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Council split over ‘heritage vandalism’ at historic church site

Labor councillor Patricia Prociv said the church was “imposing their beliefs on our community”, and the restrictions were inconsistent with the council’s support for social diversity and inclusion. She said the draft agreement amounted to “direct discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity”.

Under a license agreement with the council, the church lets the public use the land that it has around the cathedral.

“If the Anglican Church wants to be a developer of this land … then the civic space should be given as public infrastructure in the form of a freehold park for unfettered use by the whole community,” Prociv said.

“If Adam and Eve want to have a quick 15-minute marriage service on the grass outside the cathedral, with a minister acceptable to the Anglican church, that is possibly OK.

“If Adam and Steve try to do the same, they will be denied permission and, if they persist, the police can be called to have them removed.”

Georgina Vajak, independent councillor, said that the lawns around the cathedral were fenced off since the 1950s. The existing licence agreement only allowed pedestrians to cross the site on footpaths.

“The proposed [planning agreement]Should it be activated, it will increase freedom to allow passive recreation activities in the city with additional gardens or open space.

“The social covenant uses that the church is seeking to include is already consistent with the position of the Anglican church across the diocese of Sydney. These covenants are not brand new. It has always been the case.”

St John’s Was Declared An Anglican Parish In 1802.

St John’s was declared an Anglican parish in 1802.Credit:Janie Barrett

The council’s director of city strategy, Jennifer Concato, said the draft plans would allow the council to enter into a licence agreement with the church to allow the public to walk across the site, and use it for passive recreation.

“That is more than what can be done at the moment. Anything beyond that is the responsibility of the landowner.

”If someone wants to conduct an activity that is identified within the social covenant, or active recreation, for example, play a game of football. It is a matter for the church to decide whether they want to move those people on or not, it is not a matter for the council.“

Independent Lorraine Wearne said councillors were side-tracked on social issues instead of planning matters, and asked: “Has anyone ever been refused to conduct an activity that was legal on the lawns outside St John’s?”

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The council’s acting chief executive Bryan Hynes replied: “To our knowledge, in the time that the licence has been there, there has never been refused access.”

Labor mayor Donna Davis and councillors Cameron Maclean and Patricia Prociv, as well as Independent Kellie Darley and the Greens’ Bradley voted in support of the rescission motion to stall the proposal. The motion was rejected by the majority vote of the 15-member council including four Labor councillors.

Morrison said: “St John’s has worked successfully in respectful collaboration with the council regarding the use of church land by the public for many decades, and we expect this to continue into the future.”

St John’s was declared an Anglican parish in 1802, and is the oldest church site in continuous use in Australia, according to the National Trust.

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