Lord Mayor aspirant Rex Patrick alleges recently revealed FOI documents show the Adelaide City Council does not have a “work” or “project plan” to pursue World Heritage Listing status for the city’s 760ha green belt – but he promises that if elected he will doggedly pursue it.
The Adelaide Park Lands needs its ‘political champion’: Patrick
“While there’s been plenty of talk for many years, there’s been very little ambition and no real action,” Lord Mayoral candidate Rex Patrick told CityMag.
“There is no schedule and there are no reports as to progress.”
To make it onto the World Heritage List, according to the official UNESCO website, a natural or cultural site must have “outstanding universal value” and “be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy”.
Last year Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor told CityMag the City of Adelaide had been actively building the UNESCO World Heritage Listing bid for the Adelaide Park Lands and Colonel William Light’s city plan since 2018 – after councillors voted to support it.
Verschoor, who is running for re-election as Lord Mayor in the November general elections, today refuted Patrick’s claims that the council was not actively pursuing the proposal with a timeline.
“We have been working towards World Heritage Listing for several years now,” Verschoor said.
“In 2019, I commissioned as chair of Kadaltilla [Park Lands Authority] the research document by Duncan Marshall, to have a look as to whether the bid for the city plan put together with the Adelaide Hills plan would be strong enough.
“We got that in 2020.
“Then with Mayor Jan-Claire Wisdom, who was the head of the Adelaide Hills consortium (seeking world heritage listing for the Mt Lofty Ranges), we all met together in April 2020, and we made a decision that we would go forward with a single bid.
“I met with the [Environment] Minister at the time, David Speirs; he was supportive of us bringing the bids together so we started work on that.
“The next thing that we had to do is prove that there’s outstanding universal value and unless we can prove that there’s outstanding universal value, you can’t go forward.
“We had an expert forum about a month ago, where we brought all the experts in including the representatives of a state that would work towards the federal bid.
“At the conclusion of that forum [we had] decided that we do have outstanding universal value and therefore we can continue with the bid.”
She said the council had hit progress “milestones” and the State Government contained the formalised timeline document – but could not say why the council did not have its own document.
“I can’t really answer that other than [to say] we’ve actually been stepping through the process,” Verschoor said.
She said as Lord Mayor and presiding member of Kadaltilla Park Lands Authority she had championed the World Heritage bid through budgets and strategies but referenced the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for hampered progress.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, she said she was optimistic the bid would continue.
“There does need to be political will and I’m very happy that it’s bipartisan,” Verschoor said.
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The basis of Patrick’s claims surrounds a Freedom of Information request lodged on 8 August 2022.
In the request, seen by CityMag, he asked for any City of Adelaide documents pertaining to the formal works or project plans for the council’s Adelaide Park Lands World Heritage Listing bid.
He also requested bid schedules, an internal progress report and a tentative draft submission.
In a letter from CEO Clare Mockler, dated 20 September 2022, seen by CityMag, Mockler said the City of Adelaide had identified and provided five documents within the scope of the application. Two were accessible online.
Of the documents:
- one was a 2019 independent expert review of the Mount Lofty Ranges World Heritage bid;
- one was a 2020 review and assessment of the status and feasibility of the Park Lands and city layout bid;
- one was a PowerPoint presentation to the council summarising the aforementioned 2020 report; and
- one was a 2021 report into Adelaide and “rural settlement landscapes” furthering the combined city and Mount Lofty Ranges bid.
The 2020 report found there was “substantial potential” for the Adelaide Park Lands and city layout to be included as a cultural site but only if it combined its bid with the simultaneous World Heritage List effort occurring in the Mount Lofty Ranges.
The final document provided to Patrick as part of the FOI was a letter of agreement from the City of Adelaide, dated 10 August 2022, to commission heritage expert and consultant Duncan Marshall to lead a small “expert” workshop later that month.
The workshop would explore the findings of the expert reviews, refine the pitch and provide an “opportunity to help identify key potential experts to further assist with the nomination”, the letter of agreement says.
The contract also commissioned Marshall to draft a tentative list submission, based on the work identified within the 2021 Adelaide and rural settlement landscapes report, which would form the basis of the joint World Heritage bid.
The proposed core narrative of this report is that 19th century Adelaide and its rural settlement landscapes — including the early Adelaide plan, which features the Adelaide Park Lands — are of outstanding universal value, it states.
Patrick said these released documents revealed “no work [or] project plan” for the Adelaide Park Lands World Heritage Listing and the council was “drifting towards a tentative listing” and not “actively rowing towards it”.
“There is no schedule and there are no reports as to progress,” he said.
“Nominating a site for World Heritage Listing is a serious business requiring sustained policy, administrative and political effort.
“What’s lacking is a political champion who will drive the process properly and with a schedule in mind.
“I believe it is possible for the council to present a ‘tentative list’ submission to the Federal Government by February 2024, assuming there is State Government support.
“It is possible to proceed without prompt State Government support, but that might take rather longer.”
Patrick said if successful in his Lord Mayoral election bid he would make providing the necessary leadership to get global recognition for the Adelaide Park Lands a “priority”.
“This would not be just a feather in Adelaide’s cap, World Heritage listing would provide a special focus for efforts to build international interest in our city in the lead-up to South Australia’s bicentennial,” he said.
“It would also be a powerful disincentive to any further ad hoc encroachment on the Park Lands and a major incentive to ensure the proper management for this vital public space in decades to come.”
The Adelaide Park Lands received National Heritage listing in 2008.
A South Australian UNESCO World Heritage bid must be supported by the State Government, which would nominate the proposal federally.
If the Adelaide Park Lands did receive World Heritage Status, it would be bound by the 1972 World Heritage Convention, stating the country in which it’s located must pledge to conserve it.