ALLEGATIONS of secrecy and collusion have been raised over plans to demolish part of a heritage-listed Appian Way walkway in Toodyay’s historic Catholic Church Precinct (left).
Complaints of alleged planning irregularities and lack of public consultation have prompted intervention by WA Local Government and Heritage Minister David Templeman.
Toodyay councillors voted 5-3 last month (Crs Susan Pearce, Therese Chitty and Ben Bell against) to accept Mr Templeman’s request to defer a shire recommendation to approve the demolition to enable the Minister to inspect the site on Wednesday August 5.
The WA Planning Commission has approved plans by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth to subdivide the heritage-listed former convent site to enable the sale of five separate commercial lots.
The Archdiocese is currently exempt from paying shire rates on the land because it is owned by a church body.
However, the property will start generating annual rates revenue for the shire when the subdivision is finalised and sold for mixed business use.
The Appian Way walkway – named after an ancient Roman road – straddles separate titles for Toodyay’s St John the Baptist Church and the historic St Aloysius Convent of Mercy, which is no longer in use.
The Friends of the Toodyay Catholic Precinct and Toodyay Historical Society oppose the planned demolition.
Parishioners say they were not consulted by the Archdiocese or the council, and that a shire call for public comment on the planned demolition in the June Herald contained “misleading and incorrect” information.
Toodyay ratepayer Margaret McKeown told last month’s council meeting that there was no justification to demolish the walkway.
“The Toodyay community has nothing to gain from this proposed vandalism,” she said.
“You are being asked to permanently damage a heritage-listed property so that a property developer can maximise its returns.
“The community of Toodyay expects you to act in their best interests and put the heritage interests of the town before the profits of a developer.”
Parishioners claim the shire administration failed in 2017 to follow local heritage protection policies by approving the Archdiocese subdivision plan without putting it to the council for a vote.
In a private submission, ratepayer Larry Graham told the council last month that “its own policies, strategies and plans have all been circumvented and this appears to result from collusion with the developers”.
“In my view, the handling of this entire issue exceeds the threshold required for referral to either or both the CCC (WA Crime and Corruption Commission) or the LG (WA Local Government) Department,” he said.
New Toodyay Shire CEO Suzie Haslehurst said she was surprised by Mr Graham’s claims.
“It’s obviously an issue of great sensitivity to the community and the file is very thick,” she said in a post-meeting Herald briefing.
“I will be having a look at it and expect it will be one of the matters we will talk about when the Minister visits Toodyay.”
Mr Templeman was invited to Toodyay last month by Shire President Rosemary Madacsi to meet the new council.
Councillors received an “Avondown Presentation” behind closed doors at a July 2017 council forum at which a “Mr D Barnao” was listed as a visitor.
It was not revealed publicly that David Barnao was an Osborne Park property developer representing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth or that “Avondown” referred to plans for a new commercial subdivision in the shire’s heritage-listed Catholic Precinct.
The presentation was not made public and its purpose was not stated in published minutes of the council forum.
The WA Planning Commission approved the subdivision in August 2018 after former shire CEO Stan Scott used his delegated authority to endorse the new subdivision without referring it to the council for a vote.
Local parishioners say they were not consulted about the proposed subdivision.
A new plan this year to demolish the entire Appian Way walkway was later modified to remove only a two-metre section in the middle where the two land titles meet.
Shire planning policy says “heritage buildings shall be retained and conserved wherever possible as these places, in combination with the streetscape, are the main determinants of the character of the Central Toodyay Heritage Area”.
“Demolition of a heritage site should be avoided wherever possible.
“Council is unlikely to support the demolition of a heritage place based solely on the economic viability of redeveloping a site or because a building has been neglected.
“An application to demolish a heritage place must include clear justifications for the demolition …”
Former Friends of the Toodyay Catholic Precinct co-organiser Mick McKeown – who was elected to the council on July 31 – said the demolition proposal submitted to the shire showed that the Perth Archdiocese had never provided any justification for demolishing the walkway.
He sent a submission to the shire on June 30 that included an email four days earlier from State Land Use Planning Manager Rachel Riley advising that if the walkway was not demolished, the proposed boundary could be negotiated to keep it on a single title.
This conflicted with a July 2 letter to the shire from Planning Department Heritage Development Director Adelyn Siew that “the walkway is required to be demolished”.
An Archdiocese spokesperson said the subdivision was not a profit-making exercise but a genuine attempt to preserve the heritage values of the precinct.
“All appropriate approval processes were followed in the course of preparation for and completion of the subdivision works,” the spokesperson said.