Protecting our sacred laneways

By Rohan Storey

As reported earlier in this issue of CBD news, after a two-year long process, Minister for Planning Richard Wynne signed off this month on one of the City of Melbourne’s most ambitious heritage protection studies in decades. 

The move sees heritage overlays now extending over Guildford Lane, the Hardware/Little Bourke area and much of Elizabeth St. 

The protection of a myriad of laneways and buildings in this study area has been a key focus for Melbourne Heritage Action (MHA) since our group was founded in 2010, and it’s fantastic to see years of lobbying paying off, with the new heritage precincts almost mirroring suggestions we’ve been making since 2014.

While some buildings were excluded in the study area which we thought were worthy of protection, such as the Duke of Kent Hotel, which currently lies derelict and has been flipped for sale by the developer who closed it as a pub and successfully applied to demolish it. Another is Melbourne House, a 1920s office building in Little Bourke St which may also soon face demolition.

Debate continues over Chart House in Little Bourke St, which the study erroneously labelled as non-contributory to the heritage streetscape. MHA has provided evidence proving the building is intact and built earlier than the study found, which has subsequently been accepted. However, with a live application for demolition, it will be up to the City of Melbourne to negotiate a compromised development which hopefully retains at least the facade of this unique 1940s building with its original shopfronts and early modernist design.

Overall, however, the study is a huge win for heritage values.

Areas like Hardware and Guildford lanes are the lifeblood of Melbourne, hosting all sorts of creative practices, cafe culture and niche businesses. They are a great example of what happens when cities protect their small heritage buildings, with oddly shaped layouts and quirks. It is proof of one of MHA’s foundational assertions: that heritage is not about creating museum pieces to sit alongside a modern city, but about allowing a modern city to thrive through both old and new, with more than one use or demographic inhabiting it, and with a memory as well as a diverse future.

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