People power saves Eltham cottage for now

Eltham resident Jan Maxwell was greeted with a round of applause from a packed public gallery after speaking against the demolition of the historic Eltham railway cottage at this weeks Lismore City Council meeting.

She made an impassioned plea for Council to reject the development application (DA) put in by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and was pleasantly surprised when councillors voted unanimously to refuse the DA against the staff recommendation.

Jan said the Eltham community was outraged by the actions of the ARTC, which had originally tried to demolish the cottage in May without alerting the community. She said the people of Eltham had pulled together to try and save the 1894 cottage, which is adjacent to the heritage-listed railway bridge and is integral to one of Lismores most intact heritage village streetscapes.

The Eltham Community Foundation has been formed to fight the demolition and has been busy applying for grants and work-shopping ideas for the cottage. It has already commissioned the services of a heritage architect, who estimated the cost of restoring the cottage to be just $40,000 a vast difference to the $100,000 claimed in an ARTC report.

Jan said they only wanted to restore the original four-room cottage, not the entire structure. Most of the damage had been done to the new additions and they should go, she said.

The next step for the Foundation was to try and get hold of the ARTC report which talked about the contamination of soil at the site and how much it would cost to remediate it. The Foundation could then commission its own independent report.

Jan said because access to the report had so far been denied, they still had no idea what was wrong with the site, although lead from paint on the railway bridge and arsenic had both been talked about.

She said if it was really going to cost $200,000 then the community could not afford to proceed, however, she thought it strange that the report had not been made publicly available.

She said the cottage gardens were growing beautifully and she questioned whether the contamination was just confined to the railway cottage property.

Does it just stop at the fence line? she said. Nobody knows where the arsenic is from. If somebody has a report recommending demolition, and is quoting from it, but wont allow an objector to have access to it, you might presume that its not reliable.

Meanwhile, the Foundation is continuing to look at future uses for the cottage that would allow it to be self-sustaining and used by the community.

Cr Jenny Dowell said in the end Council staff were happy with the decision to deny consent for demolition because there was a good reason.

Not all avenues of possibility had been explored, she said. And there hadnt been adequate consultation, so its really putting it back on ARTC to engage more with the community.

She said ARTC could try and over-ride council and take the matter to the NSW Department of Planning, but she hoped that wouldnt happen.

The community is very united and should be congratulated for how theyve progressed this, she said.

A spokesperson from ARTC said they had not been formally notified of Lismore City Councils decision to reject demolition of the cottage and were therefore unable to comment.

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