Friday, October 17, 2008

Complaint against the Newcastle City Council

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Mr Garry Payne AM Director General
Department of Local Government NSW
Locked Bag 3015 NOWRA NSW 2541

Dear Mr Payne,

Complaint against the Newcastle City Council in requiring a DA for holes to prove Convict Coal Mines at Fort Scratchley and not for new buildings on same site.

Reference is made to Council’s letter dated 26th November 2007 in reply to our Email letter that was sent to the Ward 1 Councillors of the Newcastle City Council and the Lord Mayor concerning a building being erected within the boundary of the Fort Scratchley Historic Site which is Commonwealth Heritage Place situated at 31 Nobbys Rd Newcastle East NSW.

Two buildings recently built without a Newcastle City Council
Development Application or Development Consent

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement resolved to lodge a complaint against the Newcastle City Council with the NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Department of Local Government and the Commonwealth Ombudsman at the Council’s action in not requiring a Development Application, planning assessment or Development Consent for the erection of two new buildings at Fort Scratchley. We believe that the Council has been wrong and not evenhanded and transparent in the way it has handled this development. Council’s actions were in contrast to those used when the University of Newcastle was contracted to prove the existence of the 1801-1804 Convict Coal Mines on the same site. The proving of the Convict Coalmines required the drilling of a small hole for a camera in each of three mine adits that had been located by survey and Ground Penetrating Radar. The university was required by the Council to prepare a Development Application and Heritage Impact Statement for these small holes and obtain council assessment and consent.

Remedy requested.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement requests that the NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Local Government Department and the Commonwealth Ombudsman inquire into the Council and Commonwealth actions in requiring a DA and Heritage Impact Statement for the minor activity of drilling three small holes on the Fort Scratchley site and the Council’s actions in not requiring a Development Application, Heritage Impact Statement, planning assessment and consent for the construction of two new buildings on the same site. Council has discriminated against the heritage values of the Fort Scratchley Historic Site and the State Heritage Registered Coal River Precinct SHR 1674.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement as a bona-fide objector, has experienced other examples where due process was not followed regarding officially recognized heritage matters and we believe that the Newcastle City Council has an endemic problem with management of heritage properties and relics. The Parks and Playgrounds Movement is anxious that a new sense of probity is established within the Council Administration so that the new General Manager is not obliged to justify the discriminatory and wrong actions of the past. We would hope that a formal investigation of our complaint at state and commonwealth level will lead to improvements in the city administration and a greater appreciation and better management of Newcastle’s important heritage.

Fort Scratchley is a listed Commonwealth Heritage Place ID: 105333 and is a central feature of the Coal River Precinct NSW `SHR 1674 and widely regarded as an essential heritage and community asset deserving of the best professional management. The Coal River Precinct and associated Coal River cultural landscape is also a potential National Heritage site. Council’s actions in not assessing a DA for the buildings are in contrast to the action of Council taken against the Newcastle University and the geotechnical personnel proving of the Convict mines. Council’s action against the university staff was unprecedented and caused embarrassment to the academic community who had been contracted by the Council to carry out the heritage research.

Newcastle Council required a Development application and Heritage Impact Statement for the 10 cm diameter hole into the Convict mines shown below. Photo 11/10/2008

Council served a Solicitors letter on Dr Eklund and the volunteer professionals who had made their specialised machinery available for the exploratory drilling. We understand that approval had been obtained from the Commonwealth and the State Heritage Office on each occasion when the work was to commence. We know that many more holes were drilled by the Commonwealth on the site as part of the refurbishment and that DA’s and consent were never requested by Council.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc have a longstanding interest and commitment to this historic area as the proposer of the Newcastle East Historic Site in 1968 and are advocates for the establishment of a legal Plan of Management to guide the development of the full precinct. A plan of management for Fort Scratchley and for the wider Coal River Precinct has been in preparation for some time and consent for the buildings in question should have relied on careful coordination and consideration by the Newcastle City Council.

Summary Statement of Significance:
Fort Scratchley and Flagstaff Hill on which it stands are of great historical significance to our nation. It is the site of Australia's first mining of coal, thereafter to be the primary resource of the new settlement of King's Town in the Newcastle district. It is also the site of the first navigational aids to safeguard the flow of ships servicing the coastal ports as well as the inner Hunter River system. From the beginning, the little settlement and its precious coal needed protection, and Flagstaff Hill was the first and a continuing site of a garrison and battery, including the notorious Fort Fiddlesticks and the now Fort Scratchley.

In view of the significance of this Commonwealth Heritage Place and its wider importance to the Coal River Precinct and the Coal River cultural landscape we believe that it is essential that a reasonable and unbiased process be established for the assessment of all developments so that firm trust and propriety is developed between the Newcastle City Council, the Newcastle community, the Commonwealth of Australia and the NSW State Government.

We believe that the listed heritage items and historic relics of the City of Newcastle would benefit from an even handed approach to developments that may impact identified heritage items and relics.

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement request this inquiry in the public interest and would be pleased to place evidence before an impartial investigation.

Yours sincerely,

Doug Lithgow.
Freeman of the City of Newcastle
President of the Parks and Playgrounds Movement.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Merewether Beach Pty Ltd

Merewether Beach Pty Ltd: the name of the company to alienate the public parkland at Merewether says it all. Certainly the questions posed by Edward Duc (Newcastle Herald letters 15/08) should be answered publicly.

