The Railway Hotel
How conservation can go wrong.
The Railway Hotel was built around 1844 and its presence on Barrack Street in Perth is still distinguishable today. This structure has had a tumultuous past; it was demolished by developer Joe Scaffidi in 1992 going against a stop work order which was in place at the time. The façade and balconies on the Railway Hotel site you see today are reconstructions of the original – Scaffidi was ordered to rebuild the façade and balconies after he was the first person to be prosecuted under the Heritage Act.
A stop work order can be issued by the ‘Heritage Minister at any time and it requires work to be postponed/halted immediately in order to prevent any further damage to the building occurring’. In the case of The Railway Hotel, the stop work order was issued after all the building had been demolished except for the façade and balconies. This was done so the remaining structure could be assessed and a conservation plan put in place for that remaining structure. In 1992 the building was demolished during the night which was in contravention of the stop work order. This disregard of heritage places is both disappointing and concerning; developers and owners of heritage places have knowledge of the penalties that could apply to heritage listed places but still choose to deliberately and intentionally go against protection orders for what they can only see as a financial gain.
In this case, Scaffidi was prosecuted for ignoring the stop work order and demolishing a heritage listed building. He was fined $10 000 and ordered to rebuild the façade and balconies he destroyed. Success! This was the first case to be prosecuted under The Heritage Act and set a precedent ensuring you would be held accountable for failing to comply with the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage orders. Although Scaffidi followed through with the requirement to reinstate the façade, he still built the apartment tower behind with minimal to no design changes to incorporate the heritage building into the overall scheme. Today you can walk down Barrack Street and see the façade of The Railway Hotel strangely floating in front of the juxtaposed tower behind.
It was a great success for The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and The Heritage Council of WA to finally prosecute a party for infringing on The Heritage Act, but is the penalty for what Scaffidi did really enough? $10 000 in the grand scheme of things is barely a slap on the wrist for a multi-million dollar developer who knocked down a historic building with over 170 years of history housed within. Now a precedent has been set defining the penalty that is accredited to damaging heritage listed buildings it could act as an encouragement instead of a deterrent where a developer can look at the maximum penalty of $10 000 and justify the small financial loss for a larger gain in the completion of their project.
The system has proven to be functional with the successful prosecution but what it could do to become more effective would be increasing the fines for damage and alterations which are done deliberately in contravention of protection orders. It could also introduce a scale of severity to ensure the penalty acts as a deterrent on all levels – this way you could penalize developers such as Scaffidi with a significant fine that would actually influence his actions along with others in the future. The scale of severity should also be carefully designed so it does not infringe small missteps to the same degree as a larger one (like full demolition of a heritage listed building); this would still encourage people to take on the repurposing, adapting or renovation of heritage buildings without the concern of being slapped with a hefty fine for making a genuine mistake. It would also be beneficial for there to be a requirement that the design of a structure on a heritage place must interact with the heritage place in some way; this could prevent the result that we see on the site of The Railway Hotel Today.
Perth, Heritage. “Railway Hotel.” Accessed April 2, 2021. https://heritageperth.com.au/properties/railway-hotel/.
Laurie, Victoria. “Getting Over The Growing Pains.” The Australian, January 26, 2008.
Department of Lands, Planning and Heritage. “Protection and Repair Orders and Notices.” Department of PLanning, Lands & Heritage. Government of Western Australia, October 19, 2020. https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/information-and-services/historic-heritage/developing-and-maintaining-heritage-places/protection-and-repair-orders-and-notices#:~:text=The%20Heritage%20Minister%20may%20issue,consent%20of%20the%20property%20owner.
Heritage Council of Western Australia. “Register of Heritage Places – Permanent Entry: The Railway Hotel.” Accessed April 2, 2021. http://www.inherit.stateheritage.wa.gov.au/Public/Search/Results?newSearch=True&placeNameContains=railway+hotel&streetNameContains=&suburbOrTownContains=perth&lgaContains=&isCurrentlyStateRegistered=false.