HERITAGE Victoria has opened the door to consider possible redevelopment of the iconic Fletcher Jones factory site, but has reassured Warrnambool residents it still wants key features retained.
The watchdog’s new executive director Tim Smith made his first visit to the Raglan Parade site this week to check out the rambling buildings, rusting steel water tower ball and sprawling gardens where up to 1000 people once worked until production ceased.
He indicated the state watchdog organisation would look at potential applications to develop part of the 2.3-hectare site which has been locked down under a state heritage listing since 2006.
However, any plans to change it would need Heritage Victoria assessment and permission to change permits.
Mr Smith met representatives of the city council, trustees for the mortgagee, a community support group and a structural engineer.
“We looked at scale and elements of the site, signage, the gardens and pressing issues of the ball and tower,” he said.
“The receivers supplied an engineer who will evaluate and recommend a course of action.
“From our point of view it’s pleasing that work has been initiated by the trustees.”
Among those he met was a founding member of the Save the Silver Ball and Fletcher’s Gardens group Julie Eagles who said there were strong community links with the site.
The group has about 550 members and a recent radio station poll triggered more than 650 responses calling for the ball to be retained.
“The silver ball and the gardens are the main aspects that people connect with,” she said.
“If there is a development proposal in the future we need to determine what should be saved and what the maintenance needs are. We don’t want key aspects to be lost in the slow demolition by neglect process that seems to be happening.
“Tim certainly recognises the importance of the site and the Fletcher Jones story at a state and even national level.”
Mr Smith said it was clear the site had landmark character, community value and opportunities.
“We want it to be used, but would make sure key significant elements were retained and the stories told,” he said.
“I think everyone understands its heritage value, now we need to make sure of its maintenance while bigger plans for future re-use is discussed.
“We can’t make further decisions on its future until there is a proposal put before us.”
The factory site was opened in 1948, bought by the city council in 1992 for $750,000 on a lease-back arrangement and bought by Geelong entrepreneur Ian Ballis in 2005. His company was placed in receivership in 2012 putting uncertainty on ownership.
Ms Eagles said she was confident the FJ site would not receive the same treatment as 94 Merri Street where a heritage-listed cottage had been demolished after years of wrangling between the owner, city council and Heritage Victoria.
“Clear lessons have been learnt,” she said.