The Jack Report
Lawson:

The Urban Conservation Area classified by the National Trust

Draft Final Report to Blue Mountains City Council, November 2003

Ian Jack Heritage Consulting Pty Ltd in conjunction with Pamela Hubert, Siobhan Lavelle and Colleen Morris.

November 2003

1. Preamble

1.1 The brief

The central area of Lawson, on both sides of the Great Western Highway, has been classified as an Urban Conservation Area by the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales). This Urban Conservation Area has not been incorporated into any planning regulations of the Blue Mountains City Council such as a Local Environmental Plan, so has advisory but not legal force.

The City Council has asked for a review of the boundaries of the National Trust's Urban Conservation Area. Such a review requires a critique of the way in which the National Trust defines an Urban Conservation Area and the rationale for decisions on the areas to be included and excluded

1.2 Personnel

The team consisted of:

Ian Jack, historian and principal consultant Pamela Hubert, conservation architect Colleen Morris, landscape consultant and Siobhan Lavelle, historical archaeologist.

All members of the team had prior knowledge of heritage issues in Lawson. Jack, Hubert and Lavelle had already advised Council on the significance of a precinct of cottages and other items in North Lawson within the National Trust's Urban Conservation Area and on heritage items in South Lawson in or adjacent to the National Trust area.

1.3 Methodology

To assist in the appraisal, the team had access not only to the National Trust's documentation of its classified Urban Conservation Area, but also the preliminary draft reports by Biosis on the Lawson Township Heritage Project in 2002-3 and four of the five accompanying Conservation Management Plans (for Douglas Square, Staples Store, the Blue Mountains Hotel and the site of the Blue Mountain Inn). The Conservation Management Plans were prepared for the Blue Mountains City Council to supplement the

Biosis documents and to provide a management tool for each of the specific sites.

 The entire team drove and walked around the perimeter of the National Trust Urban Conservation Area on two occasions and walked intensively around all the sensitive areas of South Lawson close to the Great Western Highway. Further historical material about the development of the village, beyond that already presented in various reports and in the histories by S.J. Bentley and Heather Mollenhauer, was obtained from materials in Springwood Library, Local Studies section, from the Mitchell Library, including subdivision plans and from local people, including owners and tenants.

It was agreed, and confirmed with a Council officer, that on 28 June 2003 Ian Jack should attend a community consultation in the Mid Mountains Community Centre organised by the City Council and addressed by Civitas Partnership, presenting a review of the preferred option for Lawson Village Centre. This gave Ian Jack an opportunity to talk to some of the concerned local people, as required by the brief.

It was agreed, and confirmed with a Council officer, that further consultation would be most suitably be conducted by discussing a draft of the report with Heather Mollenhauer, Nance Cooper, FIavian Vallance, Theresa Lock, Erst Carmichael and Eugene Stockton: Council officers commented on this draft before this further consultation, which was held in Lawson under the auspices of the Mid-Mountains Historical Society on Thursday 6 November 2003. Pamela Hubert and Siobhan Lavelle from the consultancy team attended as well as Ian Jack who spoke about the findings of the draft report and made available maps of the National Trust's Urban Conservation Area and of the alternative proposal for four smaller Heritage Conservation Areas as argued in this draft report.

The proposal for four Heritage Conservation Areas was well received by the meeting and additional historical information was offered about one of these Areas, the commercial group. This additional information included Heather Mollenhauer's valuable extracts from the Blue Mountains Shire Council Rate Books from 1917 to 1945. All this has been incorporated into the history of Area 3 and into the revised State Heritage Inventory form for Area 3 attached to this draft report.

Rate Book information about the proposed Henry Street Conservation Area was also made available by Joan Smith of the Blue Mountains Historical Society. This material has allowed a revision of the historical assessment of Area 2 in this report and in the accompanying State Heritage Inventory form.

The revised draft report is now presented to Council. Opportunity for wider community comment may be made through a coordinated release of the draft report as part of any exhibition arising from Council decisions to list additional or amended listings of heritage items and Heritage Conservation Areas as a subsequent amendment to the Local Environmental Plan.

2. The Nature of an Urban Conservation Area

2.1 Definition

What is an Urban Conservation Area? The standard list of heritage definitions used in New South Wales, published in the NSW Heritage Manual, includes the term, but merely gives a cross-reference to Heritage Conservation Area'.

The definition of a Heritage Conservation Area is:

An area which has a distinctive character of heritage significance which it is desirable to conserve. (Heritage Terms and Abbreviations, 4)
The assumption in the Heritage Manual is that an Urban Conservation Area is a sub-set of those Heritage Conservation Areas which relate to a developed townscape.

