The Inner West Council of Sydney has restirred a heritage hornet’s nest, furthering its attempt to preserve urban culture by forcing protections on old pubs under its purview.

The Council’s proposal seeks to amend planning controls, such that a total of 22 pubs are eligible for heritage listings. These are in Balmain, Enmore, Leichhardt, Newtown, Petersham and Rozelle.  

Council says this is to establish ongoing protection and recognition for the hotels, due to their “significant cultural contributions”. IWC also offers a mandate to prevent “inappropriate development” in areas in which it already approves or denies developments.

This motion first came to light in 2018, largely in reaction to Balmain’s former Town Hall Hotel, which was repurposed into retail spaces that year, but is now largely vacant.

At a council meeting last week a motion to finalise the proposal passed. It will now be submitted to the State Government. The original proposal had nominated 26 pubs it deemed suitable, but the Bridge Hotel at Rozelle, Kellys on King at Newtown, the Milestone Hotel at Leichhardt, and the North Annandale Hotel escaped the final list.

Twenty-three members of the inner west community attended the meeting to make submissions in support of the proposal, described as protecting “history for future generations”.

IWC permitted a few pubs to speak at the meeting – first in best dressed – and they made a case to escape the dragnet, while “the rest of us got shafted” one publican offered, in a case of “local politics at its finest”.

Feedback provided to council cited concerns about the added burden of heritage requirements, which the publicans suggest are counter-productive to Council’s goal of promoting pub culture in the inner west and may quite possibly have the opposite effect.

A pub that is heritage listed will have a harder time finding a buyer or potential investor, who will likely be deterred by the headaches. Banks may want a re-valuation, and if the heritage factor causes a drop in value pub owners could be in a lot of trouble.

It’s suggested many of the nominated venues have “dubious” heritage worth, and that the threshold has been set too low.

The change would apply more restrictions on development, add complexity and uncertainty and generally be “another problem for proprietors” that makes it harder to fix or revive things, causes delays and adds major additional costs.

It’s reported council made a public statement that the proposal was in consultation with property owners, but publicans reported to PubTIC that “no-one ever contacted me” and that they are “frankly disappointed” with the matter.  

Another described the initiative as “ridiculous” given his pub has been gutted – top to bottom – half a dozen times over the last 10-15 years, and there is nothing that is original. The Heritage specialist that wrote the report on his pub never even stepped foot inside.

“A heritage pub has to jump through so many hoops to do a DA. Upwards of $90,000 on extra reports, cost blow outs, time frame blowouts, the list goes on.

“We have all been painted with the one brush,” he says of the plan, dubbed “a half-arsed idea that we had no say in”.

But not all are completely opposed. Tim Condon has had his name above six Balmain pub doors, and says he understands council’s motive and sentiment.

Condon currently operates the Welcome Hotel, built in 1881 to serve beer to thirsty working-class locals. It was not created with a kitchen, or indeed with many of the things taken for granted and essential to servicing people in today’s market.

The Balmain veteran thinks the precinct, surrounded on three sides by water and no longer populated with beer-swilling blue-collar workers, may actually have a few too many pubs, with a long list of venues fighting it out for what patronage is available during the week.

He says that while the preservation is admirable, it doesn’t facilitate a modern business needing to improve and upgrade.

“It needs to be considered, any heritage requirement versus the operational capability it must have in order to stay a pub.

“It’s hard when they say it has to be a pub, or you must work within a strict framework, but in a market that is changing and shrinking, in a building built for a different purpose, at a very different time.”

The pubs on the Inner West Council list are:

Annandale Hotel

Balmain Hotel

Cat and Fiddle

Carlisle Castle Hotel

Cricketer’s Arms

Dick’s Balmain

Duke of Enmore

East Village

Garry Owen Hotel

Livingstone Hotel

Native Rose

Queens Hotel

Royal Exchange

Sackville Hotel

Sandringham Hotel

Three Weeds Hotel

Town Hall Hotel

Unity Hall

Vic on the Park

Warren View Hotel

Websters Bar

Welcome Hotel


  1. The heritage listing of pubs in the inner west dates back to the late 90’s early 2000’s when Darling street, Balmain was listed as having ‘Heritage Fascades’. I owned the Unity Hall at the time and the inconsistency with the entire process was ridiculous. As stated in the article most of the pubs have been changed many times over the years. What they have formalised now will make it very difficult to keep premises up to modern standards and compete against Pubs in surrounding areas. Why make it so difficult on business owners?

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