It may be too late to call the last Council to account but it’s not too late for the new Councillors and the existing State Government to stop the privatisation of public parkland.

Newcastle desperately needs investment money in its commercial areas but it doesn’t need commercial areas in its public parklands.

Residents will have to join with RAID : a coalition of community groups up and down the coast in their planned protest rally 19 October in Hyde Park Sydney against inappropriate development.

Doug Lithgow

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Doug Lithgow receives The Dunphy Award

The Dunphy Award for the most outstanding environmental effort of an individual has been awarded to Doug Lithgow.

Doug has been working for the protection and improvement of the environment in the Newcastle-Hunter region for many years. He is the face of the Parks & Playgrounds Movement, which was brought to Newcastle in 1952 and has played a large role in a great number of environmental battles.

Some of the battles included the protection of Lake Macquarie and its foreshores, Blackbutt Reserve, the Newcastle East land formerly owned by the State Rail Authority, Sugarloaf reserve and the Glenrock State Recreation Area.

In 1987 Doug was honoured with the Newcastle University's Board of Environmental Studies Environmental Achievement Award.

Doug’s outstanding conservation efforts have also been recognised by Newcastle City Council who has presented him with the “Freeman of the City” award.

Most recently Doug’s tireless campaigning to preserve the heritage values of Nobby’s Headland has had a win with the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett ruling against the proposal for a development at the historic lighthouse site, under the EPBC Act.

Doug Lithgow received the Award at the Jemby Rimjah Eco-lodge in the Blue Mountains.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nobbys and Newcastle’s Coal River Precinct: Birthplace of a City

Nobbys (Whybaygamba), which was cutdown to half its height to form a base for the Nobbys lighthouse, and the convict built breakwater connecting Colliers Point, are distinctive Newcastle landmarks and unique colonial artefacts within the Coal River Precinct at the entrance to the Hunter River.

The integrity of the Nobbys Lighthouse must be preserved protected and promoted in a professional plan of management for the whole Coal River Precinct (SHR 1674)

The precinct is a nationally significant landscape and the birth site of Newcastle and of convict coal mining.

Recognition, protection and public access urgently needed.

Letter below to Premier of NSW re Nobbys Lighthouse decision and Coal River:

Friday, 30 May 2008

The Hon Morris Iemma MP
Premier of NSW and Minister for Citizenship
Governor Macquarie Tower
Level 40, No. 1 Farrer Place, SYDNEY NSW 2000

Dear Premier,

Nobbys and Newcastle’s Coal River Precinct: Birthplace of a City

Parks and Playgrounds Movement is pleased to report the decision of the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP, to reject the development that would have adversely affected Newcastle’s unique Nobbys Lighthouse.

I feel sure you would agree that we must all take care that the historic Nobbys Lighthouse continues to stand proud and free as shown in the historic photograph below in any future adaptive reuse of the signalman’s cottages.

1902 view of Nobbys Lighthouse Newcastle: NSW State Library

We had been perturbed by the shelf company, Nobbys Lighthouse Pty Ltd, proposing to alienate the lighthouse in breach of commonwealth legislation and that the private Development Application was incorrectly assessed as a Crown Development.

Nobbys and Nobbys Lighthouse are the cultural symbols of Newcastle and should not have been dealt with in this way. The Lighthouse is an important aid to navigation and is the successor to the first light on the Australian coast, which was a beacon fuelled by coal mined by convict coalminers at Colliers Point beneath what is now Fort Scratchley. The lighthouse is of particular significance to Newcastle and is seen in the old and the new city Coat of Arms and in the Newcastle City Hall clock tower which is a representation of the ancient Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement have a continuing interest in this notable place dating from 1969 when we first proposed the statutory recognition of the area as a historic site. The proposal including Nobbys, the convict breakwater and the convict coal mines, Fort Scratchley and Shortland’s camp location. In 1999 we prepared a Prospectus for the Coal River Historic Site and a ten point plan for the Newcastle Lord Mayor, John Tate, to take to Canberra but were disappointed when the funding gained was not used to prepare the Masterplan as envisaged.

The lighthouse controversy and the intervention of the Commonwealth Minister has saved Nobbys lighthouse and given the Coal River Precinct the national focus it deserves and has highlighted the need for a guiding overall conservation plan.

We appeal to your Government to look with new clarity at Newcastle’s Coal River Precinct which is the birth place of our city and has made an immense contribution to the history and heritage of Australia. Furthermore we particularly ask that your Government favourably endorse the Department of Planning and the Newcastle City Council’s draft Conservation and Cultural Tourism Management Plan for the precinct.

We trust also that the redevelopment of the Port Corporation’s valuable waterfront land around the Pilot Station and Cornish Dock area will be coordinated and professionally managed as an integral part of the whole precinct and that public access be made to the Nobbys headland without further delay.

Yours Sincerely,

Doug Lithgow,
Freeman of the City of Newcastle
President Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nobbys Development - Congratulations to Minister Garrett

Congratulations to Minister Garrett on his courageous decision to reject the Nobbys Lighthouse development at Newcastle, NSW.

This is the Minister's first decision as federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts in relation to built heritage and he has resisted pressure from local and state politicians, and developers to consider the
Heritage impact statement (HIS) by independent international recognized heritage architects Clive Lucas and Stapleton pty Ltd. This report clearly states that there would be permanent and irreversible damage if this proposal was to go ahead.

