Council to review CBD heritage

By Nicholas Li  and Shane Scanlan

The City of Melbourne is to start a $1 million, two-year review into the heritage status of buildings within the Hoddle Grid.

At its Future Melbourne Committee meeting on April 19, councillors accepted there was a need to protect vulnerable buildings from demolition.

Currently a number of historic buildings, notably those built during and after World War II, are at risk.

The successful motion provides $300,000 for the study next financial year with an aspiration that bulk of the work and funding would occur in 2017/18.

Councillors were told a shortage of skilled consultants meant the work could not be done any quicker.

The last comprehensive review into the heritage value of buildings within the grid was completed in 1985, and has been guiding development applications since.

Relevant property owners will be notified of whether their buildings will be up for assessment.

Melbourne Heritage Action (MHA) and the National Trust have welcomed the review.

National Trust community advocate Felicity Watson told councillors to have vision and courage.  "History will thank you for it," she said.

Warning against an officer recommendation to conduct the review over four years, MHA president, Tristan Davies, said: “Given the strength of the present wave of development pressure facing the city, this will almost certainly result in the further loss of recognised heritage structures while the study is underway.”

“And this review should not merely be about plugging the gaps between the separate heritage regimes. MHA has identified numerous absences from the original 1984 study which will also need to be addressed through the new survey.”

Mr Davies said these absences included:

  • Building interiors and the development of formal guidelines for these;
  • Currently unlisted “objects” such as former horse troughs and significant artworks, again with formal guidelines;
  • Unlisted individual buildings not covered by the 2011 “99 Buildings” amendment;
  • A review of existing heritage precincts to include all buildings contributory to their significance; and
  • An investigation of the potential for creating new heritage precincts, particularly with an eye to protection of significant laneway areas.

In a separate move, Planning Minister Richard Wynne has given permission for the Uniting Church and its development partner Leighton to demolish the Princess Mary Club building to make way for a new commercial tower in Lonsdale St.

Resident opponent of the development Maureen Capp said the approval was “unfathomable” as it was an over-development of the site and the historic building had been sacrificed.

“This planning approval also sends alarm bells to philanthropists – in this case the Nicholas family who, in good faith, make outstanding contributions to our glorious city of Melbourne, only for later generations of the family to have no power to protect the original philanthropic donation,” Ms Capp said.

“Wesley Church should be held to account for changing the nature of the original donation for the construction of Princess Mary Club to suit their financial purposes.”

“An assurance that there will be a plaque to commemorate the Princess Mary Club is no consolation against the huge loss of such an architecturally significant building and its contribution to women’s history in enabling women’s emergence in to the work force in Melbourne in the mid 1920s.”

“Heritage Victoria also has a lot to answer for in this, particularly in being derelict in its duty under its Act to ensure that the owner of an historically-listed building, in this case Wesley, maintains such a building. “

Sex Party MLC Fiona Patten was particularly savage at the news, accusing the Uniting Church of being “money grubbing bean counters”, and accusing the Government of responding to developer donations.

“If you donate enough, it seems you get the Premier and Minister’s ear – and in this case – their approval,” Ms Patten said.

In a separate move, Mr Wynne has also granted interim protection to all the post-World War II buildings from the 2011 “99 Buildings” study, which former planning minister Mathew Guy declined to list.

The MHA says these buildings have now been referred to the department for “further consideration” but this was unnecessary.

“These buildings went through the same processes that the other 87 inter-war buildings that have been permanently protected, and were recommended for listing on the same basis,” a MHA spokesperson said.

“Nonetheless, we do applaud that fully five years after the study was conducted, some level of interim protection is now accorded.”

“We look forward to all these structures, excluding the demolished National Mutual, shortly receiving the same permanent protection as their only slightly older counterparts.”

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