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Willow Court

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 5 September 2019

Tags: Mental Health, Human Rights

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I wanted to raise the issue of the wonderful heritage precinct of Willow Court at New Norfolk. As every member of this House knows, Willow Court has a dark history but it is one of those sites in Tasmania that we need to look after. We need to make sure it is open to the public and that it provides the opportunity to tell its own story of the history of the way we used to treat people in Tasmania living with disability or people experiencing mental illness. There are some concerns within the community at the moment about what the Derwent Valley Council's plans are for the Willow Court precinct so I wanted to read into the Hansard correspondence that we have received from Diane Calburn in relation to Willow Court.

The current decisions being made by the Derwent Valley Council around proposals for the Willow Court precinct set up the opportunity for those precious buildings and surrounds to be forever taken from our community and all of the exciting possibilities for its future removed along with its cultural and historical integrity being compromised but the premise seems to be development at all costs in an attempt to reinvigorate our region which seems to me to be a very short-sighted approach and fails to take into consideration all aspects of the Willow Court precinct's potential.

It is an ideal opportunity for Derwent Valley Council to build on the 2011 Malcolm MacDonald comprehensive and forward-looking business and development plan, especially as it currently has no policy for the adaptive reuse or conservation of Willow Court.

One of Willow Court expressions of interest proposals includes an enhanced contemporary version of that particular plan, including provision for the extensive and unique historical collections and artefacts to be showcased.

With this proposal there would be a balance of commercial and community uses, providing access and activities for the community that are proven to have mental and physical health benefits. The ability to enhance self-esteem increases in social engagement and economic value and a community identity amongst other benefits.

The Willow Court precinct has a strong and special association with our community. Its culture and would be best served had the Derwent Valley Council taken all these aspects into account when they made the decision on 20 June this year to endorse two proposals, which are just concepts, for use of buildings while at the same time disposing of the proposal that would have provided a framework for developing a community vision and management plan, staged redevelopment and a planned approach to fitting proposed uses to the most suitable buildings with the balance of community and commercial uses for the buildings.

Interestingly, the council dealt with these agenda items on 20 June when earlier in the meeting, during public question time, the general manager announced that he had commissioned 'an independent probity assessment in relation to the process used in seeking expressions of interest by council in relation to the Willow Court site'.

Should the Derwent Valley Council have continued to deal with proposals for Willow Court when the process they have used to date is under question?

Yours sincerely

Diana Cowburn

There is an organisation that has a long-standing interest in and passion for the future of Willow Court and that is the Friends of Willow Court. One of the key individuals who is part of the Friends of Willow Court is Anne Salt. I will read Ms Salt's concerns -

It is now a matter of urgency that this matter be clarified as the Derwent Valley Council are in discussions to finalise the lease agreement of three buildings with the New Norfolk Rum Distillery with the view to sale later down the track. It will soon be finalising a lease agreement for the large Carlton yard to the Agrarian Kitchen and the 1830s Barracks building and Frascati House to Derwent Valley Arts.

Ms Salt, therefore, requests that we ask the state Government. That is what we are doing now. What was the state Government's intention for the Willow Court Barracks precinct when the site was handed to the Derwent Valley Council after its closure in 2000?

The Derwent Valley Council has made the decision to subdivide, lease and possibly sell off buildings in this historic precinct in the absence of a long-term vision or management plan. They have ignored all previously prepared plans to develop the site as a community asset. The decisions of council, Ms Salt says, to subdivide and lease buildings and spaces within the Barracks precinct were based on acceptance of concept proposals with no actual plans provided or due diligence conducted on each proposal, to my knowledge.

In addition, the Derwent Valley Council has made no provision for ongoing community access and use of the site and has made no provision to bring the many hundreds of artefacts back to the site for secure storage, interpretation and display.

These valuable artefacts are currently held in shipping containers, storage rooms and cardboard boxes.

Ms Salt, along with all members of the Friends of Willow Court, is extremely concerned at the failure of the Derwent Valley Council to consult with and inform the community on their intention to subdivide and lease this significant community asset.

The Minister for Local Government and the minister for Heritage needs to take a close personal interest in this and respond to the questions that we have asked on behalf of the Friends of Willow Court.