Heritage battle heads to court

On shaky ground: John Barnes has launched a legal appeal to stop the demolition of one half of the historic Plumb’s Chambers at 82 Fitzroy Street, Warwick.
On shaky ground: John Barnes has launched a legal appeal to stop the demolition of one half of the historic Plumb’s Chambers at 82 Fitzroy Street, Warwick.

THE owner of Warwick’s most historic property is taking the Southern Downs Regional Council to court in a bid to save half of Plumb’s Chambers from the wrecker’s ball.

The Daily News can reveal that John Barnes, who owns the famous Canning Downs stud – birthplace of Warwick and of shearing legend Jackie Howe – has launched a legal appeal to stop the demolition of the older of the two buildings on the controversial site.

The demolition of the Cantors building at 82 Fitzroy Street, thought to date back to the 1860s, appeared a done deal after a formal “decision notice” issued by the council on Christmas Eve last year, ahead of a massive planned expansion of Rose City Shoppingworld.

But the centre’s owners, the Brisbane-based McConaghy Group, are now faced with a serious hurdle in the form of the appeal to the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland, which could take more than a year to finalise.

The McConaghy Group plans to demolish the small rear section of the larger of the two Plumb’s Chambers buildings at 84 Fitzroy Street but retain the main part of the building, fronting the street and Leslie Park, for an as-yet unspecified use.

They have claimed the Cantors building next door is too far gone to be restored and want it gone completely, with councillors agreeing after a site inspection in December.

Unlike 84 Fitzroy Street, 82 was inadvertently left off the council’s local heritage register – compiled about 10 years ago – a mistake the council last year claimed was the reason it had no power to order the building’s preservation.

Both buildings are on the Queensland heritage register, and despite being identified as having State-wide significance, the Bligh Government recommended the demolition plans go ahead. It has also been named in the court action.

Joining Mr Barnes (pictured) in the legal battle is prominent Brisbane architect Geoff Cook, who has divided his time between the state’s capital and Warwick, where he owns a weekender and other property, for the past decade.

Mr Barnes is overseas and was unavailable for comment yesterday, but Mr Cook said the aim of the legal bid was to “attempt to preserve the building – as simple as that”.

“There are technical and emotive issues here, and while I can’t speak for John, I believe he would agree with me when I say this is purely in the public interest,” Mr Cook said.

“Neither of us have any financial or commercial gain in challenging the loss of this building – we are just acquaintances who feel the same way.

“It’s not a whimsical thing, the council promotes Warwick as a heritage location.

“Either they change their website or they change their attitude.”

Mr Barnes was one of a number of objectors to the development application lodged by the McConaghy Group with council in September 2007 outlining its intentions for the Plumb’s site.

In a lengthy submission Mr Barnes urged the council to retain both of the Plumb’s Chambers buildings, saying they were “important to Warwick’s cultural heritage as they represent the streetscape which existed during the late 1880s at the dawn of Queensland’s history”.

“If they are destroyed, part of the unique character of Warwick is also lost forever,” Mr Barnes wrote.

While acknowledging the benefits of the Rose City Shoppingworld expansion, Mr Barnes was also adamant that it should not be developed “at the long-term expense of the City, through demolition of these unique original buildings”.

Court documents obtained by the Daily News show Mr Barnes and Mr Cook base their appeal on a range of grounds, including a claim the McConaghy application was contrary to both the Queensland Heritage Act 1992 and heritage rules in the Warwick town plan.

The appeal documents state the McConaghy Group’s plans for Plumb’s Chambers “would destroy or substantially reduce the cultural heritage significance of a State heritage place...where there are prudent and feasible alternatives”.

Mr Barnes and Mr Cook also claim the council failed in its duties under Queensland planning law by not making any specific order relating to the Cantors building.

They further argue the McConaghy Group’s application to council was invalid as it only sought approval for the demolition work involving Plumb’s Chambers and not for the Rose City Shoppingworld expansion plans as a whole.

McConaghy Group owner Robert McConaghy yesterday declined to comment.

Mayor Ron Bellingham was unavailable, but a council spokeswoman reiterated council had “no control” over the Cantors building.

She also said a separate application for the expansion of Rose City had been lodged but it was “not officially in the planning system yet”.

“No reasons have been made available, but the applicant is probably awaiting the outcome of other matters before they proceed with the application, such as determination of heritage issues,” the spokeswoman said.

Plumb’s facts

Plumb’s important in illustrating the transformation of Warwick in the late 1860s and 1870s from a squatters’ town to the centre of Queensland’s most prosperous agricultural district.

The possibly c1860s brick building may represent the beginnings of this movement and the 1874-75 building is indicative of Warwick’s first building boom.

Both buildings also illustrate a tradition of masonry construction in Warwick dating from at least the 1860s and sustained well into the early 20th century, which sets the district apart from any other in Queensland.

Both buildings are important in illustrating the design, materials and construction techniques of mid-19th century masonry building in Queensland and both have potential to reveal further information about 19th century stone and brick construction.

Both buildings occupy a prominent role in the streetscape along Fitzroy Street, and the pitch of the roofs contribute to the unity of the street.

The 1874-75 building is significant also for its close association with Warwick chemist and seedsman David Clarke, who made a substantial contribution to the expansion of agriculture in the Warwick district in the 1860s and 1870s.

(Source – Queensland Heritage Register)

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