Nobbys Lighthouse is a Commonwealth Heritage place and any change to the headland should be in accordance with section 26 of the Environmental, Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPB&C Act). The proponents had failed to refer their development to the Commonwealth until requested to do so in 2006.

Minister Garrett’s decision will encourage future protection of the cultural heritage values of the lighthouse. The Hunter Regional Committee of the National Trust supports that the headland be open to the public. The development that the Minister has rejected would have destroyed the most significant historic lighthouse on the eastern seaboard. Minister Garrett’s decision enables the public to potentially visit the site and understand its meaning.

Nobbys 'Whybaygamba' is an Aboriginal dreaming place, of special significance to the Aboriginal community, and important to the wider community and the history of Newcastle, and the nation.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Banging the Table for Nobbys?

Back in June 2007 I wrote to our State Member for Newcastle to seek her support for our Mater Hospital.

A representative from her office wrote back to say it was not in her electorate and to write instead to the Member for Wallsend.

Given the reported $50,000 in undisclosed donations from property developer Buildev (NH 14/4), and her recent ‘banging of the table’ for local developer Neil Slater’s redevelopment proposal for Nobbys I would like to know why she wasn’t prepared to ‘bang the table’ for our besieged Mater hospital?

And why, for that matter, couldn't our Region’s elected representatives come together, as they did so majestically in support of the restaurant and love nest for Nobbys, to support our public hospitals, transport, police and renewable clean energy future?

Is it that political donations have rendered those in the community as mere ‘non-developers’, as Wollongong MP Noreen Hay said in this week's ABC Four Corners program (14/4/08)?

Could it explain the divisive rhetoric that was this month placed into NSW State Parliamentary Hansard by Jodi McKay that all who opposed the Nobbys redevelopment ‘have done their best to delay and stop Newcastle's growth’?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Nobbys Lighthouse redevelopment

To: The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Dear Mr Garrett,

I refer to your request for comments on your proposed decision in relation to the Nobbys Lighthouse redevelopment.

Your proposed decision is definitely the correct one and I commend you for it.

Refusing this proposal is the only way of protecting the Commonwealth Heritage values of the Nobbys lighthouse and ensuring the continuation of its freestanding character and iconic significance.

You should consider the following when reviewing your proposed decision:

1. The proposal will damage the protected Commonwealth heritage values of Nobbys lighthouse.

The following facts have been objectively established by the Clive Lucas Stapleton & Partners (CLS) report and confirmed by your own department's Recommendation Report:

i) Nobbys lighthouse meets assessment criteria A, B, F & G on the Commonwealth Heritage List and has the corresponding protected Commonwealth heritage attributes.

ii) The impact of the proposed restaurant building will damage every one of the heritage values

While the proponents have claimed that the damage will be minimal, their arguments are weak as the assessment of your own department indicates: "the proposal to construct and operate a restaurant facility in very close proximity to the Commonwealth Heritage listed Nobbys Lighthouse will result in significant degradation or loss of Commonwealth Heritage values".

It is essential that your decision protect these values from damage.

2. Your department's assessment of the proposal in relation to criterion G (social value) is weak.

* There is a focus on the architectural aspects of the proposal and a lack of information about (and therefore assessment of) the cultural heritage impact of the proposal. The CLS report identifies that there has been insufficient consultation on this aspect and correctly notes "Simply advertising a scheme and seeking public comment does not test the community's regard for the place, nor how the proposal would affect that regard."

* There has been a particular lack of consideration of the value of Nobbys Lighthouse as the one surviving connection between the modern landform of Nobbys and the original rocky island (known to the indigenous Awabakal people as Wybagamba) which was cut down specifically to provide the platform for the lighthouse building.

* The proponents' disagreement with the characterisation of Nobbys Lighthouse as "remote" misses the point of the lighthouse's iconic significance as identified by the CLS report – it was and is perfectly correct to characterise the iconic lighthouse structure as being "remote" in so far as it was, and is, freestanding in the most prominent seaward position on top of a 'recaptured' island headland, accessible only via a long causeway, jutting out at the edge of an historically stormy ocean. Your department's assessment does not give this sufficient consideration – the 'remote' character of the lighthouse, properly understood, is a fundamental aspect of the social heritage value and one which will be most damaged by the proposed restaurant building.

* In relation to public access the department's assessment places too much weight on the "verbal advice" from the Newcastle Port Corporation that no public access would be allowed if you refused this proposal. Your department fails to assess the significance of the fact that the Port Corporation is actually one of the proponents of the proposal before them and that their advice to you on this matter is therefore fundamentally conflicted and unsound. It would be equally possible to argue that unless you refuse this proposal there will be no opportunity to apply public pressure to the Port Corporation to bring forward a more appropriate proposal that would allow greater access AND maintain the Commonwealth Heritage values of the lighthouse.

* Your department's report fails to assess that the undeniably huge support for public access to Nobbys does not automatically imply approval of the wrap-around restaurant building aspect of the proposal. It also fails to acknowledge that the majority of the public still may not know the objectionable specifics of the intention to wall-off the lighthouse from the sea and deprive it of its freestanding character and prominence as the most seaward building.

* In relation to public access and interpretative signage the department fails to consider that no amount of signage can replace some heritage values such as the loss of the premier seaward position and the ability to appreciate the unique freestanding character of the lighthouse "in the round". The comment above in relation to 'remote' nature of the place is also relevant. The character of the lighthouse would be fundamentally altered in a way that no amount of new interpretation could correct.

