Fears for Fletcher Jones factory site as report raises prospect of demolition by neglect

A DIRE warning that Warrnambool’s iconic Fletcher Jones site is at risk of demolition by neglect has struck a chord with city councillors, who have called for a review of onerous heritage protection.

The Warrnambool Planning and Heritage Group cautioned that the iconic Raglan Parade site could end up like the saga of the former 94 Merri Street cottage, which was demolished after progressively falling into disrepair during a 10-year battle over conservation.

An in-depth report released by the group in July last year and tabled at Monday night’s council meeting calls for more regular evaluations of the site and for Heritage Victoria to improve communication.

Renewed protection of the silver ball water tower and a focus on the former factory’s social significance were seen as priorities.

“The ball is symbolic and my fear is it will go the way of the Criterion Hotel through neglect.”

Since the privately-owned site was listed by Heritage Victoria in 2006 as having state and national significance the buildings have deteriorated. They are riddled with asbestos, roofs are leaking and walls have been vandalised.

It has been listed for sale for several years, but buyers are reluctant to take it on.

The report compiled by Julie Eagles and Kerri Worland warns the Fletcher Jones site is falling further towards possible demolition by neglect.

They recommended the council and state heritage body reconsider the site’s condition, integrity and what remains of the most significant aspects.

“We would like to see the council and Heritage Victoria take a proactive role with the owner (present or future) to find a solution for renewal of this site and a way to share the stories attached to its history,” they said.

The report calls for funding for a structural assessment of the ball to determine repairs to ensure it remains standing for another 50 years.

Cr Jacinta Ermacora told Monday night’s council meeting it was a difficult site to manage.

She said heritage protection needed to be flexible enough to encourage a business to use the site.

“Fletcher Jones was part of the lives of a huge number of Warrnambool families,” Cr  Ermacora said.

“It’s a pity the social story is not told and kept as part of the heritage.

“The ball is symbolic and my fear is it will go the way of the Criterion Hotel through neglect.”

 Cr  Ermacora  criticised Heritage Victoria for not attending the local planning group’s report launch and called for more regular visits by the state body.

Cr Rob Askew said it was important to get Heritage Victoria to understand its policy should not have a blanket overlay like on the Fletcher Jones site.

“Some elements should be preserved, others are beyond repair and should be demolished,” he said.

“It would make it easier to redevelop the site if buyers knew what they could demolish.”

Cr Kylie Gaston said the site should be maintained.

The planning and heritage group’s report said lessons that could be learnt from the Merri Street saga to prevent a similar result for the Fletcher Jones site.

After numerous battles between the owner, city council and Heritage Victoria the crumbling 1840s Merri Street cottage was demolished last year to make way for a modern house.

“We wanted to see what could be learnt because we see other state heritage sites falling into disrepair in our local area (most notably the Fletcher Jones factory, water tower and gardens),” the Eagles-Worland report said.

“In the case of private ownership of state-registered places, the owner is expected to look after something that is deemed of significance to the state.

“Neither Warrnambool City Council nor Heritage Victoria were effective communicators regarding the historical and architectural values of the house.

“The owner, Warrnambool City Council and Heritage Victoria all invested significant amounts of money and time over 10 years and in the end we have to ask — what was the point of it all?”

Heritage Victoria officers inspected the FJs site in May with city council and the planning group representatives and identified a staircase, sign and guttering at risk of collapse.

Subsequently the owner, Ian Ballis of Geelong, was ordered to rectify the problems.

The site will be inspected annually by heritage experts.

Fletcher Jones at night.

Fletcher Jones at night.

Sunset over Fletcher Jones.

Sunset over Fletcher Jones.

The silver ball in 2002.

The silver ball in 2002.

The silver ball at Christmas in 2003.

The silver ball at Christmas in 2003.

Fletcher Jones employee Gary Kelly, on top of the silver ball, after helping to erect the cross in 2005.

Fletcher Jones employee Gary Kelly, on top of the silver ball, after helping to erect the cross in 2005.

Fletcher Jones employee Gary Kelly, on top of the silver ball, enjoys the view.

Fletcher Jones employee Gary Kelly, on top of the silver ball, enjoys the view.

Fletcher Jones employee Gary Kelly, on top of the silver ball, enjoys the view.

Fletcher Jones employee Gary Kelly, on top of the silver ball, enjoys the view.

The cross is placed on top of the Silver ball at Fletcher Jones in 2006.

The cross is placed on top of the Silver ball at Fletcher Jones in 2006.

Trespassers climb a rusty ladder to get to the top of the the silver ball in 2006.

Trespassers climb a rusty ladder to get to the top of the the silver ball in 2006.

The rusty ladder to the top of the the silver ball.

The rusty ladder to the top of the the silver ball.

The silver ball at Christmas in 2008.

The silver ball at Christmas in 2008.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.

Workmen from Keppel Prince removed the old rusted ladder from the bottom to top and painting rust affected areas in 2010.