A visitors information centre on Saint Saviour’s Common is just one idea in a broader concept to transform the area, linking in with CBD and Victoria Park master plans.
Over the past 10 years the Anglican Diocese of Canberra/Goulburn has been developing ideas to not only conserve Saint Saviour’s Cathedral but open up the Common for greater community use.
Dean Phillip Saunders, Sydney-based heritage architect Michael Fox and the Diocese’s manager of risk and compliance, Andrew Guile, unveiled the draft plans at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
“We are challenged by the opportunity to expand the Cathedral’s use but we also have a Common that’s under-utilised,” Mr Guile said.'
“We can do better with that, to enhance the use of that space and to also enhance the council’s master plan for the CBD.”
Mr Fox described it as the “connector” between council master plans for the CBD and Victoria Park.
The concept is at an early stage and the Diocese is seeking council and community feedback.
It includes accessible pedestrian links from Montague Street, an amphitheatre, landscaping and paved areas, a belvedere viewing area from Montague Street, above the cathedral, all tying in with upgrades to Montague Street east and west. An area is also set aside for future development on the northwestern edge of the Common. Mr Guile said this could be an exhibition space for history and culture, a visitors centre or a combination of both. But nothing was set in concrete.
Council general manager Warwick Bennett said he’d first heard the idea floated in a meeting with the Saint Saviour’s representatives earlier that day. He was open to the suggestion.
“The concept of a visitors information centre there is a really good idea. It is a possibility,” he said.
“It could be relocated (from Sloane Street). On that area we could put a two-storey building or a small museum and a coffee shop. There are all sorts of possibilities. I’ve always been keen to see Belmore Park and Victoria Park connected up through the cathedral and that’s part of their plan. I think it’s brilliant.”
Heritage architect Michael Fox said the development area would not affect the heritage curtilage on the State Significant structure. The curtilage was defined roughly by the roads around the cathedral. The common occupies a total 0.75 hectares.
“Our vision is that it (the common) should be like the great cathedral cities of the world, like Salisbury, where the cathedral was the centre of town and Saint Saviour’s is perfectly positioned for that,” he said.
Mr Guile said this was also exactly what architect Edmund Blacket intended when he designed the 1874 structure. It was strategically located at the Montague Street/Bourke Street junction, giving good line of sight to enhance its grandeur. It also took account of surveyor Robert Hoddle’s grid pattern on the town plan.
Mr Fox told The Post the Cathedral was very much a feature in the early days, surrounded by a large area known as the glebe, stretching down to the railway line. Gradually part of this land was sold off and funds used for the cathedral’s upkeep.
The architect has been working on Saint Saviour’s conservation for the past five years. He said from day one he believed the Cathedral was part of a bigger picture.
He envisages a viewing platform near the Montague Street roundabout above the cathedral. It could incorporate a three-metre wide footpath, paving, handrails and display panels, telling St Saviour’s story.
In this area, the Diocese has worked with the council to address drainage. The council spent $80,000 to repair drainage on Montague Street and divert stormwater that had been contributing to rising damp in the Cathedral. The water had also eroded the landscape, Mr Fox said.
Potential uses for the development area, close to the Civic Centre, also include heritage displays, a museum, meeting rooms and community facilities.
Mr Guile told Tuesday’s meeting that the amphitheatre could work in with a local theatre group. A large landscaped space is also pegged for the Common’s northeastern edge.
In response to a question from Cr Margaret O’Neill, Mr Guile said the Diocese wanted to activate the entire area for young and old.
The representatives asked for the council’s help in facilitating community consultation but also supporting grant applications for the project.
Mr Bennett didn’t anticipate any opposition.
“I think generally speaking we’d go out to the community as one and just say this is the concept, what are your ideas,” he said.
“There’s some really great thinking that’s gone on here and the fact it’s led by the cathedral hierarchy means that all the council is doing is supporting it. I think we can work together.”
The project is the second stage of a broader project. Stage one – the Cathedral’s conservation - is still underway. But Mr Fox said significant inroads had been made in addressing rising and falling damp. Finials and crosses had been removed for repair and now attention was turning to the Great East Window, the Baptismal Font and other areas of the roof.
Dean of Saint Saviour’s, The Very Reverend Phillip Saunders said a spire for the cathedral was still very much on the agenda but was dependent on funding. The first priority was to conserve what was already there.
He was buoyed by the master plan for the wider precinct.
“The Common was always meant to be a community focus... We also need to keep its heritage values and I think the plan does that,” he said.
Dean Saunders said he was encouraged by the council response.
Meantime, Mr Bennett said the council received 50 public submissions on the council’s draft CBD master plan. Submissions closed on April 30.
The two main issues raised were that the community was opposed to parallel parking (in Auburn Street) but people were very supportive of upgrading and enlivening the laneways,” he said.
A report is expected to go to councillors in the next six to seven weeks.