* In relation to public access, the department's report does not identify or analyse the fact that the "exciting new views" available to the public will consist of new privately controlled spaces in and on the proposed restaurant building. The existing possibility for truly public views from the historic parapet (ie the views from the foot of the lighthouse) would be utterly lost. The uncritical acceptance of the proponents characterisation of their new viewing platform as 'public' is not appropriate either since access to it will be at the grace and favour of the managers of the private restaurant facility and may easily be restricted for private functions and other purposes from time to time.

The significance of the Commonwealth Heritage values, and the degree of their loss if the proposal were to be approved, are greater than your department has identified. In addition, your department's uncritical analysis of the public access benefits of the proposal is a significant flaw in their Recommendation Report. Both of these things confirm that your correct course is to persist in your decision to refuse the proposal.

3. The chronology detailed by your department fails to document the actions of the proponents that show disrespect for the Commonwealth Heritage values of Nobbys Lighthouse.

* Significant community pressure had to be applied before the proponents acknowledged any Commonwealth jurisdiction (they were in breach of the EPBC Act for a considerable period). It is clear that there was an attempt to avoid scrutiny of the impact of the proposal on the Commonwealth Heritage values of the lighthouse.

* The delay caused by the failure of the proponents to comply with the EPBC process earlier has been perversely cited in the local media as an example of bureaucratic, pettifogging obstruction. Alternatively the current process is sometimes mischaracterised in the media as being the result of "an appeal to the Commonwealth" by those objecting to the proposal. This irrational public criticism should not sway your decision in favour of the proponents.

* Your department has not documented or analysed the significance of the fact that this development was originally processed by NSW authorities as a private proposal in 2005, subjected to conditions limiting the controversial restaurant building by the NSW Heritage Office, but then withdrawn by the proponent and resubmitted with the Port Authority as a "Crown development" (thus avoiding the imposition of the previously unwelcome conditions).

4. Your department's conclusion that the social & economic benefits outweigh the loss of heritage values is extremely weak and unsupported by any assessment or evidence.

* The second part of the conclusion to your department's report does not flow from any of the analysis that precedes it and therefore does not seem to be a technical judgement based on any objective information discernable to the public. In fact the report's abrupt conclusion seems consistent with it having been politically re-written, possibly in reaction to the lobbying orchestrated through the local media, particularly the Newcastle Herald which attacked the department as "bureaucrats poised to end the dream" in December 2007.

* The cynical manipulation of public opinion in favour of the proposal (through the 'management' of the local Newcastle media) has reached a blatant level of intensity. This has a direct bearing on your consideration weighing the 'social and economic benefits' of the proposal because you are likely to receive public comments on the issue that have been generated by mischievous disinformation. For example the following myths seem to be in wide circulation in Newcastle:

i) anyone who objects to any aspect of the proposal is against public access to Nobbys

ii) anyone who questions any aspect of the proposal is against any development on Nobbys

iii) your proposed decision has been motivated by an irrational anti-modern conspiracy to ensure nothing ever changes, or is whimsical and without proper reason at all

iv) if you refuse to approve the proposal, Nobbys lighthouse will become a crumbling relic and a burden on the local council

It would be inappropriate to uncritically credit support created by such disinformation as evidence of the proposal's "social and economic benefits".

* Important questions remain unanswered in relation to your department's conclusion: What social & economic impact studies were done to justify the department's recommendation? Why haven't these been released to the public? What is the department's expertise for assessing these matters and making such judgements? What analytical method did the department use to balance the degree of heritage value to be lost against the economic and social benefits to be gained?

In the absence of evidence or analysis it would be most unsound for you to accept the subjective recommendation of your department that the economic and social benefits outweigh the loss of heritage values – all the evidence and analysis in your department's report apart from the final few words in the conclusion actually confirms you in your proposed decision; that is to refuse permission.


Nobbys Lighthouse and its surrounding compound is one of the most significant public sites in Newcastle. It deserves a development that is consistent with its historic character and enormous iconic importance - all the social and economic benefits of the proposed development identified by your department could be achieved by a better alternative or modified design that did not destroy Commonwealth Heritage values. The people of Australia are entitled to nothing less.

If you refuse the proposal we will be able to lobby the Port Corporation for a better development in future – using the interest generated by this controversy to demand the public access to Nobbys that all are in favour of achieving. If, on the other hand, you changed your decision and allowed the proposal to destroy the Commonwealth Heritage values of the lighthouse the damage will persist for the foreseeable future and may prove permanent and irreparable.

Please stand firm.

Yours sincerely,

(temporarily exiled, but previously a proud resident of historic Newcastle)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Free Nobbys

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement voice their opposition to the overdevelopment of the Nobbys Headland and Lighthouse and call for Minister Garrett to reject the proposal.

National Trust had a very successful Coal River walk (30 people) today starting at the Lockup Museum (Old Police Station in Hunter Street) We walked the route shown on the Coal River Walk Brochure. We did not get into the Fort or onto Nobbys which were closed.

A gathering at the gate to the Nobbys Signal Station and the Lighthouse was planned and held earlier by Parks and Playgrounds Movement at 12 Noon ( As freeman of the City I read the Movement’s official position statement on the Handbill and also the Memorial sent Her Excellency the Governor to the crowd and cut a ribbon to declare the headland open to the people of Newcastle and Australia. According to the Herald today 300 people stormed the gates to the headland at 2.00pm.

