DECADES of local youngsters have played among the relics of the old Hoskins blast furnace in Lithgow.
Tourists have also wandered freely around the ruins gaining an insight into our industrial history.
The region’s best known industrial heritage sites has also been the scene of countless photo shoots for both professional and amateur video and still camera hotshots, and even movie makers.
But that virtually uncontrolled access may be about to end.
Concerns are being expressed at the structural safety of the 90-year-old demolition site.
The blast furnace holds a unique place as the operation that eventually spawned BHP.
In the 1930s after the operation relocated to Port Kembla much of the site was demolished but the current spectacular relics were left behind; rehabilitation requirements were not so demanding back then and this proved an eventual bonus for Lithgow.
Some years back there were moves to complete the demolition to make way for a housing estate but that plan was fortunately rejected and the site now has heritage protection.
But a recent close up survey by structural engineers hoisted to the heights in a bucket attached to a Henrys Plant Hire crane has revealed potential risks that are now expected to limit access to parts of the site.
Now public comment is being sought by Lithgow City Council on plans to undertake works at Blast Furnace Park ‘to improve visitor safety, enjoyment and appreciation of the site’.
“The Lithgow Blast Furnace has been a prominent local landmark for over 100 years,” mayor Maree Statham said.
“While Port Kembla and Newcastle have been widely thought to be the cradle of iron and steel in this country, I wonder how many Lithgow residents know that the Lithgow Blast Furnace was actually the location of Australia’s first significant iron and steel industry.”
Blast Furnace Park is visited by many local people as well as visitors to Lithgow due to its striking industrial and natural landscape, right in the middle of Lithgow.
It is also a popular location for photography, filming and other recreational and cultural activities.
“As it is an industrial ruin in a residential area that is frequently used by young people and children, Council needs to address the public safety risks including confined spaces, escarpments, uneven ground, holes, pits and tunnels etc,” the Mayor said.
“The challenge has been to consider ways to improve visitor safety at this important heritage site without compromising public enjoyment and appreciation of its heritage values and recreation opportunities.”
To this end, Council commissioned a study in 2014 to consider these issues and to develop a plan for the upgrade works.
The study documented the many significant public safety risks on the site and recommended that due to the significance of the heritage remains, risks should be managed by low impact works which will enable visitors to enjoy the view and interpret most parts of the site while restricting access to the highest risk areas only.
Council will also be undertaking repair and conservation works under heritage supervision to some structures on the site to ensure their continued safety for public access.
“Council has been fortunate in attracting significant funding to undertake this very exciting project that will help to preserve this important heritage site for community use.
“Further, the project also aims to promote cultural heritage tourism by incorporating the Blast Furnace Park site into a heritage trail linking other key heritage sites in Lithgow including Eskbank House, Eskbank Station and State Mine,” the mayor said.
Council is seeking public comment on these plans which are on public exhibition until Friday June 26.
The plans are available on Council’s website at council.lithgow.com and can be viewed at Council’s Administration Centre, 180 Mort Street Lithgow and local libraries.
Comments should be provided in writing by Friday June 26 to Council either by email or post to: Lithgow City Council, PO Box 19, Lithgow NSW 2790.