Towards an Australian Heritage Quality Framework

The APT Australasia Chapter recently collaborated with the Australia ICOMOS Traditional Trades Training Working Group to prepare a paper which was submitted to the Heritage Branch of the Australian Department of the Environment for consideration in conjunction with preparation of the 2014 Australian Heritage Strategy.

This paper proposes a quality framework for sustainable heritage conservation. The quality framework would have two key objectives:

  • to assure the quality and sustainability of works to heritage places and improve heritage outcomes
  • to drive the training and development of human resources to sustain cultural heritage values over time

While the proper conservation and sustainable use of built and cultural heritage is an
enduring ambition shared by communities around Australia, it is apparent that a decline
in the standard of works to heritage places has resulted in the diminishment of cultural
heritage values at some places, and a serious threat to the sustainability of those cultural
heritage resources to the communities they serve. The evidence of the decline can be
observed in several ways:

  • the substitution of non-sustainable materials and works practices for sustainable, traditional materials and practices
  • a precipitous decline in traditional skills and a lack of training of specialist tradespeople to meet current and future conservation needs
  • an emphasis on pre-works compliance requirements without adequate attention to monitoring and assurance of the quality of outcomes
  • an over-emphasis on the economic values of heritage places, particularly in relation to the tourism value of heritage resources, without a corresponding awareness of the long-term viability and sustainability of high levels of exploitation of those resources

This proposal explains the issues and benefits to be derived from a quality framework to improve heritage management efficiency and to assure the delivery of better outcomes.

Planning and heritage management systems (including works approvals processes) in the states, territories and nation place emphasis on pre-approval processes. Less emphasis is placed on the monitoring of outcomes or enforcement of consent conditions. There is usually a disconnect between pre-consent planning processes, which are sometimes costly and time consuming, and post-consent delivery, which can expose heritage-listed places to pragmatic decision making and adverse impacts on heritage values. Whereas, these two critically dependent parts of a heritage management system should be seamless and complementary; however, they are not. The current disconnect between them diminishes the potential to achieve sustainable and consistently sound conservation outcomes.

A well-constructed quality framework would address this flaw. It would provide improved security for the conservation of heritage places. It would enable all to enjoy the benefits of more sustainable outcomes, including better performance and improved environmental returns, as well as improved community health and wellbeing and a higher quality of heritage works.

The idea of a Heritage Quality Framework is not new. Work has already been undertaken in Victoria for the Heritage Council with the involvement of heritage technical specialists. The Minimum Standards of Maintenance and Repair under Section 9A of the NSW Heritage Act, 1977 can be considered to be a quality measure, which has been embedded in legislation. Many Heritage Sites have Management Plans with Key Performance Indicators or Objectives, which are used in monitoring and reporting. In most jurisdictions consent conditions are tailored for individual places, whereas they could be more readily provided in standards within a quality framework.

In summary, improved outcomes could be achieved by the application of a quality framework to all activities in relation to the care of heritage places. Accordingly, the Australia ICOMOS Executive Committee (through the AI Traditional Trades Training Working Group) and the APT Australasia Chapter are jointly coordinating an endeavor to bring about the introduction of a National Quality Framework for sustainable
conservation of heritage places.

Please send any comments on this paper by email to the Convenor.

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