It is time the Port Corporation allowed the public access to Nobbys and demolished the modern garage so that 150 year old Heritage Lighthouse is allowed to stand free and be seen and interpreted as an operating lighthouse as it has been up until recent times.

Blue Tee Shirts with a Free Nobbys slogan under a stylised elevation drawing of the Lighthouse in white (Original drawn A. Dawson 1857) were sold great design and very popular.

Cheers to all

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Free Nobbys

To concerned Community members


Please attend at gathering with members of the community concerned about the impact of the proposed development at Nobbys headland.

The proposed development of the site will have a permanent and irreversible impact on the heritage values of Nobby's Lighthouse. If this is the case, Newcastle cannot afford to adopt decisions that do not support sustainability in relation to its most valuable heritage landmark.

Newcastle is a very creative city with immense pride in its heritage, achievements and culture. The City was built on the spirit and commitment of hard working men and women who valued Newcastle's heritage. Unfortunately, unlike other Cities in Australia, Newcastle cannot boast many iconic sites like Nobby's Lighthouse.

This national treasure should therefore be protected at all costs and for future generations of Australians.

The site should be opened (and protecting its heritage) so it can be enjoyed by local residents and visitors to the region. However, it is important that Newcastle adopts environmental leadership and sustainable decision making to its limited heritage sites, which in turn will create immense social value to unique assets such as Nobby's Lighthouse.

When: 12 midday SUNDAY 6TH APRIL , T shirts available for sale


Ann Hardy

Friday, March 28, 2008

Proposed decision to refuse the Nobbys Lighthouse Redevelopment

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, is inviting comment on his proposed decision to refuse the Nobbys Lighthouse Redevelopment (EPBC 2006/3179).

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, there is a provision (s.131A) to invite public comment regarding a proposed decision under Part 9 of the Act. Due to the high level of public interest in the Nobbys Lighthouse Redevelopment the Minister has decided to seek the views of the public in relation to his proposed decision to refuse the proposal. To assist the public in doing this the Minister has also made available the Recommendation Report prepared for him by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), and a report prepared for DEWHA by an independent heritage consultant.

Comments will be accepted until 9 April 2008 on the proposed decision.


The historic Nobbys Lighthouse: 150 years serving the port of Newcastle and still in operation. It must be preserved protected and promoted as a key item in the Nationally important Coal River Heritage Park. Newcastle’s birth Site.

Therefore it is urgent that you write to the Minister, The Hon. Peter Garrett AM MP, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and let him know that you support his proposed decision to reject this proposal.


Comments can be submitted by:

e-mail to: or

mail* to:
Comment on the proposed Nobbys Lighthouse Redevelopment
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787


The Minister took account of information provided by the proponents, and the various public comments received on the proposal. This advice on the proposed decision relates only to matters under Commonwealth jurisdiction. Further information relating to the proposed decision can be found at:

Friday, February 29, 2008

Opening of Nobbys Lighthouse

Opening of Nobbys Lighthouse

by Dr Steffen Lehmann

I know, from twenty years experience as an architect working with built and cultural heritage, that there are always alternative options and a series of ways in how to design and deal with adaptive re-use projects.

In principle most people are clearly in support of the re-opening of Nobbys lighthouse and it will add another great tourist destination to our city. But there are various ways that such a re-opening of the site could occur. Based on its historical significance, this prominent site needs to be made publicly accessible in a careful, sensitive and sustainable way. The heritage has to grow with Newcastle.

It requires the special skill and attribute of ‘architectural diplomacy’ from the side of the design team.

The aim must be: To achieve more with less!

Working with such delicate built heritage is no easy task. Adaptive reuse projects such as Customs House, The Rocks and Carriage Works (all in Sydney) are recent fine examples and illustrate the great gain that can be achieved by sensitive adaptive reuse.

The Herald has recently published images of what is exactly proposed for Nobbys Lighthouse, and it appears that the best solution is not on the table yet; could there be better outcomes for the community and all Novocastrians?

Many residents in Newcastle East spoke to me over the last few weeks about this project, and there are significant concerns in regard to the proposal to ‘squeeze’ a new structure onto the lighthouse’s platform.

Let’s celebrate the existing, but not overwhelm it!

The current proposal appears to have too much impact on the lighthouse.

The better solution would be to skip the component of overnight stay and put the café or restaurant in the existing old cottages. This way sensitive adaptive re-use would deal in a more respectful method with the precious existing group of buildings.

It is probably one of the most prominent sites in Newcastle and people will line up to eat or drink coffee up there.

Ironically, only few years ago, the proponent has shown how to do it with the Stationmaster’s Cottage: by integrating the restaurant into the existing cottage, without a need for large additional structures.

Is the existing garage misused as an argument to add a large new volume?

The construction of the ugly garage was a mistake, however, it can easily be repaired through its demolition; however, this cannot be used as argument for another inappropriate volume. Once the ugly garage is demolished, it will open up the fantastic view from a one meter raised platform, and freeing up the lighthouse from its congested situation; with demolition of the garage the viewing platform will already be there: there is no need for another raised viewing platform dwarfing and overwhelming the delicate lighthouse structure. Once the lighthouse is free-standing, it can be properly appreciated and will be allowed to play again the role it should play. The garage structure should therefore be removed anyway, as soon as possible. However, no major new structure should again congest the composition of buildings.

