Heritage walkway saved – but questions remain
June Herald flashback: John Clarke (left) and Mick McKeown (elected Toodyay Shire Councillor in July) in the Garden of Peace with the disputed heritage-listed walkway behind – both have been at least temporarily saved from partial demolition.
By Michael Sinclair-Jones
TOODYAY’S heritage-listed Catholic Precinct walkway has been saved from partial demolition – at least for the present.
Shire councillors voted 7-0 last month to reject a Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth application to demolish a two-metre section in the middle of the walkway.Read more
The Appian Way walkway links Toodyay’s historic 1903 Mercy Convent to the town’s St John the Baptist Catholic Church and straddles two new land titles created to separate the buildings.
The Archdiocese sought partial demolition of the walkway to enable it to sell the run-down convent for private commercial redevelopment.
The plan also demolishes part of an adjacent Garden of Peace which was built to commemorate deceased parishioners.
Last month’s council decision sets it at odds with the Perth Archdiocese which recently axed 100-year-old trees and built new roads to service a new small business estate behind the old convent.
‘No comment’ – Church
A Perth Church spokesman said the Archdiocese had “no comment at this time”.
Councillors were presented last month with two shire recommendations – a deferred July shire recommendation to approve demolition, and a last-minute “alternative” recommendation to reject the plan which was not published online or provided to the public gallery.
Councillors went straight to the alternative recommendation, which was moved by Cr Ben Bell, seconded by former Catholic Precinct activist and newly elected Cr Mick McKeown and carried unanimously (Crs Therese Chitty and Paula Greenway absent).
The decision said the proposed demolition was “inconsistent with the orderly and proper planning of the locality” and inconsistent with shire heritage planning policy.
The decision was a victory for Toodyay Catholic parishioners who formed a Friends of the Catholic Precinct action group after the shire’s surprise 2018 decision to approve the subdivision of a heritage site without public consultation.
Former Shire CEO Stan Scott used his delegated authority to approve the subdivision without referring it to the council or informing parishioners.
It prompted former State MP Larry Graham to present a formal submission alleging collusion and secrecy to the July council meeting.
“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 (State Local Government Department),” he told councillors.
New Shire CEO Suzie Haslehurst told The Herald after last month’s council decision that she had started to look at Mr Graham’s allegations and spoken to other shire officers involved.
“I’d be very surprised if anything came out of it,” she said.
“My preliminary findings are that due process was followed – it suggests no evidence of collusion.”
Shire President Rosemary Madacsi said: “I don’t believe any further action is needed.”
Mr Graham responded that “allegations of the type that I raised formally with the council require formal, thorough and competent investigation”.
Last month’s council decision followed several months of confusion after the shire initially advertised a plan submitted by the Archdiocese to demolish the whole walkway.
It attracted 23 public submissions with 19 against, including objections from the Toodyay Historical Society and several leading local ratepayers.
The State Planning, Lands and Heritage Department said the original subdivision application did not show the walkway.
A senior departmental official said the WA Planning Commission (WAPC) did not know the walkway existed when it approved the subdivision subject to conditions in June 2018.
“The application has not received final approval, however it is understood conditions are in the process of being carried out,” Regional South Land Use Planning Director Cath Meaghan said.
“Had the WAPC known there was a walkway in that location, it would not have made the decision it did because it is not feasible to have shared structures (eg: swimming pools, pergolas, etc.) on separate titles.
“So although the proposed subdivision seeks to separate the church buildings in a land titles sense, the shire’s planning intent is for the precinct to continue to function as a whole.”
Ms Meaghan said that in considering finalisation of the subdivision, the WAPC would be “mindful” of proposed planning arrangements to redevelop the precinct “in a manner that retains the heritage values of the site and allows for continued connection between the buildings”.
The fencing of lots between heritage buildings would “generally not be permitted unless it provides for ongoing pedestrian access” Ms Meaghan said.