Sirius residential development view from western side

Losing the Sirius building at The Rocks would be a loss of the diversity and interesting architecture so strongly sought by the kinds of tech companies the NSW government says it wants to attract to Sydney. Now the unions have stepped in to hopefully save the government from itself, as they did in the first Green Bans.

The green ban movement of the 1970s has been revived in an attempt to stop the demolition of the historic brutalist Sirius building, with unionised workforces ruling out any work on the site.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and Unions NSW on Wednesday joined Save our Sirius chair Shaun Carter, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and 1970s green ban leader Jack Mundey to announce the ban, which will take effect at any announcement to sell or demolish Sirius, meaning no company associated with the unions will be involved with the site – either in sale, demolition or rebuild.

Mr Carter, who is also Australian Institute of Architects NSW president, said the green ban had been placed because the government had ignored the advice of its own heritage council regarding Sirius’s “rich cultural and built heritage”.

“We’ve spoken with the unions and once again a green ban has been placed on the rocks,” he said.

“This time to save our Sirius, and to help save the most historic precinct from further damage and destruction. To save the local community.

He said the government did not know how to value the cultural and heritage assets of the city, and had stopped listening to its experts and the community.

Aside from its architectural qualities, the building also had cultural heritage, being the site that unlocked the original green bans of the 1970s, which preserved the Rocks from destruction.

“Sirius was the compromise that lifted the green bans while protecting the historic Rocks,” Mr Carter said.

With the strength of the union movement having waned since the historic green ban of the ’70s, many have been left wondering how effective such a move is, and whether it is only effective as an additional piece of political pressure on the government to halt its plans.

“Whether the unions are as effective as they once were or not, we hope the community rises up to tell the government that important sites like Sirius are fundamental, and need to be protected,” Mr Carter said.

One industry insider, however, told The Fifth Estate that practically all of the demolition industry was unionised, so it could be an effective roadblock.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the NSW Government’s decision to knock down Sirius against advice from heritage bodies set “a dangerous precedent”, describing it as an “outrageous cash grab”.

“By selling out our communities and our history to make a quick buck, this decision could undo the very reason heritage legislation exists,” she said.

Ms Moore told a gathered audience at the Sirius site yesterday that the Queen Victoria Building in the centre of Sydney itself had been threatened with demolition for a car park.

“So it’s really important that we have these bodies in place to advise us about what’s important,” she said.

Ms Moore said the city needed to be more than “an enclave for the wealthy” and it needed to have a mix of people.

The Fifth Estate has previously argued Sirius being retained would be strong symbol for the NSW Government of a forward-thinking, progressive government that cares about its residents – something that could improve its international reputation.

Sirius not the only heritage site under threat from NSW Government; is Callan Park next?

The rumour mill is also in overdrive regarding the fate of the Callan Park site in inner-Sydney suburb Lilyfield, after major tenant the University of Sydney revealed this year plans to move its Sydney College of the Arts offsite.

What will happen to the precinct, much of which is run down, has been the subject of much debate.

The Callan Park Act of 2002 limits the uses of the site to non-government organisations around health, education and community, and development is limited to the footprint of existing buildings.

Responsibility for the former mental asylum site currently lies with the Office of Environment and Heritage, with a source telling The Fifth Estate this week that there were plans afoot to repeal parts of the Act to facilitate commercial development, though this has been strongly denied by environment minister Mark Speakman.

“There is no plan to repeal the Act,” a spokesman for the minister told The Fifth Estate.

However he added: “The matter remains the subject of government consideration.”

Greens member for Balmain Jamie Parker told The Fifth Estate while “you always have to be concerned with this government”, it would be difficult for any change to the Act to pass the Upper House, so it was “highly unlikely” the government would seek any changes.

He said talks with government about creating a Callan Park Trust had been positive.