In 2004 Council approved plans for the new three storey Thirroul Plaza Shopping Centre. These plans were accepted by most residents as a significant enhancement in amenity and covered the area from Jackson Park to Anita’s Theatre, excluding the Beaches hotel. The plans called for retention of the façade of the 1930’s building at 307 LHD. This façade was retained to provide the basis of style of the front of the new plaza.
However ten years later, the Thirroul Plaza was no closer to commencement and the façade, now exposed to elements from both sides, had deteriorated considerably. Even if the developers completed the building application immediately, Council advised that no progress would be made on the building for at least two years.
The main points of concern were that the scaffold overhung the footpath and the position of the concrete barriers on the edge of the kerb. These were barely 20 centimetres from LHD’s busy downhill vehicular traffic. Clipping of one of the barriers or the uprights by a heavy truck could result in the devastating collapse of both scaffold and façade.
In late 2012, in response to community concerns, the TVC organised a petition that requested Wollongong Council to review the development application. The concerns were listed as;
• The scaffold is a dangerous, ugly impediment to pedestrian safety
• It is covered in graffiti and offensive to the community
• The land behind the facade has deteriorated into a health hazard
• the façade is in poor condition
• It contravenes Council’s commitment to improve the quality and appeal of Wollongong as a place to live
• Preservation of this single wall section as less than 10% of the future Plaza re-development façade has little merit
In March 2013, 370 signatures were collected and in June the petition was tabled by Councillor Jill Merrin to Wollongong City Council.
In August 2013, due to a lack of response by Wollongong City Council, the TVC obtained an independent assessment by a certified inspector who confirmed that the scaffold did not comply with Australian and New Zealand Standards and several aspects of the façade were a risk to public safety.
Wollongong City Council then ensured that the owners adjusted the scaffold to ensure its integrity in the high winds. Signs were placed to warn pedestrians of the narrowing of the footpath, and the hoarding was repaired and painted. Wollongong City Council advised that regular engineer inspections would be carried out to ensure the integrity of the structure. However these measures did not address the problem of the apparent dangerous condition and restricted footpath space, which, according to Council advice, fitted the minimum requirement for safe use. Then there were two incidents of young people breaking into the site in the early hours of the morning and climbing the scaffold and the façade. From where they hurled bottles and cans onto the road. The site had become a gathering place for disaffected youth.
In December 2013 Mr Dick Hargrave, a certified inspector of scaffold construction from Melbourne was on holidays visiting relatives. Mr Hargrave grew up in the area and is a direct descendant of Lawrence Hargrave. Mr Hargrave completed an assessment independently of the TVC. His report came to the TVC via his contacts with other Thirroul residents.
The report, written just before Christmas 2013, stated that “A miracle occurred 2000 years ago”, “Now you have a second one happening in Thirroul. It is a miracle that the wall is still standing.” His report identified cracks in the façade upper brickwork and a lean towards the street. The facts of his report were corroborated by Wollongong City Council’s independent structural engineer.
Dick’s involvement greatly helped in the relationship with WCC. Mr. Andrew Heaven, WCC Manager Development Assessment and Certification (Acting) was eventually most helpful in processing this matter with the property owners.
It was with mixed feelings that, on the 14th of March 2014, the people of Thirroul witnessed the demolition of the last remnant of a row of early 20th Century shops which once graced the western side of Lawrence Hargrave Drive Thirroul. “It is always poignant to see the demolition of any building to which people have a sentimental attachment but when it becomes a hazard to human life all other considerations must take second place”, said Thirroul Village Committee member Mrs. Linda Cortie .“Today is the culmination of twenty-one months of lobbying Wollongong City Council to take action on the deterioration of the façade and other matters concerning the scaffold which partially blocked the footpath”, said Thirroul Village Committee member Mrs. Barbara Mebberson.
The TVC would like to thank;
• Mrs Barbara Mebberson for managing this process and
• Mr Andrew Heaven at WCC for his on-going communication and attention to the many practical aspects of safely bringing the facade down and
• Councillor Jill Merrin for her active support.