The NSW Government has confirmed that the historic cottages on Barrenjoey Headland will not be available for short-term holiday rentals to private parties.
Penny Sharpe, NSW Minister for the Environment and Heritage, has declared, “The iconic Barrenjoey Lighthouse and surrounding cottages in the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park will be protected and remain accessible to the public, under a new Plan of Management…”
The Plan of Management, which is not yet publicly accessible, will enable improvements to tracks, trails and visitor precincts.
Ms Sharpe’s statement continued, “The Plan outlines how the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will involve the community in the management and conservation of cherished community assets. It enables the adaptive reuse of appropriate heritage buildings after further assessments and engagement with a stakeholder reference group.”
Member for Pittwater, Rory Amon, whose electorate encompasses the Barrenjoey Peninsula, welcomed the news that the Heritage-listed properties on the headland won’t be modified and used for Air B&Bs or equivalent.
In a public statement Mr Amon said, “I am delighted to see our community’s wishes have been upheld, and that the Headland’s heritage buildings will now be available for community use and benefit into the future. I look forward to exciting uses being explored for the unique heritage buildings on Barrenjoey Headland.”
Mackellar MP Dr Sophie Scamps also expressed her relief that the heritage buildings on Barrenjoey Head would not be converted for visitor accommodation.
Dr Scamps said: “It is very pleasing to see that this advocacy has been successful and that Minister Sharpe has made the decision not to approve the use of the lighthouse cottages as accommodation. I look forward to seeing ideas come forward from the community for future uses.”
Dr Scamps told Manly Observer that she’d written to the Federal Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, in October 2023 expressing her concerns about the proposal to develop Barrenjoey Lighthouse and the historic cottages on the headland.
She explained that given the headland is situated in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, which is on the National Heritage List, any action taken on Barrenjoey Headland must be referred to under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC).
Barrenjoey Headland is a 34-hectare area located within Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and administered by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
In 2019, NPWS called for community consultation on the implementation of visitor amenities (public toilets) to cater for the 200,000+ visitors to the headland every year. Temporary toilets were installed while the consultation process was undertaken, and following positive feedback and surveys, architects have now been engaged to design suitable facilities.
However, in a Recreational Activities Discussion Paper released in 2019, NPWS proposed: “New overnight experiences may be introduced to the park by adapting existing buildings following environmental and heritage assessment.
“The draft Barrenjoey Head Concept Plan explored the adaptive re-use of the lightkeeper’s cottages and other buildings for short-stay accommodation. Access to these historically significant buildings is currently limited.”
However, as opponents pointed out, this would also have required upgrading the convict-built track that leads up to the historic lighthouse, to enable better vehicle access and transportation of clean linen and other essential materials.
The draft Barrenjoey Head Concept Plan, released January 2016 (available to download here), provided greater detail about how short-term tourist accommodation could be achieved by making architectural changes to the three (one single and a duplex) Lighthouse Caretakers’ Cottages on top of the headland and the Boatman’s Cottage and two Fishers Cottages below. (The latter three are accessible via Fishermans Track from the north end of Station Beach.)
The changes involved installing additions, such as ‘privacy screens’, new footpaths, cladding, sinks, decking and assorted ‘insertions’; however, the refitting was described as ‘sensitive’ to the existing Heritage status.
No to ‘commercialisation’
However, on 22 January 2023, a rally to demand an end to ‘commercialisation’ of the Heritage-listed Barrenjoey Headland, including abandoning plans to rent out the historic cottages, attracted over 200 participants and drew cross-party support from the region’s political leaders
As reported here by Manly Observer, the speakers at the rally included Penny Sharpe (Labor), then NSW Shadow Minister for Heritage and Environment; Rory Amon (Liberal), Pittwater Councillor and prospective NSW candidate for Pittwater; and the Palm Beach & Whale Beach Association secretary and vice-president, respectively, Robert Mackinnon and Virginia Christensen.
Mr MacKinnon listed 12 reasons why the holiday rental of the historic properties should be opposed, including: risk of damage to the buildings; mess to the environment; noise from revellers; disruption to wildlife; and the considerable difficulties accessing the buildings by staff who change bedsheets and clean the premises between paying guests.
In a statement released the following day, on 23 January, NPWS insisted, “Adaptive re-use of buildings at Barrenjoey Head will be investigated and implemented subject to environmental assessment processes and approvals under the NSW Heritage Act.”
Although opposition to the commercialisation of Barrenjoey Headland involved cross-party support, MPs were quick to criticise political rivals for allegedly supporting the NPWS’ original proposal to rent out the historic properties.
Ms Sharpe’s 1 February media statement said: “Minister Sharpe campaigned against the previous government’s efforts to convert buildings within the State Heritage Listed Barrenjoey Headland into short term holiday rental. This new Plan will honour the community’s wish to keep the area accessible to locals and visitors…”
Mr Amon countered, “A year ago, I promised to fight against the plan for accommodation on Barrenjoey Headland. While the then-Labor Opposition promised to scrap the plan, following their election, it became apparent the Government was considering a backflip on this commitment.
“In light of this uncertainty, the Palm Beach & Whale Beach Association and I continued to fight tooth and nail and I am very pleased to report that the accommodation plan has finally been scrapped.”
Barrenjoey Lighthouse – National Parks and Wildlife Service: https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/historic-buildings-places/barrenjoey-lighthouse
Palm Beach & Whale Beach Association: https://pbwba.org.au/