The Guardian November 29, 2000


Historic working class precinct threatened

Approximately half of Adelaide's historic Richmond Estate, in the inner-
city suburb of West Torrens, is about to be redeveloped as expensive 
market-value rental properties.

The Estate was set up originally to provide accommodation for poorly-paid 
working class families and the aged.

The current tenants are putting up a battle to save their community from 
almost certain destruction; to preserve the unique architectural 
characteristics of the area; and to retain the original grant's commitment 
for the area to provide accommodation for poorly-paid working people.

The Estate was established in 1897 with a L25,000 bequest from the estate 
of the 19th century Adelaide identity Sir Thomas Elder.

It was intended to provide "suitable dwellings at reasonable rental" for 
"workmen, their families and aged persons" and to be administered by a 
board of trustees. The maximum rent for each house was set at market value 
minus 10 percent.

However, in 1933 an Act of parliament was passed which allowed members of 
the Board to claim 2.5 percent of the rental.

Although a maintenance account was set up to cover the maintenance costs of 
the properties, in the post-war period the level of official inspections 
and maintenance has been minuscule.

One tenant had her house painted only twice in her 34-year tenancy, and 
within living memory virtually all of the maintenance and improvements 
(including concrete driveways, air-conditioning, pergolas, sunscreens, etc) 
have been carried out by the tenants themselves.

The West Torrens area is now highly sought-after real estate, and in 
private hands the Richmond Estate would hold potential for massive profits 
from redevelopment.

Despite the clearly-stated intention of the original bequest, the Board Šrecently decided to redevelop the area and to lease the additional 
accommodation at market rental.

If carried out, this would largely subvert the intention of the original 
grant — and would presumably be of considerable benefit to the members of 
the Board, in the form of greatly-increased rental commissions.

The Board appears to be answerable to itself only, provided that it abides 
by the conditions of the original Deed of Trust and the 1933 Act.

In view of the terms of the original bequest it might be thought that the 
Board members would include representatives of organisations who would have 
the interests of the working people and the aged at heart — the tenants 
themselves, trade unions, government housing and welfare bodies, etc.

In fact current Board members appear to comprise a small clique of high-
profile accountants and lawyers. The sons of serving members often replace 
their fathers on the Board.

Until recently the Chairman of the Board was debarred stockbrocker Malcolm 
MacLoughlin.

No tenant is represented on the Board.

The estate is highly significant in social terms because of the consistency 
(to date) of its community. It is also highly significant because its 
buildings were designed over a 30-year period by three well-known Adelaide 
architects.

(Much of it is very similar in design style and period of construction to 
Sydney's historic Daceyville Estate.)

The recently-completed West Torrens Heritage survey recognised the 
significance of the Estate and recommended that its buildings be preserved 
and that any removal of fabric be kept to an absolute minimum.

It strongly advocated "the retention of the historic residential character 
of the area" and recommended that any development "should meet the needs of 
the residents". 

Despite this, the Board proposes to demolish 34 of the 77 houses of the 
estate as part of the current redevelopment.

The remaining original dwellings will all lose their backyards, with the 
exception of one row of houses which back onto a creek.

The houses on the perimeter of the Estate will have their facades preserved 
(like the Tsar's village) but will lose much of the rest of their fabric.

The areas of demolition would be redeveloped as two-or three-storey 
apartments, and the existing buildings renovated.

Significantly, the Board has refused to give the tenants a guarantee that 
no part of the Estate would be sold off after building works are completed.
ŠThe development of the Richmond Estate is a step back into the gross 
philistinism and greed of the 1970s.

A 1972 study of the redevelopment of several streets of the Melbourne 
suburb of Fitzroy revealed that its mainly working-class occupants lost 
their ready access to the city and workplaces and were forced to move to 
outlying suburbs, with considerable loss of earnings, and severe 
dislocation to their travel arrangements and family life.

The remaining tenants of the Richmond Estate will have a similar experience 
if the development goes ahead.

Who stands to benefit? It would appear that the members of the Board will, 
but Adelaide's "workmen, their families and aged persons", the original 
beneficiaries of the 1897 bequest, most certainly will not.

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