Twenty years of 'inaction' by private enterprise to develop the Kenmore Hospital site is sparking calls for state government action.
Mayor Bob Kirk said the council would again take up the matter following Saturday's fire that destroyed the former female ward 15 at the historic psychiatric facility.
He has asked general manager Warwick Bennett to write to Heritage NSW about continued vandalism and trespass at the property. The council will also seek information on how the owner is responding to the department's order earlier this year to meet 'minimum repair and maintenance standards' for the state significant site.
"It's been 20 years since the state government sold Kenmore and nothing of value has happened there. It's only been to the detriment of the site," he said.
"If the owners are not willing to do anything then perhaps it's time for the situation to be reviewed."
Cr Kirk said he'd had several conversations over the years with owner Xiao Liang Wen of Australia China International Pty Ltd. The company bought the 78-hectare property in 2015. Mr Xiao had expressed frustration that state heritage controls were hindering his development plans.
"We (the council) can't take action on what's occurring there but a lot of people in the community want to see more substantial reuse of the facility," he said.
"That takes compromise on how the reuse can be undertaken and from a Goulburn perspective, it needs to happen."
The council is willing to facilitate a redevelopment that will benefit the city. Cr Kirk said it did not have the money to do this itself but the organisation could bring parties together to reach an outcome.
The mayor believed Kenmore's sale was the "fatal mistake' in the first place but it was "absolutely disturbing that idiots in the community" were breaking in to Kenmore, lighting fires and vandalising buildings. He said unless security was significantly tightened, it was only a matter of time before further problems erupted.
Police are yet to establish the cause of Saturday's blaze but are treating it as suspicious.
Longtime Kenmore Hospital museum volunteer and historian Leone Morgan will also take up the matter with Heritage NSW.
She watched on Sunday as firefighters mopped up and investigated the blaze.
"I feel gutted, just like the building," she told The Post.
"If Sydney can have Callan Park for public use, why can't Goulburn have Kenmore Hospital? Many suggestions for the site have been put forward over the years but none have been taken up."
She was referring to the former mental asylum at Rozelle owned by the state government and partly transformed into an arts, cultural and green space.
Ms Morgan worked at the Kenmore as a psychiatric nurse from 1969 and later became mental health staff development officer for the southeastern region before her retirement in 2008. From 1995 to 2011 she and volunteers ran the Kenmore Hospital museum, sharing the site's rich history with the community and visitors.
Over the past two years she has lobbied Heritage NSW and Arts Minister Don Harwin to act on what she described as "demolition by neglect and theft from the site" by vandals.
"The threat of fire is ever present," she ominously warned in October, 2020.
Last July she wrote to Heritage NSW stressing that the property "continued to be ravaged by time, the weather, pigeons, possums, feral cats and vandals."
Ms Morgan remains frustrated that neither the owner nor Heritage NSW have acted 'meaningfully' to address the State significant site's degradation. It contains some of government architect Walter Liberty Vernon's most outstanding architecture, dating from 1895. But it has also become a target for vandals who have lit small fires inside buildings, torn out and stolen fireplaces and other features.
Australia China International has not responded to The Post's request for comment.
In March, on the back of community concerns, the NSW Heritage Council commenced the process of issuing an order requiring the owner to restore the site to 'minimum standards of maintenance and repair.' It also requested Heritage NSW to undertake further investigations, including other relevant legislation that could be acted upon.
But despite numerous requests for updates, Ms Morgan was only assured in July that Heritage NSW was continuing to work with the owner, Xiao Liang Wen, to address the 'neglect and vandalism.'
"How long will this take given the owner lives in China?" she said.
"...It is a failure of state processes. Most of the volunteers said if they'd known how much the site was going to sell for ($3 million in 2003) they would have chipped in to buy it.
"It's sad to see this happening and heartbreaking for the former Kenmore nurses, who still keep in contact."
Ms Morgan said she had received correspondence from local heritage groups that were "very concerned" about the buildings' state.
Female ward 15 was believed to have been built between 1897 and 1899 in the second of seven construction phases.
Historian Phil Leighton-Daly, who has written several books on Kenmore said there were some outstanding buildings on the site. While the female ward was a plainer example, he argued it would be a tragedy if more structures were burnt.
The Post posed numerous questions to Heritage NSW about its compliance action, including whether it had issued the order, the results of its investigation and its intentions following Saturday's fire.
However, in a statement, a spokesperson would only say that the authority was aware of Saturday's fire.
"(We) are liaising closely with Goulburn police to support their investigation into the cause of the fire," the statement read.
The Post has requested answers to the questions, given the public interest.
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