developer, a politician, or a seriously well-informed local historian, I’ll go for the latter.

Every. Single. Time.

We can only hope that the NSW Heritage Council feels the same way.

This application appears destined to repeat the same mistakes that were made with significant heritage properties in Campbelltown.