Council has resolved to make a submission objecting to Heritage Victoria’s recommendation that the Pioneer Settlement be included in the Victorian Heritage Register.
Mayor Bill Moar said there were a number of reasons why Council made the resolution at an Unscheduled Meeting of Council today.
“Pioneer Settlement is an important and significant asset to the Swan Hill community and broader tourism industry. We congratulate all who established the Settlement, over 60 years ago and currently the Friends of Pioneer Settlement, who contribute significant funds and help operate the settlement today.
“While it is a valuable asset and we recognise Pioneer Settlements local significance, Councils independent Heritage Architect considers Pioneer Settlement fails the tests to be of state significance. A series of eight criteria is used to determine significance and not one is considered to have been met” Cr Moar said
Cr Moar said among other concerns of the Council is the impact another level of bureaucracy will have on the day-to-day operations of the Pioneer Settlement.
“A heritage listing would undoubtedly impact day-to-day operations of the Pioneer Settlement, as well as the ability to carry out long term planning of this important and valued tourist attraction..
“Of further concern is the impact of staff and volunteers to be able to maintain and improve buildings and assets while being required to seek approval.
“We have been able to do amazing work to the Pioneer Settlement to date. Works that have kept the site not only operationally sound, but on-trend and attractive to visitors. Heartbeat of the Murray, the Paragon Cafe and modifications to the Lower Murray Inn are all significant enhancements that we have been able to make minus the red tape of additional approvals and the expense of permits”
“Heritage listing will bring an added financial requirement to the budget for changes that are not considered “like for like” across the more than 50 buildings onsite at the Pioneer Settlement,” Cr Moar added.
“This will apply added financial pressure to the Pioneer Settlement operations and therefore an increase of ratepayers’ contribution to the Pioneer Settlement’s bottom line ,” Cr Moar said.
Cr Moar said as outlined in the Council report, permits range from $296 for works under $10,000 and go up to $17,018 for works up to $30,000,000.
“Additionally, permits may be needed for buildings that require regular updates or changes – such as the front reception building, Heartbeat of the Murray amphitheatre, Paragon Café and Lower Murray Inn.”
There was also concern regarding the ability to make changes to ensure the future of the Pioneer Settlement.
“Council currently subsidises the operation of the Pioneer Settlement by approximately $800,000 per year in order to keep the site open. Council is actively trying to reduce this by increasing visitation to the site,” Cr Moar said.
“We know there has been a shift among visitors in what they want to see and do at museums – it is more about the visitor experience – rather than viewing static objects.
“As noted by independent Heritage Architect Ivar Nelson, the Pioneer Settlement has continued to grow and adapt to a changing tourism market, and the need to continue to do so remains.
“Unfortunately, heritage registration will hamper this ability to further develop the Pioneer Settlement, to meet visitor needs and expectations, as this will be limited by needing the approval of Heritage Victoria Officers or the Heritage Council,” Cr Moar said.
Cr Moar said that while Heritage Victoria did have funding opportunities available, these were for urgent conservation works.
“The maximum given to projects by Heritage Victoria under urgent conservation works is $200,000 – however, no operational funding is available.
“While Council has been successful in applying for grant funding opportunities for the Pioneer Settlement in the past, these have been through tourism streams.
“Heritage listing will affect the ability of Council to confidently apply for future grant funding opportunities through these tourism streams when the majority of projects will require Heritage approval,” he added.
“For example, the current $450,000 in State Government funding received for a new Heartbeat of the Murray Laser Light Show will include adding fixtures to buildings on the walk to and from the amphitheatre – plus additional smoke machines, snow machines and lights to the amphitheatre.
“If the heritage listing goes ahead, this project will require a pre-permit application meeting and an extensive approval process with Heritage Victoria, with no guarantee of success.
“This will delay the project, while also requiring additional staff time and resources,” Cr Moar added.
Cr Moar said from an operational perspective, the Pioneer Settlement currently relies heavily on volunteers to deliver the tourism experience and meet visitor’s expectations.
“Additional pressure on paid staff to meet Heritage Victoria principles or requirements will further reduce the ability to assist volunteers,” Cr Moar added.
Cr Moar said that heritage listing would also result in the Swan Hill community no longer having final control of the Pioneer Settlement.
“After almost 60 years, future developments and changes will be subject to the approval of Heritage Victoria Officers based in Melbourne.
“The flow on is that the Swan Hill residents and ratepayers who make up the volunteers will no longer have the final say over decisions related to buildings and objects onsite at Pioneer Settlement,” he said.
Council will put in its submission objecting to the recommendation of heritage listing before the due date of 22 June.
Council will make this submission available to the community on its website prior to the hearing www.swanhill.vic.gov.au
Council will also be requesting a hearing as part of its objection to the recommendation.
Heritage Victoria’s recommendation can be viewed by clicking here.