Vehicles on the Walkway

Probably the worst idea is the proposal to have vehicular traffic on the breakwater walkway. I believe this is a totally inappropriate suggestion and completely unacceptable for the public. In no circumstance should precious public space for pedestrians be given away for the convenience of cars.

It is unacceptable because it is against any generally accepted method of good planning! Over the last years, we have been constantly working hard to make the city more pedestrian friendly and more enjoyable for walking and cycling (just think of declining health of the population, growing obesity, etc); and here is someone seriously suggesting such a backward-looking and ill-informed idea. Once you have the cars driving up there, no one could ever control vehicular movement to one an hour. Turning this into a driveway would be bad for the community and its public domain.

It can be done without the driveway. For instance, hundreds of heritage-listed precincts with restaurants in the UK, in Italy and many other places are proof that it can work without vehicular access for guests of the restaurant. There is no need to drive up there, with the only exception: 2 vehicles early morning, for kitchen delivery and garbage collection (both at a most convenient time to be agreed on).

In general, the idea to put another curved wall in such close proximity of the historical lighthouse is probably not a convincing proposition. It would always be better if the lighthouse remains the only curved or circular element, celebrated by the rectangular boxes of the existing cottages.

Following the debate over the last weeks, I thought the design team received good advice from Doug Lithgow. Nobody is against a reasonable development and the re-opening of the site. If this team thinks it’s not feasible without the overnight stay component, I would suggest to open up the process and find another restaurateur; there would be many others very keen to get hold of such a wonderful prime location - probably one of the most exposed and desirable locations along the NSW coast.

Newcastle City Council and the Heritage Office:
it’s never too late to revisit a project.

So far, no mistakes have been built. From an independent architectural and planning point of view, I believe we should ask for the best possible outcomes at this outstanding and unique location, even if it has taken some time for this solution to emerge.

Dr Steffen Lehmann
University of Newcastle
20 February 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nobbys Opened to the Publc

Doug Lithgow, A Freeman of the City of Newcastle, opens the Nobbys Headland to the Public, 23 February 2008.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Architectural Visionary backs Doug Lithgow

Professor Steffen Lehmann of the University of Newcastle has today backed the views of Doug Lithgow and the Parks and Playgrounds Movement with regards to the Nobbys development.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Newcastle supports the Aboriginal People

Newcastle City Council congratulates the Australian Government on the eve of its historic apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Whybaygamba and Nobbys Lighthouse - Newcastle's Heritage Icons

Text of letter sent to Members of Parliament with attachments:

1. Submission provided to the proponents following their exhibition of the Nobbys project 20/7/2007.

2. Coal River Heritage Park Newcastle National Nomination Newcastle University Coal River
Working Party.

Parks & Playgrounds Movement

Friday, 8 February 2008

To Whom It May Concern:



Nobbys is our heritage and of National significance

The Herald ‘See for yourself’ and ‘Garret awaits report’ (2 and 5 February 2008) create the impression that three local members of parliament are indiscriminately backing the privatisation of Newcastle’s premier heritage icon - Nobbys Headland. This development application was slipped through the NSW assessment process as a Crown Development to prevent transparent assessment; apparently disregarding the Commonwealth Legislation protecting the lighthouse.

The Nobbys proposal had no real assessment at the state level and is now being assessed by the Commonwealth because the proponent was in breach of Commonwealth law. Every development whether it is in a Labor or a Liberal electorate should be assessed transparently and fairly.

Nobbys Headland is Whybaygamba, an Aboriginal Dreaming place: the abode of an immensely large Kangaroo which resides within the centre of the high rock, that he occasionally shakes himself, which causes the Island to tremble and large pieces to fall down (Christian Herald Feb 1855). We would be shocked if the Rudd Federal Government did not respect this Aboriginal Dreaming Place. Whybaygamba and Nobbys Lighthouse are Newcastle’s premier heritage icons that must be acknowledged, respected and protected in any development.

At first glance it may sound reasonable to privatise an Aboriginal Dreaming Place with an eight unit motel style boutique development, a restaurant and a manager’s cottage. But it is further disrespect of this special place. The cultural significance of the lighthouse has also been disregarded. It must stand free with clear public access to the site under a lawfully made Plan of Management. As it is Nobbys is an isolated site not much larger than a normal suburban allotment and it already contains three cottages, two garages, a lighthouse and a signal station.

The Nobbys Development Application was initially approved by the NSW Heritage Council on the 5 of October 2005 with 32 conditions, but the Applicant did not accept the conditions (The Herald 7/2/2006 pg.4). They were allowed to resubmit the same DA as a Crown Development Application under 116C of the NSW EP&A Act to circumvent any conditions being imposed.

116C states: Viz: Determination of Crown development applications NSW EP&A Act 1997.

116C Determination of Crown development applications .

A consent authority, in respect of a development application made by or on behalf of the Crown, must not:

(a) Refuse its consent to the application, except with the written approval of the Minister, or

(b) Impose a condition of its consent, except with the written approval of the Minister or the applicant.

The effect of Section 116C above is that the Applicant determines his own development. The official plan of management (Council’s Heritage Places Strategic Plan and POM 2000) was not allowed to be considered, nor was the Newcastle Port Corporation’s own objectives as stated in the invitations for Expressions of Interest May 2003 quoted below:

1. To release this (currently) restricted site for public access/use and, in doing so, to establish a pre-eminent destination of historic and scenic significance for the benefit of the Newcastle community;

2. To solicit innovative, practical and economic proposals for the adaptive re-use of the signal station and cottages;

3. To protect and enhance the site’s historic, aesthetic and social fabric for the future benefit of the Newcastle community;

4. To actively promote the site’s heritage value and significance, particularly its role in the development of the Port of Newcastle, through public education and the use of on-site static and interactive information displays.

