Report called for after Heritage Council fails to list Willards Farm

PHOTO: Rob Weismantel
PHOTO: Rob Weismantel

THE fate of a 153-year-old house at Birkdale hangs in the balance after the Queensland Heritage Council refused to list the site, known as Willards Farm.

The failure to list the property at 302 Old Cleveland Road East, Birkdale, paves the way for a 12-lot housing development and public road.

Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Steven Miles signed a Stop Order prohibiting all work at the 8164sq m site on July 16. That order lapses on Thursday. 

Queensland Heritage Council chairman Professor Peter Coaldrake said Willard’s Farm did not meet the threshold of heritage significance.

“While we acknowledge the strong local community support for heritage listing the property, the Heritage Council must weigh nominations up against specific criteria and other considerations outlined in the Heritage Act before making a decision,” he said.

“The Heritage Council gave careful consideration to all of the information available, including the views of the parties that made representations, before we reached our decision.”

Professor Coaldrake said the decision took into account written and verbal undertakings from the owner Floreau Pty Ltd it would not demolish the relevant buildings for a six-month period.  

Capalaba MP Don Brown, who lobbied for the site to be heritage listed, said it was now up to Redland council to protect the city’s history.

The Willards Farm which failed to make Heritage listing.

The Willards Farm which failed to make Heritage listing.

He said the site, next to the aerial farm where General Douglas McArthur announced the end of World War II, was of historical significance.

“I respect the ruling from the independent umpire (Heritage Council) but the state government did all it could to protect this site,” he said.

“There is nothing prohibiting the council from acknowledging it’s a heritage site and protecting the farm.”

News of Tuesday’s decision prompted Division 1 councillor Wendy Boglary to ask for an urgent report on the status of heritage buildings across the city at this morning’s council meeting.

All councillors voted for the urgent report, expected to be tabled next month, after officers told the meeting there was no heritage listing on Willards Farm or another property at 6 Fernbourne Road, Wellington Point.

Officers said there were no conditions requiring buildings from either property to be relocated.

Cr Boglary said the report was urgent after council also approved a six-unit development for 6 Fernbourne Road, where Redland pioneer Gilbert Burnett built his first cottage, still on the site, sometime before 1888.

A photo of Willards Farm in the 1890s. PHOTO: Helen Duggan

A photo of Willards Farm in the 1890s. PHOTO: Helen Duggan

She said she wanted the report to look at all options for both sites and was working with the owner of the Fernbourne Road property to get the century-old house relocated. 

“Unless a very wealthy individual comes along to move the house to private property or council steps in, we could lose this piece of our heritage,” she said.

“The owner wants the Fernbourne Road home removed and is happy to work with the community or the council … but he also wants to do his development.

“There is a very short three-month time frame for us to work out a way to preserve this history.”

Birkdale councillor Paul Bishop said he was surprised at the Heritage Council’s decision not to put Willards Farm on the state Heritage Register.

He said three city-wide assessments, in 1995, 2002 and 2012, found the Willards Farm worthy of further heritage assessment.

“Unfortunately, because this is a privately-owned site not owned by council, it can’t be listed on the Local (Redland) Heritage Register,” Cr Bishop said.

“When officers were required to assess the development application to turn the site into 12 lots, they were unable to assess its merit on heritage grounds.

"Now the independent heritage council has ruled the site is not of state significance, our council’s lack of robust heritage policy leaves this locally important historic dwellings in no man's land.

“This creates a dilemma for community and owners to sort out in the next six months. I want officers to create some kind of framework to assist all parties."

​In August, council officers told McCullouch Robertson lawyers, acting for the developer Floreau, the property did not make the Local Register heritage listing following the assessment in 2012.

They also discussed relocation sites, including the Old School House Gallery in Shore Street, Cleveland, and the federal land north-west of Willards Farm.

Birkdale Progress Association, which has championed protecting Willards Farm, said it was disappointed the property failed to make the Queensland Heritage register and that council had no coherent heritage policy.

Association members also called for council to buy Willards Farm and keep it on the site rather than spending money relocating the buildings.

“We are particularly disappointed because the most highly qualified heritage officers in the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection themselves recommended to enter Willards Farm on the Queensland Heritage register,” a statement from the association said.