Debate rages over Windsor's Thompson Square

Thompson Square’s future is was the subject of intense debate in Hawkesbury Council last week, with the historians losing out.
Thompson Square’s future is was the subject of intense debate in Hawkesbury Council last week, with the historians losing out.

THE salvation of Australia’s oldest square, Thompson Square at Windsor, isn’t to be, with councillors at last week’s Hawkesbury Council meeting opposing 9-3 its overall preservation when a new Windsor Bridge is built.

Heritage concerns were first raised in April 2009 about the possible impact of an elevated bridge at Thompson Square, with the Heritage Council and Hawkesbury City Council at loggerheads over the repercussions of a new bridge.

Councillors Christine Paine and Barry Calvert were the only council members to support Councillor Leigh Williams’s motion to protect the square and preserve it as an area of significant heritage value.

Hawkesbury historian Jan Barkley-Jack was one of several speakers against plans to disrupt the square with unsympathetic infrastructure.

“Thompson Square is the oldest civic square in Australia,” Ms Barkley-Jack said. “It is the only 18th century square still standing today. ”

She explained that consisting of both the open area and the connected buildings around it, the square began in 1795, when a wharf, store-house, soldiers’ barracks and granary were built. It existed in its current form and shape by 1800 and has continuity through the Macquarie period to today. But Councillor Bob Porter was the first to question Ms Barkley-Jack on her research in apparent ignorance of the fact that the 18th century is the years of the 1700s.

“There’s a square back in Sydney at The Rocks that dates back to the 1800s and it’s still there today,” Cr Porter said. “It’s still there on the Sydney city maps and it’s registered that the square is still there.” Ms Barkley-Jack was able to clarify exactly how unique the square is.

“There may have been one [civic square] in 1788, but it is no longer there,” she said. “The Rocks have been built over the top of it and that’s where you’re talking about – it’s a later square.”

She went on to confirm that research shows that no civic square earlier than 1795 is today in existence and that Thompson Square is thus the oldest remaining civic square in the country.

The RMS-preferred Option 1 involves replacing the current bridge with a high, modern structure 35 metres downstream of the existing Windsor Bridge and includes a road approach through a central part of Thompson Square.

Councillor Paine, who has always supported Option 1 up until now, said she voiced a change of heart not from constant lobbying, but rather, attending a Windsor Business Group meeting which addressed the noise repercussions.

“The noise that is going to be generated from those B-doubles is going to ruin any kind of a business in those houses that are on that side of the street,” Mrs Paine said. “We can do better.”

Resident Peter Reynolds in his address to Council questioned the feasibility of current proposals for residents, especially in Bridge Street, and how the public amenity of the park could be protected without a very high, expressway-type wall as the predicted noise levels in reports to date have been above the maximum.

Conservation architect, Graham Edds, spoke of how the values of the square make large-scale new road and bridge infrastructure unacceptable, detailing how this had been pointed out in a 1975 consultant’s report Council had adopted.

But Councillor Bart Bassett was optimistic about sustaining Windsor’s cultural value, stating Option 1 was the best alternative.

“Thompson Square will be enhanced by filling in the existing roadway and the new bridge alignment will follow Bridge Street which has always been there and has always led down to the river,” Cr Bassett said.

According to a spokesman from Roads and Maritime Services, a decision on the location of the bridge will not be made until January 2013, with the intention to begin construction in August 2013.