‘Under-threat’ park lands need world heritage protection: Libs

Opposition Leader David Speirs has thrown his support behind a long-running campaign to nominate the Adelaide park lands for UNESCO world heritage listing, despite warning about the cost and complexity of the process while he was a minister under the former Marshall Government.

Nov 28, 2022, updated Nov 28, 2022
Opposition leader David Speirs. Photo: Roy Vandervegt/AAP

Opposition leader David Speirs. Photo: Roy Vandervegt/AAP

Speirs said the Liberal Party would work with councils, heritage experts, conservationists, tourism operators and other stakeholders to advance a park lands world heritage bid to a national level if it won the 2026 state election.

He said his party would aim to take the proposal to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre “in the coming years”.

“Too often our park lands seem to be under threat,” he said.

“It’s time to lift the bar on the protection of our precious park lands.”

The Adelaide City Council has been building a case to nominate Colonel Light’s city plan and ring of park lands for UNESCO World Heritage listing for over four years, estimating that doing so could boost tourism spending in Adelaide by between 20 to 30 per cent.

If successful, Adelaide’s green belt would join a list of 1154 places already registered, including Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, India’s Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon in the US, which have been proven to demonstrate “outstanding universal value to humanity”.  

In 2019 when he was Environment Minister under the former Marshall Government, Spiers said he supported the council undertaking a feasibility assessment to determine whether the park lands met UNESCO criteria.

But in a letter to former Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor and seen by InDaily, he warned that nomination was a “technical and complex process that requires sustained investment over a number of years”.

“As Minister for Environment and Water, it would be prudent for me to be fully satisfied with the credibility and prospects of a world heritage proposal,” he wrote at the time.

According to the Adelaide Park Lands Association, the Liberal Party committed ahead of the March election to “engage with Adelaide City Council during the next term of government in relation to the world heritage bid for ‘Adelaide and its Rural Landscapes’”.

Speirs now sees world heritage listing as part of his policy platform to take to the 2026 state election.

“Independent world heritage experts have examined a potential bid and deemed that there is a strong case for listing,” he said, referencing a report commissioned by the city council and written by heritage architect Duncan Marshall.

“Adelaide’s park lands set our city apart. They are a unique part of our DNA and they support biodiversity, heritage and recreation, and act as lungs for our city.

“Given the significance of our park lands, the Liberal Party is excited to announce that we intend to push for their recognition as a UNESCO world heritage site, giving our park lands the international recognition they deserve.”

Environment Minister Susan Close said Labor committed ahead of the March election to work with the city council to explore having the park lands listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

“We are pleased the Opposition has now also committed to this,” she said.

“The Malinauskas government is committed to protecting and restoring the Adelaide Park Lands – unlike the former Liberal government which planned to build a $662 million basketball stadium on the banks of the River Torrens and pushed through zoning changes which slated Helen Mayo Park for development.”

Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith said she welcomed Speirs’ announcement and noted that the state government previously committed to working with the council to investigate a UNESCO world heritage bid.

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“I am optimistic that we would have the State Government and Opposition expressing interest in the bid and, given the advantages to our state of UNESCO recognition, I hope we can achieve it during this term of Council,” she said.

It comes after parliament earlier this month passed legislation to fast-track the demolition of the Thebarton police barracks in the western park lands to make way for a new $3.2 billion Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The future development has park lands advocates concerned, but the government has said it would restore more than 30,000 square-metres of currently blocked-off land around the hospital site to accessible public land.

The Department for Environment and Water previously considered lodging a joint bid to list both the Adelaide park lands and Mt Lofty Ranges on the UNESCO World Heritage register, after a previous attempt to nominate the latter was knocked back by the federal government in 2017.

South Australia currently has one UNESCO World Heritage site – the Naracoorte Caves National Park – and is currently working on a nomination for the Flinders Ranges National Park.

The state government earlier this year invited experts from the University of California Riverside, Macquarie University and Geological Survey of SA to tour sites in the Flinders Ranges.

Drafting of the full nomination document is expected to continue throughout next year.

The Adelaide park lands were listed on the National Heritage register in 2008, but they are yet to added to the state heritage list.

In October, parliament’s upper house passed Greens MLC Robert Simms’ Heritage Places (Adelaide Park Lands) Amendment Bill 2022, which would alter South Australia’s heritage and planning acts to include the city’s green belt as a state heritage area.

The bill passed with the support of the Liberal Party and SA-Best, but the legislation is set to fail in the lower house because the Malinauskas Government indicated that it opposes it – despite pledging support before the March election.

Attorney-General Kyam Maher told parliament in October that while the government “do agree with the sentiment of this Bill, we will be opposing it as this is not the preferred approach for creating state heritage areas”.

“In the government’s view, it fails to recognise the roles of the South Australian Heritage Council and the planning minister,” he said.

Close said the government did not support the bill as it “circumvents normal heritage listing process by not recognising the role of the South Australian Heritage Council nor allowing for public consultation”.

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