The Urban Taskforce has released a statement saying that the 40-year-old Sydney Harbour Control Tower is out of place in Sydney’s low-rise Millers Point, and that heritage laws put forward by community groups are a bid to compromise new developments.
This follows from the National Trust’s bid to save the 87-metre historic tower when its owner, the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, sought planning approval to demolish the structure as it was not in keeping with its vision for a naturalistic headland park in Barangaroo north, designed by renowned landscape architect Peter Walker.
“Some heritage bodies see the tall concrete control tower as a romantic connector to the days when Sydney Harbour was a bustling port,” says the organisation’s CEO, Chris Johnson. “But the tower represents the worst period of shipping use when the beautiful finger wharves were bulldozed to create vast concrete flat tarmacs for the growing use of containers that led to semitrailers clogging the city streets.
“The extensive container wharves were never listed as being of state heritage significance and neither should the concrete surveillance tower that looked into the back gardens of local residents. Technology has replaced physical surveillance with radar based systems and the heavy container port activity has been moved to Botany Bay.
“The calls for heritage listing seem to be a throwback to the calls to keep the container wharf shapes rather than support the re-shaping of the original headland that is now in place. The essential character of Millers Point is of low- rise buildings that relate to the waterfront and this end of the Barangaroo project must respect this.”
Originally established to give maritime controllers a vantage point of the harbour and wharves, the National Trust notes that the tower continues to play a “pre-eminent role in the history and maritime operation of the Port of Sydney – the primary commercial port of Australia”.
A report, recently obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald and commissioned by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, show some of the plans the Heritage Council has for the structure.
Options for re-use include an adventure tower with a pop-out platform offering bungee jumping, abseiling or a "vertigo experience", a viewing tower with panoramas over the harbour, and a restaurant.
However Johnson, along with other detractors such as Paul Keating, believes the tower has no heritage value and is not deserving of a heritage-listing.
Johnson adds that the Heritage Council’s Statement of Significance struggles to address the aesthetic significance of the Control tower by referring to it simply as an engineering structure, and that referencing and recognising the architects’ designs in Canberra is inadequate.
“The much taller and visually prominent Sydney Tower in the middle of Sydney’s CBD is not listed as state significant and neither is the control tower at Sydney Airport,” he observes.
“The Urban Taskforce would normally be very supportive of tall structures in the right locations. In this instance the tall buildings are appropriately located at the southern end of Barangaroo with the northern end being mid and low-rise buildings that relate to the historic setting of terrace houses and warehouses. It is a misuse of heritage legislation to now support an intervention that the heritage organisations 40 years ago should have been fighting against.
“It seems that some community groups who are against new development are keen to use the heritage laws to compromise the new development. Heritage significance must be assessed on its merits rather than becoming another tool to attack new development.”
The tower was bought for $2.6 million by the Authority, who has proposed a heritage interpretation strategy for the precinct’s new cultural area. This will take the form of a circular roof opening integrated into the park’s new green roof, which would create a shaft of light in the same shape and size as the Harbour Tower’s column.