By BARRY JENNINGS
THE NSW government yesterday afternoon placed an interim heritage order on the foundations of Port Macquarie’s 1821 Government House.
The deputy premier, Dr Andrew Refshauge, made the announcement saying the order “would give time to allow for discussion to take place with the developer, Hastings Council and interested community groups”.
The order means that no work can be done on the $7.5 million Panorama Motel project until the order is lifted.
“This is a very important historic site and we want to work out what’s best for all the concerned parties, including the developers,” Dr Refshauge said.
Interim heritage orders are usually for 12 months, or earlier at the minister’s determination.
The Premier, Bob Carr, will inspect the site during a visit to Port Macquarie next weekend.
Hastings mayor, Cr Wayne Richards, said the council would be comfortable with the decision, but he is hopeful that it will take no more than two to three weeks for a recommendation to be made to the minister by the NSW Heritage Office.
“We acknowledge this will cause some hardship for the owners and builders who were ready to start work. That’s the risk you take when excavating sites in Port Macquarie,” he saif.
He said the decision meant there was now no need for the planned meeting of council on Monday night.
However, the Panorama’s development manager, Steve Martyn, said mid-afternoon yesterday he had not received advice of the order in writing, and his intention was to keep the council to its word on issuing the construction certificate today and starting work on the site on Monday.
Mr Martyn said the intention was to have 11 local tradespeople on the site on Monday. If the order was received in the meantime those jobs would be lost.
He gave a cost figure of $2800 a day for the equipment to be on the site.
Mr Martyn said he would be disappointed if at the “11th and a half hour, a halt was being called”.
“In practical terms nothing more can be done with the ruins,” he said.
“We have absolutely thoroughly investigated and catalogued every brick on the site and removed every possible relic down to shells, and now that’s done anything else is going through the motions.
“The developers have done everything required of them.”
The Friends of Port Macquarie Government House, which was formed on Monday this week, were jubilant with the announcement.
“We are delighted that Port Macquarie’s heritage assets have been recognised by the government and we commend the minister for his decision and for the speed with which he has acted,” spokesperson Ms Elaine van Kempsen said.
She described the announcement as “wonderful”, “marvellous” and “terrific news”.
Ms van Kempen said she acknowledged the goodwill of the owners of the site and their sponsorship of the archaeological excavation that was required under the NSW Heritage Act.
“This interim heritage order will allow time for different options for the site to be canvassed,” she said.
“This was indeed Port Macquarie’s last chance to be something more than just another coastal resort and to justify its claim to ‘unique heritage’.
Dr Refshauge said the old house remains were evidence of one of the earliest seats of government beyond Sydney.
“We will now assess the heritage significance of this important site while taking into account the employment and other opportunities presented by this $7.5 million development,” he said.
He thanked Cr Richards and Shooters Party MLC John Tingle for raising concerns with him.
Mr John Tingle said he had rearranged Mr Carr’s itinerary to allow an inspection of the site.
“I had appeals from a number of people involved in trying to preserve the ruins, and who wanted the Premier to see them,” Mr Tingle said.
Mr Carr was deeply involved with Australian history and had expressed a wish to see the ruins.