Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nobbys Redevelopment Proposal - Submission to the Minister: 2008/4672

Approvals and Wildlife Division
Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601

Dear Sir.

Nobbys Lighthouse Pty Ltd/Tourism and recreation/adjacent to Nobbys Lighthouse, Newcastle/NSW/Nobbys Headland Redevelopment Date Received: 22 Dec 2008 Reference Number: 2008/4672

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement request that the Minister for the Environment Heritage and the Arts the Hon Peter Garrett MP MA assess the development proposed at Nobbys Headland as a Controlled Action. In view of the history and misinformation in the media regarding this development previously it is important that the development proposal be transparently assessed at the Commonwealth Level.

The peak conservation bodies of NSW appreciate the action the Minister and his professional advisors in respect to the previous proposal which would have made a serious impact on Nobbys Lighthouse and its Commonwealth Heritage Values.

The current proposal whilst an improvement on the previous proposal would unnecessarily impact on the public amenity and potential National Heritage values of the Nobbys Headland which is an important Aboriginal Dreaming Site Whibayganba of great significance. This Aboriginal site was noted in Sir Thomas Mitchell’s Fieldbook 1828 and the Aboriginal story of the abode of the immensely large Kangaroo was documented and published in the Christian Herald February 1855 at the time when Whibayganba was being cut down for the erection of the Lighthouse.

Nobbys or Whibayganba 1828

Nobbys or Whibayganba from Sir Thomas Mitchell's 1828 Fieldbook

Newcastle from the Windmill (now Obelisk Hill) (1828)

Nobbys Lighthouse, a Commonwealth Heritage Place and Nobbys Headland, are part of a threatened potential National Heritage site. The headland and the convict built Macquarie Pier 1818 – 1846 are integral parts of the Coal River Precinct SHR 1674 and must because of its significance and threatened impacts be assessed at the National Level.

As can be seen from the aerial photo 1.1 Page 1 0f 17 and the Mitchell 1828 Fieldbook above, the headland is a remote site and it is an inappropriate location for a motel style development which this new project is. We ask that the Commonwealth exercise its power and responsibility to assess this development on the grounds that it impacts a Commonwealth Heritage Place, its context and heritage values.

James Johnson Newcastle’s famous lighthouse Keeper and only survivor of the Dunbar 1857 photographed at Nobbys Lighthouse 1902 Nobbys Lighthouse Newcastle NSW
(State Library of NSW)

The protection and promotion of these Commonwealth Heritage Values is absolutely essential in relation to the tourist potential of the whole Coal River Precinct and potential National Heritage site. We draw your attention to the history of the company that is proposing this development. It is a shelf company that was previously known as Jacksons on the Park Pty Ltd and The Hunter’s Ark Pty Ltd. Both these company names were used as a vehicle to promote proposals that would have alienated important public parkland and heritage places Jacksons on the Park P/L at King Edward Park and The Hunter’s Ark P/L the convict built Macquarie Pier. Public authorities should ensure that the directors of companies such as this are required to indemnify their company if they wish to make development proposal over public land.

We also bring to your attention as stated in Description of proposed action, 2.2 Context planning framework and state/local government requirements “ The governing local statutory planning control in the Newcastle City Centre LEP 2008. Site is located in Council’s Newcastle East Heritage Conservation area and located within the Coal River Precinct a State Heritage Listed site.

The former proposal (EPBC 2006/379 was assessed by relevant local and state consent authorities against applicable planning controls and guidelines. Development consent has been obtained from both Newcastle City Council and the Heritage Council for the previous scheme which was similar in many respects to this one”.

The fact that the State Heritage Council and the Newcastle City Council assessed the previous Nobbys Lighthouse P/L proposal wrongly as a Crown Development under Section 116C of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act which prevented any Assessment Authority rejecting or placing conditions on the proposal without the written approval of the applicant or the Minister means that this matter requires qualification. Because of the heritage importance of this site to the Nation it is essential that the proposal be assessed in a transparent way.

In respect to the use of the Section 116C the development has no relationship to the Newcastle Port Corporation’s operation of the Port. It was claimed that the Newcastle Port Corporation and the Nobbys Lighthouse were in some sort of consortium but we were unable to find any contractual arrangements advertised as is required in such matters. Furthermore it is not recorded that the development was contrary to the Newcastle Heritage Places Strategic Plan and Plan of Management approved June 2000 – Nobbys Headland page 86 or that the Heritage Council adopted a former proposal with conditions. The proponent rejected the conditions and resubmitted the exact same proposal as a Crown Proposal under 116C which of course was not open to rejection or the imposition of conditions of consent by either Consent Authority without written approval from the applicant. (See copy of The Herald cutting 7/2/2006 Page 4)

I note that the proponent’s referral has not informed the Commonwealth that the Coal River Precinct SHR 1674 is now subject an adopted Conservation and Cultural Tourism Management Plan 2008. The new development must address the philosophy and aims of this plan which states:

With its indigenous associations the Coal River Precinct is a true ‘birthplace’ site. Its land, buildings and subterranean remains concentrate elements of the Newcastle story from pre-history through the first hundred and fifty years of European settlement and beyond. In the beaches and the Nobbys Beach Pavilion the all-embracing questions of the Newcastle character are exemplified. It is difficult to think of another major city which can point to such a rich mix of important heritage themes in such a special landscape environment.

