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The Queensland National Trust opposes changes proposed to one of Brisbane's most significant heritage buildings, the 134-year-old National Australia Bank on the corner of Queen and Creek streets.
The building, which three years ago was at the centre of the city's controversial heritage trading scheme, is now owned by West Australian wealth investment company Prime West. The National Australia Bank leases the ground floor for its front-line banking activities.
NAB plans to leave the building soon and Prime West has put it up for sale, looking for about $50 million.
The owners propose changes to the structure, which is on both the Queensland and Brisbane heritage lists, to allow better access to the ground floor from Creek Street for proposed new cafes, retail outlets and bars.
Prime West wants to take out all the heritage windows on the Creek Street facade and replace each with a single pane of glass.
The proposal also seeks to remove a central section of the Creek Street wall, the lower brick wall and the wrought ironwork to build a new entrance.
National Trust Queensland heritage advocacy manager Jane Alexander wrote to Brisbane City Council this month, saying the changes were unnecessary and would damage the heritage stock of the building.
“The National Trust of Australia (Queensland) strongly feels that the level of proposed changes is unwarranted and will have a significant detrimental impact on the building’s significance and on its streetscape value,” she wrote.
“The building is noted for its aesthetic contribution to the streetscape, its high level of intactness and its integrity.
“It is one of the earliest surviving bank buildings in Brisbane and the most notable work of its eminent architect.
“The scale of proposed changes to facilitate tenants or views into the building is unwarranted and will have an unacceptable impact on this beautiful and significant heritage place.”
So ornate is the building's interior, the council-owned City of Brisbane Investment Corporation considered purchasing it in 2008, when City Hall was undergoing its $215 million refurbishment.
It was thought the space could fill the void left while the City Hall auditorium was unavailable for events such as citizenship ceremonies and charity balls.
That purchase never eventuated.
Ms Alexander said the National Trust did not oppose changes to the building, but did oppose unsympathetic changes.
“In heritage we say 'use it or lose it',” she said.
“Buildings have to be used to be loved and maintained, but we don’t want to see change that damages the significant parts of the building for change’s sake.”
Ms Alexander said the Creek Street proposal was too extreme.
“They want to take out this stone work, to take out the wrought ironwork and then to take out this central window and the area below it to put in disabled access via lift,” she said.
Ms Alexander said good disabled access with gently sloping ramps already existed from both Queen Street and Gresham Lane.
“I think what they are proposing to do is create an entrance to a retail space straight off the street, so they can attract customers straight off the street,” she said.
“I just think in this case, they have chosen the wrong building to do it.”
The council recently rejected two previous proposals for a wide new entrance from Creek Street.
It is now considering a slimmer entrance way.
The NAB building was designed by the Queensland government’s famous colonial Architect FD Stanley and built between 1881 and 1885 as the head office of the Queensland National Bank.
The National Trust regards it as one of FD Stanley’s most significant buildings.
The development application was recently forwarded to the Department of Environment and Science’s heritage unit.
The National Australia Bank owned the building until the mid-2000s.
In submissions lodged with the council, Prime West supplied examples of heritage-listed buildings in other locations where it said the heritage value had been maintained throughout similar proposed alterations.
These included Perth’s Commonwealth Bank, the Flour Factory in the WA capital's Queen Street and the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle.
The sale, co-ordinated by property consultants JLL, includes the adjoining contemporary tower block on Creek Street, which was added in 2008.
Property consultant Luke Billiau said the building had only previously been offered for sale once.
“Heritage buildings of this quality are exceptionally rare in the Brisbane CBD and the demand for this space is reflected in one of the tightest vacancy rates,” he said.