Fears for heritage buildings

OWNERS of several heritage-listed buildings around Wollondilly are concerned that planned longwall mining could irreparably damage them.

Three buildings threatened by Illawarra Coal’s mining plans are St Mary’s Towers in Douglas Park, St James’s Church in Menangle and Gilbulla, the former residence of John Macarthur’s grandson, also in Menangle.

Illawarra Coal’s 30-year mining plan covering large sections of Douglas Park and Menangle has caused these concerns.

Representatives of all three heritage-listed properties have signed a letter addressed to Planning Minister Tony Kelly calling for the buildings to be excised from mining plans.

They wrote: “We ask you to place protective excisions around the three historic buildings. This can only be done at some inconvenience and expense to the company but the possibility of serious damage to our heritage would be far worse.”

The letter has not yet been sent to Mr Kelly.

St Mary’s Towers novice master Chris McPhee said it would be a national tragedy if mining damaged the Douglas Park buildings.

“The proposed 1.5-metre subsidence under any one building would be a major disaster,” Father McPhee said.

He said the age of the sandstone buildings meant they did not have foundations capable of withstanding a lot of movement in the ground below.

The congregation of St James’s Anglican Church wants to preserve the church, which was recently valued at almost $3.5 million and still has most of its original features.

Gilbulla, originally a wedding present for Colonel James Macarthur Onslow and his bride Enid, retains many historical building and design features and is today a retreat and conference centre. St Mary’s Towers was included on the Australian heritage list in 1978.

Father McPhee said any damage to the buildings would be difficult or impossible to repair.

“You couldn’t rebuild it,” he said. “It’d be a national disaster if part of this place went.”

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