Should a state significant heritage site be relocated to make way for a coal mine expansion?

Plans to relocate Ravensworth Homestead
Aerial view of Homestead complex. All photos supplied from EIS.

Aerial view of Homestead complex. All photos supplied from EIS.

If you had the resources, especially the finances, there is no doubt you could relocate certain heritage buildings.

But the question is should our heritage simply be moved around the countryside?

The answer to that question is mostly likely to fall into the domain of the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) the body that currently reviews all state significant projects including mining projects that receive a certain number of objections.

The heritage in question is the Ravensworth Homestead complex built around 1832 by Dr James Bowman. He arrived in Australia on the John Barry in 1819 having been appointed Principal Surgeon for the colony of NSW.

He married Mary Isabella Macarthur, the second daughter of John Macarthur in 1823 and took up 10,000 at Ravensworth in 1824 - one of the first freehold grants.

The reason the complex needs to be relocated is because it nows sits right bang in the middle of a thermal and semi-coking coal reserve of some 135 million tonnes that mining giant Glencore would like to extract to enable its existing Glendell open cut to continue operations until 2044.

Glencore have owned the homestead complex since 1997 and during that time the company has spent $600,000 on restoration work. They also own much of the surrounding land.

But if they want to get to the coal reserves then the buildings must go - and according to their nearly 600 page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Glendale Continuation Project there are two options.

One is to relocate the complex nearby on the property or two, a preferred option based on the community feedback and work undertaken by an advisory body appointed by Glencore, is to relocate the building to Broke and create a tourist attraction.

The EIS states there would be minimal heritage impacts through sensitive relocation of the the homestead and historic outbuildings.

However both options are problematic and reading the 900 plus page heritage report prepared by Lucas Stapleton Johnson (LSJ) that from part of the EIS relocation means loss of place.

This is the basic tenet of the Burra Charter that defines the principles and procedures to be followed in the conservation of Australian heritage places.

Where the complex is located is what makes the buildings and garden (what's left of them) so important to its significant local and state heritage values.

LSJ would prefer the complex was left in situ as removing the buildings from the historic and aesthetic setting removes their significant heritage values.

"Relocation is not desirable from a heritage point of view,"

The 'place' of the homestead complex is the history of the people who lived and worked on Ravensworth, the links and interactions, a number sadly tragic with the Wonnaura people, the development of colonial agricultural methods and the eight acres garden that surrounds the homestead. Many people of historic note including James White live and worked on the property all adding to its heritage significance.

All of this cannot simply be relocated.

The heritage report says much of the surrounding heritage has been lost most notably in May last year the arson of the Ravenworth Public School.

In the EIS it states the justification for the relocation is mainly the significant economic value of the proposed mine and associated employment opportunities.

Allowing the continuation of the mine for additional 20 years will according to Glencore ensure the ongoing employment of 600 workers and inject millions of dollars into the local and state economy as well as provide millions of dollars in state mining royalties.

One of the mine's main selling points is the fact it is described as a brownfield project despite the fact it will require the relocation of the homestead complex.

The EIS states thermal coal demand grew by 6.5 per cent in 2018 compared to 2017.

The EIS prepared by Unwelt makes an interesting statement on page 90 that coal remains one of the cheapest form of energy.

Green House Gas Emission over the life of the mine total 230,341,299 tonnes of which 220,372,162 tonnes and Scope 3 emissions.

Submissions on the the EIS which is currently on public exhibition on the close on January 31.