The plan with regard to Nobbys 5.2 states that:
Nobbys is a key contributor to the precinctual heritage. It is directly relevant to all the proposed heritage themes.

We maintain that the Commonwealth has an important role to play with respect to this significant site and the previous approvals are not applicable to this new development which should be assessed transparently as a new development.

Nobbys is a proposed Historic Site. The Movement first nominated this area as a Historic Site in 1968-9 when the Hon Tom Lewis as Minister for Lands in the NSW Government brought down the first National Parks Act. Mr Lewis was very supportive but the Maritime Services Board was opposed the proposal and it lapsed at that time. Had the area been brought under the Parks Service then it would have been the first Historic Site in Australia. Now in the new proposal we note that the Newcastle Port Corporation and Maritime NSW have abandoned the site and have no need to station personnel at the Headland and we propose that the Headland be transferred forthwith to the NSW Parks Service as is supported by the conservation movement of NSW. Please note the NSW NCC resolution below.

The 2006 Annual conference of the Nature Conservation Council resolved unanimously:

THAT the Nature Conservation Council of NSW:

(a) object to the Newcastle Port Corporation’s plans which will virtually privatise Nobbys Headland and construct buildings that adversely impact on the historic Commonwealth Heritage Listed lighthouse; and

(b) request that the NSW Government arrange the transfer of the headland and Lighthouse from the Port Corporation to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which has the statutory power to conserve the heritage character of Newcastle's distinctive headland and provide safe access for the people of NSW.

This motion clearly states the policy of this organisation.

It is important that the proposed glazed safety fence is not constructed just inside of the existing heritage wall. Glazing in this location is most inappropriate and would create a large and unnecessary maintenance problem and impact on the heritage wall. We totally approve of the proposed removal of the modern motor car garage currently alienating the Lighthouse and its historic easement for access and was used as an excuse for further alienation of the lighthouse context in the previous development proposal. The general public must be allowed to visit Nobbys Headland walk freely around the Lighthouse and its environs. As a site the area is not anymore dangerous that other sites that are higher and looking over steep cliff faces to the rocks and the sea below. Council has normal park safety fences at such places as Shepherds Hill and Bar Beach, King Edward Park Bathers Way and at Ordinance Park (Fletcher Park) these areas are much higher and more foreboding. We would favour a new simple stainless steel pipe and wire safety fence constructed beyond the weather station and in the grassed area but well away from the cliff edges.

Nobbys was always open to the public but restricted to the open area around the lighthouse within the walled area and Along the road up to the summit. It was only denied to the public completely in about the year 2000 when the former CEO of the Port Corporation Mr Glen Oakley had the electric gate constructed. There is no real reason why the headland could not be open to the public now.

With the previous proposal the whole headland was to be leased for the proposed private development. The free access to the headland was to be denied to the general public and all natural views from the headland only open exclusively to paying patrons of the motel rooms or the restaurant. A stairway to the roof of the restaurant was to be available but public use was at the pleasure of the proponent.

The proposed Lease of the Headland must be detailed and be part of the transparent assessment of this new development.

We would be pleased if you would consider the joint submission from peak environment organisations re the previous Development Proposal which is added as an attachment to this Email. It contains much relevant material including all the points on page 3 including We propose that:

We would appreciate a proper public enquiry so that evidence could be made available for all to see in an impartial way free from the extravagant media and political interference that this issue has been subjected to in Newcastle.

We thank you for the opportunity to comment on this new development which we ask be assessed as a new development and Controlled Action.

The Movement would be pleased to provide further information and evidence at the assessment stage.

Yours Sincerely

Doug Lithgow

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Nobbys Redevelopment : The Issues

In the Public Interest
To the Councillors of the Newcastle City Council

Dear Councillors,

Nobbys Headland (Whibayganba) and Nobbys Lighthouse (1857) at the entrance to the River, Newcastle NSW.

1. I apologise for not sending this material to you earlier and for not sending it to you individually. (It is the holidays and I have family commitments).

2. I am trying to let you know the issues regarding the Nobbys Lighthouse and the significance of the Coal River Precinct birth Site of Newcastle.

3. The previous Council behaved badly regarding this matter and allowed the proposal to slip through as a Crown Development using S.116C EP&A Act without transparent assessment.

4. The proponents were also in breach of Commonwealth law and the Port Corporation ultimately widened the roadway without development consent.

