Dust up as social housing heritage listing sent to back paddock

A hard-fought battle to win heritage listing for a Kent Town public housing site has been halted by opposition from its SA Housing Authority owner, leaving more than 100 Dr Kent’s Paddock residents fearing for the future of their homes.

May 24, 2023, updated May 25, 2023
Dr David Baker from Kent Town Rundle Street Community in front of Dr Kent's Paddock and the converted John Martin's warehouse. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

Dr David Baker from Kent Town Rundle Street Community in front of Dr Kent's Paddock and the converted John Martin's warehouse. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

One resident described how she was devastated when the authority won its bid to defer the state listing while Environment Minister Susan Close steps in to judge whether putting the 114 homes and communal garden built in 1978 to 1979 on the register is in the public interest.

“I moved here in 1994 …. I feel devastated, it’s not just a home to me, it was a home to my three adult children, it’s a home to my grandchildren,” the resident, who has made a submission supporting the listing but did not wish to be named, said.

Former Kent Town residents’ association president Dr David Baker initiated the listing process and worked to give residents at Dr Kent’s Paddock “a say in what happens in their life”, adding that some supporting the listing had lived at the complex for up to 40 years.

The housing complex of two-storey townhouses, flats and a 1912 former John Martin’s warehouse converted into studios was provisionally listed on the SA Heritage Register in December last year after an extensive review by the South Australian Heritage Council.

SA Housing Authority employed Bottin Levinson lawyers to make its case against the listing, and the authority’s submission under public consultation is the only one of 39 received by the SA Heritage Council against its inclusion.

Public housing at Dr Kent’s Paddock, Kent Town. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

Environment Minister Susan Close has now exercised her powers under the Heritage Act 1993 to ask the Heritage Council to defer a decision on listing Dr Kent’s Paddock “until matters of public interest are considered.”

“Nothing is safe with heritage listing, the legislation makes it clear that the minister can override,” Baker said, adding he was now concerned for the future of the Kent Town residents if the site was redeveloped.

“Everyone would agree that the idea of knocking down or eliminating social housing would cause such a problem…. I’m on the outside looking in, I have my own house so I don’t have the same fears that people living there rightly do.”

The minister has up to 12 months from the date of the provisional listing on December 8, 2022 to consider the matter.

In making the provisional listing, the South Australian Heritage Council described stage one of the housing complex on Capper Street and Rundle Street as demonstrating an important evolution in social housing history in South Australia.

Its statement of heritage significance also referenced that it was built by the South Australian Housing Trust in 1978-79 and designed by acclaimed SA architect Newell Platten, demonstrating the trust’s “transition from provider of homes for workers to become the primary provider of social housing in SA”.

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An historic pepper tree lives in the communal gardens, while large sections of the land known as Dr Kent’s Paddock is now Prince Alfred College recreation grounds, with Baker saying developers are showing interest in the high value inner-city site.

The submission against the listing claimed the site “does not demonstrate any aspect of history”, that it “is not a unique housing development” and that “it sits unremarkably in the massive body of work that the authority has undertaken”.

Among the 38 submissions received before the public consultation closing date in April in favour of the listing, one described the site’s valued association with the suburb of Kent Town’s namesake, Dr Benjamin Arthur Kent.

Another described Dr Kent’s Paddock as “a masterful example of urban design and social housing exemplifying Newell’s humanist approach”.

Former Kent Town residents’ association president Dr David Baker at Dr Kent’s Paddock. Photo: Brett Hartwig/InDaily

“This project was influential around Australia and locally provided a positive precedent for the development of Community Housing Projects and private medium density developments.

“The importance of Dr Kent’s Paddock was recognised, receiving the Australian Institute of Architects (SA Chapter) 25 Year Enduring Architecture Award in 2007 which is awarded to one project annually but only if there is a project considered worthy.”

Housing Minister Nat Cook said the listing was now an issue for the Environment Minister.

“The SA Housing Authority engaged an external lawyer to make a submission to the Heritage Council regarding the proposed Heritage Listing of Dr Kent’s Paddock, where we have 114 dwellings,” Cook said.

“Our focus remains on ensuring that all South Australians have access to a safe and affordable place to live.”

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