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A Thematic Approach to Understanding Government Heritage Assets

The Government of Western Australia began providing government-assisted housing in 1912. This resulted in tens of thousands of properties being built across the State, many of which remain the property of the Housing Authority. Housing renewal programs and government land and asset sales in recent years have resulted in an increasing number of referrals coming to the Heritage Council from the Housing Authority under the provisions of the Government Heritage Property Disposal Process (GHPDP).

In order to address the high number of referrals, the Housing Authority commissioned a Thematic History of Government Housing in Western Australia in 2014 with assistance from the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage (DPLH). Subsequent analysis of the study by the department began to identify areas that may warrant further investigation to see if they are examples of housing that meet the threshold for assessment for entry in the State Register of Heritage Places. One of the main findings of this work was that the post-WWII period was the single most significant period in the provision of government housing in WA.

In 2016-17, the department began analysing this period in detail, while continuing to work with the Housing Authority to streamline decision making around GHPDP. Places that met the GHPDP criteria continued to be processed using the priority checklist developed in 2015 to determine if more detailed information was required. Since its introduction, 177 places have been triaged using the checklist rather than having to go through a full referral.

The analysis of the post-WWII period was completed in April 2017 and identified five precincts/groups that comprehensively tell the story of government housing in Western Australia during this era. As a result, the Housing Authority no longer has to refer housing constructed during this period under the provisions of GHPDP, outside these five areas. This decision resulted in heritage clearance for approximately 1,650 dwellings, many of which were likely to have been earmarked for disposal in the near future due to their age. Since April 2017, only one property has gone through the checklist process, and no places have required a full referral.

By taking a thematic approach to understanding the heritage values of government housing provision, there remain only a small number of areas where the Housing Authority will need to liaise with the department in relation to GHPDP. This represents a significant saving in terms of officer time for both agencies by reducing the number of reports required for properties identified for disposal. Furthermore, the identification of clearly defined areas that will be considered for possible inclusion in the State Register of Heritage Places will enable the two agencies to work together to ensure that appropriate mechanisms and resources are in place to enable their ongoing conservation.

Drawing on the positive outcomes of taking a thematic approach, the department has been encouraging other agencies to undertake a similar themed approach to understanding their historical assets.

In July 2016 Main Roads (Wheatbelt) completed a Thematic History of Bridges in the Engineering sketch of Quindanning BridgeWheatbelt. The study identified 622 bridges under Main Roads’ jurisdiction, many of which were scheduled for upgrade or replacement in the next few years. Such upgrades would have triggered a flood of referrals to the Heritage Council under the provisions of the GHPDP.
However, departmental analysis of the thematic study has resulted in the identification of a shortlist of 67 bridges for further analysis, and Main Roads has been being advised that the remaining 555 bridges do not need to be referred under GHPDP. Further detailed analysis of the remaining 67 bridges is likely to result in only a small number being identified as warranting assessment for possible inclusion in the State Register, with the remainder also not requiring referral in the future.

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