Political process fails heritage building

Local residents have lost their fight to save from the wrecker’s ball the heritage former Spinks Tinsmith in LaTrobe St.

Neighbouring residents at the Royal Flagstaff complex had been fighting a rear-guard action to save the 1882 building ever since the City of Melbourne approved a demolition application in 2016.

The council and the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, have engaged in a mutual finger-pointing competition ever since, with each claiming to wish the building could have been preserved.

For the residents, the exercise has been exasperating, and has left them feeling abandoned and cynical about the political process.

Resident Sharon Vladusic said: “It was so messy, with no one willing to take responsibility for the problem. The council claimed throughout that it could do no more and the Minister neatly dodged the matter too.”

“I feel let down by both the local council and the state government because there were so many opportunities to prevent this from happening.”

“It’s like we’ve been on this merry-go-round and now this beautiful building is gone forever,” Ms Vladusic said.

“We’re all disappointed, frustrated, let down, cynical about the process and are left feeling that the little people don’t count because they don’t have the means to fight back.”

Developer Spacious is to construct a 65m, 19-storey tower on the site, comprising 118 apartments. Residents had in 2014 defeated a proposal for a 100m tower in the site.

The tawdry exercise is an example of dysfunction arising from having so many players involved and layers of law dealing with planning matters in our city.

The council says it couldn’t refuse the demolition application because Mr Wynne had not granted the building interim heritage protection as they had earlier requested.

The Minister says the council’s application was “incomplete” but it should not have granted the permit while an application for protection was in place.

“Other councils would have deferred the application for demolition until the outcomes of the request for heritage controls was known,” the Minister wrote to local MP Ellen Sandell.

In any event, the Minister said, Heritage Victoria and the Heritage Council did not judge the building to be state significant.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) blames the Minister, saying: “Because the Minister for Planning has declined to apply interim heritage controls over the review site, no permit is required to demolish the existing building on the site.”

In response to a Freedom of Information request to the Minister about his refusal to grant interim heritage protection, the department supplied one answer, but refused to reveal a second reason because of “legal privilege”.

The Greens say the Minister was “disingenuous” to claim the council should have waited for his decision before granting the demolition permit.  In a letter to residents, Ms Sandell and Cr Rohan Leppert said the developer would have got such a permit in any case from VCAT if the council had delayed more than 60 days.

In the March correspondence, Ms Sandell and Cr Leppert said a new planning scheme amendment C258 would include a heritage overlay for 488 LaTrobe St, but it would be too late the save the building.

“We are pleased at least that the permanent heritage overlay, as part of planning scheme amendment C258, is soon to be included in the planning scheme,” they said.

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