Advancing heritage in the CBD

By Tristan Davies - Melbourne Heritage Action

The recent approval of the Hoddle Grid Heritage Review by the City of Melbourne is major step forward for heritage protection in our city. 

It validates one of Melbourne Heritage Action’s (MHA) core reasons for forming and lobbying for more than a decade, providing a comprehensive review of unprotected places that has been needed for almost three decades.

The review has finally recognised many places readers may have assumed were obviously protected before. These include the likes of 1850s bluestone warehouses, entire streetscapes in Flinders Lane and major art deco commercial buildings, while significantly, a great number of the best mid-century office buildings in the city have been recognised, representing our evolving notions of heritage. 

Importantly the review has also recognised social history as a big part of heritage, not just ornate facades and technical architectural details. It has also included a number of post-colonial Aboriginal heritage places, two previously ignored categories which we hope to see much more prominently in future heritage discussions. 

It’s fantastic to see the evolution of the idea of “heritage” move from being only about academic architectural talk, to the recognition of broader social and personal themes for people from all walks of life, in such a well-researched and -argued document.

We also welcome the inclusion of a number of buildings approved for demolition, such as Melbourne House in Little Bourke St and the Theosophical Society on Russell St, in the hope that owners will now see the significance of their buildings as more than just development sites. It’s not uncommon for permits to lapse either, meaning developers with genuine plans are given some flexibility, and any sites simply land banked will gain protection in short order.

While we found some of the exclusions disappointing, namely streetscapes on Russell and King streets, some out-of-the way industrial buildings, and the lack of scope in the review for post-1975 post-modernist architecture, the rigour and detail of the review justifies these well and makes a very compelling case for every building that was included, and makes for fantastic reading.

Another disappointing aspect was the lack of a quorum at council, with all but two councillors having conflicts of interest through ties to owners and developers, meaning no debate and discussion on how such a monumental and positive heritage action could take place. However, the next step of panels, objections and submissions will more than make up for that lack of drama. 

We look forward to seeing this review get the Minister for Planning’s tick of approval in full, so that Melbourne has a truly progressive and detailed list of heritage places still standing far into the future.

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