5. To ensure the safety of all users of the site.

Do you know how this private developer was allowed to act under Crown Privilege?

The Movement would be pleased if you could obtain the details of the agreement between the Newcastle Port Corporation and the Nobbys Lighthouse P/L and also the Port Corporation’s recommendations allowing this DA to be a Crown Development. Furthermore, given the importance of the Nobbys site to the people of Australia, we seek an explanation of why the Applicant tried to develop the site in breach of Sec 26 of the EPBC Act and was able to disregard the NSW Heritage Council’s conditions of consent for the widened roadway to the summit.

Whybaygamba and the Nobbys Lighthouse site should be made available to the people as is done with other lighthouse sites in Australia. This is our birthright. The lighthouse is not only the significant heritage item on the headland, it is also an operating navigation facility controlled by legal lease obligations with the Commonwealth Maritime Safety Authority. It must continue to be seen and operated as a lighthouse and the Aboriginal Dreaming Place respected.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement would be pleased if you could make time available in the near future to discuss these matters with us in the public interest and with the view to gaining national recognition of the Coal River Heritage Park nomination prepared by the University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party.

Contrary to claims made in support of the privatisation of Whybaygamba, the current proposal would deny the heritage integrity of this Aboriginal place, close off every view from the headland for exclusive use and relegate the public to an unsatisfactory viewing platform at the proponent’s pleasure. The project should be redesigned to comply with the objectives of the EOI, protect the 150 year old Lighthouse and facilitate public access as with other lighthouse sites on the Australian coast.

We are anxious to speak to you about these matters at the earliest possible date.

Yours sincerely,

Doug Lithgow A Freeman of the City of Newcastle
President Parks and Playgrounds Movement

Phone H: (02) 49431781
Mobile: 041922 6897.

P&PM Blogspot:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Nobbys belongs to us all.

Nobbys belongs to us all.

Nobbys should be open to the public and properly managed by a lawfully made plan that protects the 150 year old Nobbys lighthouse and the Aboriginal Dreaming Place.

An Address on the Nobbys Proposal

An Address to the citizens of Newcastle and the Hunter Region by Mr Doug Lithgow, President of the Parks and Playgrounds Movement and a Freeman of the City of Newcastle

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Whybaygamba Aboriginal Dreaming Place

Aboriginal Heritage

Aboriginal stories about the region remain as oral tradition among Aboriginal communities. The following story about Nobbys was published in the Christian Herald February 1855.

At the entrance of Newcastle there is a small high island, called by the English Nobbys Island. The blacks have a tradition that it is the abode of an immensely large Kangaroo which resides within the centre of the high rock, that occasionally he shakes himself, which causes the Island to tremble and large pieces to fall down, as any one can perceive has been, and still continues to be the case, on the eastern side of the Island. It is evident on the slightest inspection, that at some early period the Island formed part of the main land, the strata correspond with the similar ones of coal, sand, and other stone to those on the opposite shore, nothing but a general convulsion of nature could have affected such a change. Manual labour is now employed to fill up the space betwixt the Island and the main land so as to form a breakwater for the protection of the harbour at Newcastle, and a great part of the top of Nobbys Island has been taken down without reaching the monster kangaroo said to dwell within the rock!

Letter to the Hon Peter Garrett iconic heritage headland decision needed

The Honourable Peter Garrett, Minister for the Environment,

Heritage and the Arts

House of Representatives

Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600

An opportunity to preserve the iconic Nobby’s Headland from adverse development for the enjoyment of future generations of Australians

Dear Minister Garrett, congratulations on your appointment to head this important ministry which is focussed on protecting Australia’s environmental and cultural heritage values. I am sure that you are aware of the proposal to re-develop the Nobby’s Headland at the mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle. The Nobbys Headland is an enduring and ubiquitous icon in Newcastle and the Lower Hunter Region, relentlessly appearing in logos, letterheads, tee-shirts, and advertisements. Nobbys is the signature landmark of Newcastle - a part of our psyche.

Before you make your determination concerning the Nobby’s re-development proposal, please consider the following issues, summarised as:

· Disturbance to aboriginal heritage site: Excavation and construction of new facilities will disturb the ‘kangaroo spirit’ that resides in the headland known to the Awabakal as Whybaygamba. Awabakal oral tradition has it that the kangaroo shakes his tail when disturbed, thus accounting for the recurring pattern of earthquakes in Newcastle.

· Social Exclusion: While the proponent claims his proposal will open up the headland to all, he boasts of a ‘chefs hat’ restaurant and ‘five-star’ accommodation. Hours of access will be limited. The general public will have to walk to the site unless there are overnight guests or restaurant patrons. Over 30 vehicles a day will traverse Macquarie Pier (1818), a State Heritage item enjoyed by thousands as a public pedestrian promenade. Access to Nobbys can be made viable without the need to construct a restaurant and exclusive accommodation.

· Loss of open space: Buildings already account for 66% of an already crowded site not much larger than a generous suburban housing block. Open space is essential to appreciate the isolated context of the Nobby’s lighthouse and the vistas to be had from the headland.

