IN a major win for supporters of Warwick's heritage buildings the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland has ruled against demolition of part of the Plumb's Chambers site on Fitzroy Street.
The controversial pair of historic buildings at 82 and 84 Fitzroy St, next to the Warwick Police Station, has been at the centre of an ongoing legal battle over their future and that of a planned expansion of Rose City Shoppingworld.
Centre owners the McConaghy Group gained approval from the Southern Downs Regional Council to demolish the rear section of the sandstone building at number 84 agreeing to restore and re-use the front section as part of the Shoppingworld redevelopment.
The older, timber Plumb's building at number 82 - believed to be the oldest shop in Queensland - was mistakenly left off the former Warwick Shire Council's heritage list a decade ago, despite both of the buildings already being on the State Heritage Register.
However, the State Government ruled that the McConaghy Group could knock down 82, provided it completed restoration work on 84.
The Group's plans went awry when local heritage campaigner and Canning Downs stud owner John took the McConaghy Group to court in a last-ditch bid to stop the demolition of the rear of 84, aimed at forcing the McConaghy Group back to the negotiating table with council over the future of the two buildings.
The bold strategy paid off late yesterday afternoon when Judge Robin QC handed down his judgement in Brisbane, ruling that the Barnes appeal be allowed and the McConaghy Group demolition application over 84 Fitzroy St be refused.
In his 34 page decision, His Honour ruled that the Southern Downs Regional Council had misinterpreted its own Warwick Town Plan, which he said required that the whole of number 84 be preserved.
Judge Robin also stated that it was up to the McConaghy Group to prove that the Barnes appeal be dismissed and that they had failed to do so, noting that the rear of 84, although described as "a service wing" of the historic structure, still retained its intrinsic heritage value.
What happens next remains unclear, as the McConaghy Group cannot demolish 82 Fitzroy St until it has restored 84.
The McConaghy Group could also lodge an appeal against Judge Robin's decision, which would further tie the matter up in the courts.
McConaghy Group owner Robert McConaghy was unavailable for comment late yesterday.
Mayor Bellingham - who last night admitted to being "surprised" at the court ruling - said he was prepared to "sit down" with the McConaghy Group and find a way forward.
The mayor said he had not had the opportunity to read the judgement in full and would make further comment today.