Pioneer Settlement heritage listing recommendation
It is heartening to see the passion and pride from our community when it comes to the Pioneer Settlement.
This includes nominating the Pioneer Settlement to be included on the Victorian Heritage Register – recognising the work of hundreds of residents who have helped ensure its longevity for almost 60 years.
Councillors are also passionate about the Pioneer Settlement and its future. It is this concern for the future of the site that Council, at an Unscheduled Meeting this week, resolved to object to the heritage listing recommendation, for several reasons:
State heritage significance
Pioneer Settlement is an important and significant asset to the Swan Hill community and broader tourism industry. We congratulate all who established the Settlement, over 60 years ago and currently the Friends of Pioneer Settlement, who contribute significant funds and help operate the settlement today.
While it is a valuable asset and we recognise Pioneer Settlements local significance, primarily Council and its independent Heritage Architect believe Pioneer Settlement fails the tests to be of state significance. A series of eight criteria is used to determine significance and not one is considered to have been met.
Impact on day-to-day operations
Heritage listing will see another level of bureaucracy imposed on the Pioneer Settlement, impacting its day-to-day operations and ability to carry out long term planning.
The requirement to seek heritage approval will also impact the ability of staff and volunteers to maintain and improve buildings and assets.
The Pioneer Settlement relies heavily on volunteers to deliver the tourism experience and meet visitor’s expectations. Additional pressure on paid staff to meet Heritage Victoria requirements will further reduce the ability to assist volunteers.
The Friends of the Pioneer Settlement have also voiced concerns that heritage registration will become a further barrier to current and future volunteers.
Financial impact on modest budgets
It’s estimated heritage registration will add significant operational and upfront costs to the Pioneer Settlement.
There will also be extra financial requirements for changes not considered “like for like” across the more than 50 buildings at the site, including for permits. These range from $296 for works under $10,000 and up to $17,018 for works up to $30,000,000.
Permits, or exemptions will also be needed for buildings requiring regular updates or changes – such as the front reception building, Heartbeat of the Murray amphitheatre, Paragon Café and Lower Murray Inn.
This will mean added financial pressure to the Pioneer Settlement operations and with it, an increase of ratepayers’ contribution to the Pioneer Settlement’s bottom line.
Ability to grow visitation
Council currently subsidises the operation of the Pioneer Settlement by around $800,000 per year to keep it open. Council is actively trying to reduce this cost by increasing visitation.
As noted by independent Heritage Architect Ivar Nelson, the Pioneer Settlement has continued to grow and adapt to a changing tourism market, and the need to continue to do this remains.
Heritage registration will hinder the ability to reinvent and significantly change the Pioneer Settlement needed to meet visitor requirements and expectations.
Furthermore, tourism research indicates that state heritage registration will not drive tourism to the Pioneer Settlement, and is unlikely to create further visitation to compensate for additional costs.
Threat to future funding
Heritage listing will affect the ability to confidently apply for future grant funding through tourism streams, as the majority of projects will require heritage approval.
For example, the $450,000 State Government funding for a new Heartbeat of the Murray Laser Light Show includes adding fixtures to buildings on the walk to and from the amphitheatre – plus additional smoke machines, snow machines and lights.
Heritage listing will require the project to have a pre-permit application meeting and extensive approval process with Heritage Victoria – delaying the project, and requiring extra staff time and resources.
Heritage Victoria has funding opportunities for urgent conservation works only – to a maximum of $200,000. No operational funding is available.
Loss of Pioneer Settlement from local control
After almost 60 years, future developments and changes will be at the approval of Heritage Victoria Officers based in Melbourne.
This means Swan Hill residents and ratepayers, who make up the Pioneer Settlement’s volunteers, will no longer have the final say over decisions related to its buildings and onsite objects.
The Council report and its attachments are available from Council’s website.
Council’s submission will also be available on the site once it has been provided to Heritage Victoria.
You can view Heritage Victoria’s recommendation by clicking here: