New battle to protect Scenic Hills heritage

Varro Ville Homestead. Picture: Anna Warr
Varro Ville Homestead. Picture: Anna Warr

Almost 18 months after obtaining Heritage Council support for an extended curtilage around their property, the owners of the historic Varro Ville Homestead in the Scenic Hills felt they were "on trial" as they had to plead their case before the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) yet again.

Jacqui Kirkby and Peter Gibbs requested an extension of the curtilage around their home (encompassing outbuildings and agricultural features) in 2017.

The request was supported by the Heritage Council that October, but state Environment and Heritage Minister Gabrielle Upton has still not acted - despite a law requiring she make a decision within 14 days of receiving the recommendation.

The Catholic Metropolitan Cemetries Trust (CMCT) - which plans to build a massive cemetery around the property - previously supported the extended curtilage, but has since had a change of heart.

"The CMCT and its consultants have identified that the Heritage Council's statement of heritage significance... lacks the requisite rigour, factual basis and supporting specialised expertise," it said in a recent submission to the IPC.

"The CMCT respectfully submits that a greatly reduced curtilage based on a more rigorous review of heritage significance is appropriate and should be considered."

Ms Kirkby was furious at the backflip.

"It would appear that the CMCT... is trying to move the goalposts," she said.

"In its rezoning application, it stated it would support this curtilage and preserve the 'colonial landscape', but it now seeks to remove this impediment at the DA stage so that state heritage identified within the expanded curtilage can be recorded, then destroyed to make way for the cemetery.

"The Minister, in breach of her own legislation, has been sitting on the recommendation for more than a year, allowing the Varroville cemetery DA to progress through the system unimpeded by a heritage listing.

"With an election coming up she's then sent it to the Commission 'out of time' for a review. We felt we were on trial at the Commission last time for trying to protect state heritage. It was a horrible process for no result. And now we have to go through it again for the DA.

"It's hard to feel there's any integrity left in the system."

The Advertiser asked Ms Upton why it had taken so long to make a decision, but she could not answer.

"We're in caretaker mode now and, depending on what happens at the election, there will be a decision, I expect, post-election," she said.

A public meeting will be held regarding the cemetery DA at Lakeside Golf Club, Gledswood Hills, on Monday, March 25.