5. The Conservation Movement of NSW will have to start campaigning in the New Year to have the Headland transferred to the Parks Service or a Community Trust so that it can be opened to the public without further delay. (The Headland should be open to the public now)

6. The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts is inviting public comment on the latest proposal by the 8th January 2008. Documents are below. (Reference Number: 2008/4672)

Title of Referral: Nobbys Lighthouse Pty Ltd/Tourism and recreation/adjacent to Nobbys Lighthouse, Newcastle/NSW/Nobbys Headland Redevelopment
Date Received: 22 Dec 2008 Reference Number: 2008/4672
Notification from EPBC Act Date of Notice Documents
  • Invitation for Public Comment on Referral
22 Dec 2008 Referral Attachment A Attachment B Attachment F Attachment D Attachment E Attachment C

Doug L.


1. Nobbys Headland should be a National Park and freely open to the public as are other lighthouse sites in New South Wales.

2. It is of National significance and could be administered by the Parks Service or a Community Trust but must not be privatised.

3. The recently built brick garage against the lighthouse should be removed and no new houses built.

4. It is the most widely recognised symbol of the City of Newcastle and an Aboriginal Dreaming Place of great significance.

5. Nobbys headland (Whibayganba) is Newcastle’s unique heritage landmark:

5.1 Nobbys was formerly an island.

5.2 It was connected to the mainland by a convict built breakwater Macquarie Pier (1818 -1846) and is an integral part of the Heritage Listed Coal River Precinct (SHR1647).

5.3 Newcastle’s Coal River Precinct is a cultural landscape of national significance and has Nobbys Headland (Whibayganba) at its focal point.

5.4 Its landform, heritage places, relics, and buildings symbolise major events in Australia’s journey to nationhood:

5.4.1 The discovery of winnable coal, the first coalmine in the southern hemisphere and Australia’s first export industry. The founding of Newcastle and the transition from convictism to free labour and from government industry to private enterprise.

5.4.2 The establishment of the first coal fired beacon on the Australian coast and its replacement by the still operational Nobbys Lighthouse.

5.4.3 The protection of the port with the construction of Macquarie Pier 1818 and the building of the fortifications at Fort Scratchley 1882.

Nobbys or Whibayganba 1828

Nobbys or Whibayganba from Sir Thomas Mitchell's 1828 Fieldbook

Newcastle from the Windmill (now Obelisk Hill) (1828)

Below is a copy of a letter sent to the former Premier of NSW the Hon Morris Iemma MP on the 30th May 2008:

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 of NSW)

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 was incorrectly assessed as a Crown Development Application.

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 and
President, Parks and Playgrounds Movement

Escutcheon attached to Nobbys Lighthouse
Lighthouses Act 1911
(Photo taken 2008)

Crown Plans of Nobbys Headland showing military works
and Lighthouse Station

Nobbys Headland (Whibayganba)
Photo taken in 1984.

Chambers for the blowing up of Nobbys with gunpowder were dug by convicts at the base of Nobbys under the direction of Colonel Barney in 1854. Public protest halted the plan to blow up the headland but its height was reduced from 62 metres to 28 metres for the erection of the Nobbys Lighthouse.

Honeysuckle should revise its irrelevant 1993 Scheme

Why has the Hunter Development Corporation (HDC) been allowed to operate for over ten years without a relevant Scheme for its Growth Centre as constituted?

Hunter Development Corporation General Manager Craig Norman explains some of the proposals for the New Year (HDC manages to keep all the gloom at bay The Herald 31.12.08) but we are left in the dark about the Corporation’s relationship with its “Scheme”.

The HDC formerly Honeysuckle Development Corporation is a ministerial corporation constituted under the Growth Centres Act and is required under Sections 14 and 15 to prepare a Scheme and Section 17 to implement an Approved Scheme within the framework of the law. Its scheme was prepared in 1993 and is irrelevant to the currently proclaimed Hunter Growth Centre. HDC has done good work but has been shackled to a non-conforming 1993 Scheme & Masterplan at Central Honeysuckle.

HDC began with a $100 Million dollar windfall from the Commonwealth’s “Building Better Cities” program but we believe it blundered at Central Honeysuckle by disregarding the 1981 winning design from the Newcastle Harbour Foreshore and Urban Design Competition with its landscaped foreshore and rail corridor entrance into the city. HDC failed to integrate the new Honeysuckle with the existing city structure:

  • The Masterplan was approved without the planning research and the geotechnical investigation needed.
  • The wharf fender line is the cadastral boundary and the HDC acquired the longshore wharves from the port authority and demolished them leaving much of the planned foreshore and openspace under water!
  • The Masterplan proposed a cove and bridge at Civic that had no relationship to the original Honeysuckle Point foreshore or the historic railway buildings and built out the whole area anyway.
  • The sensible wharf road was ripped up and a contorted road layout constructed and reconstructed.
  • HDC advertised for a hotel before the planing framework was in place. The Minister blamed the Council and used the excuse to gazette his Hunter Regional Environmental Plan REP Central Honeysuckle and remove the Council’s consent powers.
  • .The HDC failed to vary their Scheme to conform to the Minister’s REP 1997 for Central Honeysuckle.

The HDC is required by statute to prepare a “Scheme” and should start by deleting the irrelevant 1993 honeysuckle master plan and establishing clear transparent parameters to guide the HDC in its widened Growth Centre role for the Hunter Region.