Stables damaged in recent winds

The historic stables behind the Australian Hotel have been further damaged by high winds.

A large piece of the tin roof was blown onto the footpath on Farquhar Street this morning and licencees Wes Zubar and Corinne Fuller are at their wits end.

"My major concern is the public," said Wes.

"There is another piece of tin that also looks to be critically unstable."

The heritage building has been the subject of much debate within the community due to its heritage value.

"We understand it's heritage value and we would be sad to see it go," admits Corinne.

"But we are forever looking at the weather forecast and we are so concerned someone will get injured."

The stables have been blocked off for the past few months after winds first damaged the structure in March.

"It's not our building but we're the ones on the ground just waiting for the day someone gets hurt," said Wes.

"Today could have been that day."

August 27

Stables to go?

THE heritage stables next to Wingham's Australian Hotel, deemed unsafe and threatened with demolition, received a stay of execution last week when Greater Taree City Council decided to defer the matter until its September meeting.

The decision came after a debate on Wednesday night which continued for well over two hours, punctuated by an adjournment when the mayor, Cr Paul Hogan, was taken ill and left the meeting.

The motion to defer the matter and seek more information for a subsequent report came from an amendment from Cr Kathryn Bell.

She suggested the report, on ways to maximise the retention of the heritage value of the stables, should have input from the Strategic Heritage Advisory Committee, the Manning Valley Historical Society, the owner of the hotel and others.

Three speakers from the public - Mrs Barbara Waters, president of the Manning Valley Historical Society, former councillor Helen Hannah, and structural engineer Tony Fish (on behalf of the hotel owners), addressed the council meeting on the issue.

Mrs Waters expressed the society's concern about the potential loss of part of Wingham's heritage, particularly as Wingham prided itself on being a heritage town.

She said the society was aware of the safety concerns but felt certain something could be done to make it safe and retain it. She was concerned that there had been no discussion about the demolition proposal with the people of Wingham - "and as you know Wingham people can be very parochial about what we want in our town."

Mr Fish reiterated the significant safety issues with allowing the building to remain and the unfeasibility and financial impost of restoring and retaining the damaged section. He said the owners had already spent a lot of money on investigating options (this included a quote from a licensed builder of between $350,000 to $400,000 to demolish and rebuild the front portion of the stables.)

Cr David Keegan asked if some of the support posts could be left to retain the heritage value of the building.

Mr Fish said the constuction of the stables was 'pretty poor' in the first place (archival evidence suggests the hotel and stables were constructed before 1899) and there was no certainty about the integrity of the remaining posts.

Helen Hannah said she was concerned about the lack of community consultation on the issue, saying the stable was the last of its type existing in the district.

She said she would like to see the matter deferred for a month for community consultation and possibly an independent engineering report.

She said the report to council was not a detailed breakdown of building costs and she felt there may be grant funding or other public avenues of funding to save the structure.

The ensuing council debate saw councillors trying to balance a solution between public and work safety concerns, liability issues, enabling more consultation despite the urgency of those safety concerns, concerns about imposing costly conditions on the building owners, and ways to maximise the heritage value of the stables.

Cr Tickle suggested the use of the term "deconstruction" rather than demolition of the structure, with as much of the material from the original stables saved to be used on the site or in a future development to reflect that heritage. He suggested community consultation could be used to come up with options on how to use those materials.

In the end it was decided to defer the issue until the next general meeting of council, for further information to be sought from the Strategic Heritage Advisory Committee regarding options to maximise retention of the heritage value of the stables.

In the absence of the mayor, the motion was supported by councillors Kathryn Bell, David Keegan, Alan Tickle, Peter Epov, and Brad Christensen, with councillors David West, Robyn Jenkins and Trent Jennison against.