· Loss of heritage curtilage: The proposed 50-seat glass and steel restaurant will lie within 30cm of the seaward side of the Nobby’s Lighthouse (1857) – the oldest operating lighthouse on the eastern seaboard. The awning of the restaurant overlaps the lighthouse gallery, while the restaurant closely envelopes the lighthouse on its important seaward side. The ability to appreciate the heritage context of this squat historic lighthouse (in Commonwealth ownership) is severely compromised – whether viewed in close proximity on the headland or from important publicly accessible viewpoints such as the Southern Breakwater.

· Loss of heritage values: The close and enveloping nature of the new development combined with its siting on the seaward side of the Nobby’s lighthouse, effectively ‘decapitates’ the lighthouse lantern from its base. From many angles, the lighthouse base will be obscured by the restaurant. Unobstructed visibility is the prime siting rationale for lighthouses. Nobbys lighthouse needs to stand alone to be appreciated as a heritage item. Further, the group of buildings and the open space on Nobbys should be considered as a cultural landscape – as a single unit. The proposed restaurant and enlarged cottages have the visual effect of creating a fused mass with the lighthouse.

· Alternatives to ensure access: Supporters of the re-development argue that it is necessary to ensure access for all, and to generate funding for the maintenance of historic structures. The only heritage-listed building on the headland is the operating lighthouse in Commonwealth ownership. The existing 1940s cottages on site can be adaptively re-used as cafes, souvenir shops, an interpretive centre and public toilets, generating income that Newcastle Port Corporation can utilise to maintain these structures and employ a ranger. Re-use of the cottages would not compromise the heritage value of Nobbys. I have previously toured Nobbys as part of organised tours – little needs to be done to make it publicly accessible other than opening the entrance gate, and adding a short section of safety fencing.

This is an excellent opportunity for the new Federal Government to establish its heritage and environmental credentials by not approving the proposed Nobbys redevelopment on the basis that national heritage values are compromised under the EPBC Act. Non-approval would complement the generous funding made by the previous government toward the restoration of the nearby nationally significant, Fort Scratchley, another key component of the proposed Coal River Heritage Park..

Yours sincerely,

Mark Metrikas

Grad Dip Heritage Studies, UNE

B701/24 Bolton Street


Friday, January 25, 2008

Public Statement for all who care about Newcastle and its heritage



Nobbys is a significant place that is for all of us.

At first glance it may sound great to privatise Nobbys and build an 8 unit Motel style development with Restaurant and a manager’s cottage. Perhaps it could be done in a sympathetic way with some public access thrown in?

In reality, it’s over development of a unique lighthouse site and privatisation of public land and of the views to and from the headland and is particularly wrong in that it impacts on the lighthouse (A Commonwealth Heritage Place). It continues an unsympathetic attitude to an Aboriginal Dreaming Site.

Whybaygamba (Nobbys) was reduced from 62m in height to 28m for the erection of the Nobbys Lighthouse which is still an operating lighthouse after 150 years.

Nobbys and the Nobbys Lighthouse are unique Newcastle heritage items that must be acknowledged and respected in an official conservation tourist management plan for the Coal River Precinct (SHR1674).

The public must be given safe access to the headland and the area around the lighthouse.

The Development was initially approved by the NSW Heritage Council in 2005 with conditions. The Applicant did not accept the conditions and resubmitted the original development as a Crown Development Application under 116C of the NSW EP&A Act to escape independent and transparent assessment and the imposition of conditions that may have reduced the impact.

116C states: Viz: Determination of Crown development applications NSW EP&A Act 1997

116C Determination of Crown development applications

A consent authority, in respect of a development application made by or on behalf of the Crown, must not:

(a) Refuse its consent to the application, except with the written approval of the Minister, or

(b) Impose a condition of its consent, except with the written approval of the Minister or the applicant.

The effect of 116C above was that the applicant determined their own development and if any conditions were set they are not valid unless approved in writing by the applicant or the Minister. None of the officially established plans of management (EG Council’s Heritage Places Strategic Plan and POM 2000) were able to be brought to bear on the development not even the Newcastle Port Corporations own objectives as stated in the invitations for Expressions of Interest as written below:

1. To release this (currently) restricted site for public access/use and, in doing so, to establish a pre-eminent destination of historic and scenic significance for the benefit of the Newcastle community;

2. To solicit innovative, practical and economic proposals for the adaptive re-use of the signal station and cottages;

3. To protect and enhance the site’s historic, aesthetic and social fabric for the future benefit of the Newcastle community;

4. To actively promote the site’s heritage value and significance, particularly its role in the development of the Port of Newcastle, through public education and the use of on-site static and interactive information displays.

5.To ensure the safety of all users of the site.

The Joint Venture/Consortium agreement between the Newcastle Port Corp and the Nobbys Lighthouse P/L has not been made public nor have the Board’s papers and recommendations declaring the DA a Crown Development. It is certainly not clear if the DA is entitled to be a Crown DA. Furthermore there has been no explanation of why the Consortium tried to develop the site in contravention of the Commonwealth legislation and the NSW conditions of consent.

Nobbys Headland should be transferred to the NSW Parks Service so that the headland can be administered by an authority that has a legal obligation to protect and promote the heritage values of the Nobbys Lighthouse and make the headland available to the general public as a park. The lighthouse is not only an important heritage lighthouse that must be acknowledged, it is an operating lighthouse controlled by legal lease obligations with the Commonwealth Maritime Safety Authority.

Doug Lithgow, President Parks and Playgrounds Movement –