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Historic Willow Grove. Historic Willow Grove. Featured
30 July 2020 Posted by 

OPINION: POWERHOUSE AT CUMBERLAND PRECINCT THE IDEAL LOCATION

Preserving heritage a win-win for our city
CR DONNA DAVIS
THERE are very few buildings you see that make you want to smile, but Willow Grove is one of these.
Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace enhance Parramatta and are of high social significance. They must remain central to any reimagining of our city to ensure we incorporate the past in the present.
 
The Parramatta community has campaigned for over three years to save these significant buildings because they are such an important part of the built and social fabric of our city.
 
The State Government must accept that Parramatta needs and deserves investment in the arts and cultural institutions but not at the expense of our heritage. 
 
In 2014-15 the Council bought Willow Grove and St George’s Terrace because they were central to its River Strategy. 
 
When the Council was sacked in 2016, the State Government used this opportunity to purchase the sites and proceed with their proposal to move the Powerhouse from Ultimo. 
 
When a new Councillor body was elected in 2017, it unanimously supported the incorporation of both heritage buildings in any redevelopment of the site.
 
Recently, the State Government capitulated to mounting pressure announcing that the Powerhouse will be staying in Ultimo thus putting into doubt the validity of the entire Powerhouse EIS process.
 
It also raises questions about the key themes and objectives of the Powerhouse Parramatta. 
 
The proposal is to create a new institution with lots of flexible space but for such a significant project, funded primarily with taxpayer’s money, is this museum “fit for purpose” or is it more as it seems that the Government is making it all up as they go along? 
 
Deficit of cultural infrastructure
 
No one argues with the fact that there is a deficit of cultural infrastructure west of ANZAC Bridge, along with equitable arts funding. 
 
However, given the backflip, strong criticism of the building design (the undercroft, flood responsiveness, public domain), the CFMEU Green Ban and the looming Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry the project should be reconsidered, or at the very least reshaped, to ensure Parramatta cultivates its very own institution.
 
A rethink right now gives the State Government the breathing space it needs to reassess the project at a time of extraordinary economic uncertainty. 
 
Reconsidering the project still allows for significant investment in our city while retaining the heritage that contributes so much to this place. 
 
The fact is there are better alternatives. A return to the Council’s River Strategy provides an opportunity to save the heritage while creating a 24/7 arts and cultural precinct delivering an iconic cultural institution (an art gallery) to complement Riverside Theatres, an outdoor amphitheatre and open green space with visual links to the river.
 
Even better is the opportunity to realise a museum in the Cumberland Heritage precinct that incorporates the Parramatta Female Factory. 
 
This National Heritage site is our equivalent to Sydney’s Macquarie Street. Commissioned by Governor Macquarie and designed by Francis Greenway, it is the earliest and most intact convict women’s site surviving in Australia.
 
With a light rail route planned directly through the precinct it is the prime location to build a magnificent new museum sympathetic to its heritage surrounds. 
 
An alternative business case has been presented to NSW Treasury by community advocates that delivers a museum for a fraction of the cost of the proposed Powerhouse Parramatta. 
 
This is an option that won’t compromise heritage, nor building design but it unlocks countless possibilities for a museum in an extraordinary location just a stone’s throw from Parramatta Park and BankWest Stadium.
 
This vision would provide an opportunity for the City of Parramatta to realise its River Strategy development with the current funding commitment shifted to a museum on State owned land at the Cumberland Precinct. 
 
Delivering double the cultural spaces for the community and tourist industry and double the jobs - it’s a win, win for Parramatta.
 
 
Councillor Donna Davis was elected to City of Parramatta Council in September 2017. She represents the Epping Ward. The views expressed in this artcile are not necessarily those of Parramatta Council.


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