Planning law failed to save Palace

By Mark Marsden

The tribunal has granted a permit allowing for the demolition of the iconic Palace Theatre, though the facade will be retained.

The case provides an intriguing analysis of the relevance of cultural significance and social impacts under planning law.

Objectors, which included the National Trust, contended that buildings of social and historic significance are arguably more important than buildings of architectural significance as they have a wider meaning to a greater cross-section of the community, particularly if the significance was recent. This is because many individuals have a personal experience of the social or historic use of the place and the experience was personal to them and these experiences were the very fabric of our society. Hence, the preservation of social significance is more dependent on retention of the use or at least the form of the building reflecting the use.

While the tribunal recognised the widespread value placed on the Palace by a large number of people as a venue for a night club, live music and other entertainment for nearly 100 years, it concluded that ensuring the ongoing use of the venue for such purpose is beyond the control of the planning scheme.

The tribunal was also constrained by the limited heritage value that had been placed on the building. It is not a building of individual heritage significance in the Melbourne Planning Scheme. Rather, it merely forms part of a heritage precinct. The tribunal therefore found the demolition of the interior would have no effect on the heritage significance of the precinct.

It said: “In cases of this type, it is important to keep in mind the distinction between nostalgic recollection and an empirical assessment of heritage values.”

The City of Melbourne has been working on a planning scheme amendment that would have proposed assigning individual heritage significance to the Palace Theatre building. But that amendment has not progressed and the tribunal could not give any weight to it.

No doubt the closure of the Palace Theatre has been a huge disappointment to many performers and patrons alike. And its demolition will forever seal its fate. The retention of the facade may at least give some visual clue to what once was.

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