D for demolition?

It’s about to get lot harder to justify the demolition of heritage buildings in the city due to the adoption of new heritage policies by the City of Melbourne.

The policies replace an inadequate and out-dated grading system which ranked heritage places in order from A to D, often resulting in a “D for demolition” mindset, whereby developers often argued successfully and decision makers like VCAT often agreed that the lowest letter must mean a lack of importance.

But changes now mean any A and B graded places will move to a “significant” status, and those of C or D grade will now be considered “contributory”, with some previously C-graded places moved to “significant” on a case by case basis.

The decades-old definitions of A, B, C and D are too arcane to be talked about in detail in this column and, indeed, to a layperson may clearly but incorrectly seem to mean a ranking with D being barely worth defending. But the meanings of “significant” and “contributory” heritage should be much more apparent not only to readers, but to the public, property owners and developers.

The importance of the changes, long lobbied for by Melbourne Heritage Action and their long overdue status, were made even clearer when the Planning Minister recently told council he’d refuse to sign onto any new planning scheme changes asked for by the council unless they urgently upgraded to the best practice and fairer system long used across every other municipality in Victoria.

Despite falling behind other councils previously, the new grading system is heralding a lot of new work on heritage in the next few years, with updated statements of significance for every inner suburb, beefier guidelines for extensions and development on heritage sites, comprehensive reviews of the CBD, Southbank, Fishermans Bend and West Melbourne and specific heritage protection for our iconic laneway precincts around Guildford and Hardware lanes, which was voted for unanimously in mid-April – efforts that show the City of Melbourne is finally making a significant stride towards being a leader of heritage protection across the state.

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