The National Trust in New South Wales, however, in 1982 published a short paper entitled Urban Conservation Areas: Definition, Delineation and Purpose. This ten-page document was 'a manual of practice' for the Urban Conservation Committee of the Trust and defined an Urban Conservation Area rather unhelpfully as: an area of importance within whose boundary controls are necessary to retain and enhance its character. (p.l)

The Trust's Urban Conservation Committee, established in 1972, was largely composed of town planners, architects and lawyers and its surveys were 'based largely on the visual qualities of an area, supported by a knowledge of its history'. (pp. 2,5)

In an earlier pamphlet, the Urban Conservation Manual (1977), the Trust had already insisted that: an urban conservation study should identify the methods of retaining and enhancing the historic character of an area, control new development so that it reinforces this character, and utilise environmental characteristics to broaden the community's social and economic opportunities (p.l) and emphasised that: it is important also to understand the character of the community in which the conservation study is being carried out, so that the conservation policies and planning measures which follow can respond to the community's needs and aspirations. (p.6)

A more recent review of the ideals and realities of Conservation Areas in Britain, by P.I. Larkham, published in the Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, 41,1997, has drawn attention to the way in which boundaries 'precisely and tightly drawn' may require refinement so that

(i) the conservation area should define all those elements that make up its architectural and social heritage; and

(ii) it should define the principal visual setting of that heritage. (p.28)

Larkham also noted that: it is increasingly recognised... that accurate and appropriate character appraisals area a sine qua non of good conservation planning. (pAO)

The present consultants have critically reappraised the National Trust's approach to Lawson, bearing Larkham's overview. The reappraisal is also mindful of section 1.3 of the Guidelines to the Hurra Charter: Cultural Significance, issued by Australia ICOMOS in revised form in 1988:

The assessment of cultural significance and the preparation of a statement of cultural significance... are essential prerequisites to making decisions about the future of a place.

2.2 The National Trust's Approach to Lawson

The initiative to define much of central Lawson as an Urban Conservation Area came from Lawson members of the Blue Mountains Branch of the National Trust in 1996. The natural concern over the proposed widening of the Great Western Highway though the village prompted the local committee to raise the heritage implications with the National Trust's Urban Conservation Committee. Katherine Brooks as Senior Conservation Officer at Observatory Hill liaised with the Lawson people and visited Lawson in 1997.

In July 1997 Stephen McLaren and Nance Cooper of Lawson framed a formal proposal for an Urban Conservation Area, Katherine Brooks again visited Lawson, a final proposal was submitted in September 1997 and the Conservation Area was approved by the Urban Conservation Committee at its meeting on 11 February 1998. It is clear that some attention was paid to the detail of the boundaries of the Conservation Area, since a series of maps show some tinkering with the initial thoughts of the local committee, but otherwise the presentation by McLaren and Cooper was unchanged. (National Trust, Observatory Hill, file 409)

The twelve-page proposal for classifying the Lawson Urban Conservation Area was closely analysed and it was noted that:

(a) it provided a general historitaLsketch of 1000 words followed by short histories of component elements, largely taken from the work of Heather Mollenhauer.

(b) there was no statement of significance, either of the proposed Conservation Area or of any of its component parts.

(c) there was no State Heritage Inventory form provided.

(d) there was no rationale for the way in which the area had been delimited, or for the minor changes which were made in 1997-8 to the boundary along Badgerys Crescent and elsewhere.

In all such listings, there is an insistent question: 'Why is this property within the Area, but this similar property outside?' There is also the question of specifically urban qualities: in what sense is an area of bushland notionally sub-divided for houses, but still lacking formed streets and amenities (as in north-west Lawson) comparable to precincts which have been residential for much of a century? There is the further consideration of comparative heritage values within the Conservation Area, where some streets have a coherent pattern of historically significant buildings, some have a large admixture of modem in-fill and a few have nothing but modem homes of minimal heritage significance.

On the basis of this inadequate documentation, Ruth Longdin of Katoomba compiled a State Heritage Inventory form in 1999 and sought endorsement of the Conservation Area on the State Heritage Register. The Heritage Office assessed the nomination and concluded 'that the area does not demonstrate the attributes of a place of State significance' and recommended that the Blue Mountains City Council included the Area on its draft Local Environmental Plan 1997. (Heritage Office, file H02/00117).

The City Council has not yet taken any action. Bearing such considerations in mind, the boundaries of the National Trust's Urban Conservation Area for Lawson have been critically examined.

lawson urban conservation area

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