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