Step up, Minister

By Tristan Davies, Melbourne Heritage Action

Avid readers of this column will remember our celebration last year when the City of Melbourne finalised the West Melbourne Heritage Review, extending protection to many important places on the CBD fringe, with only the signature of the planning minister needed to put them into the planning scheme. 

What should have been a simple process has instead taken almost a year, with the result being the earmarked destruction of one of West Melbourne’s most significant heritage places.

488 LaTrobe Street, originally the Spinks Tinsmith factory built in 1888, is still remarkably intact, with urned-parapet, original gothic shopfront windows and sawtooth roof. It is a landmark on the north-west edge of the CBD, but will soon become rubble and will become a bland apartment car park entry thanks to inaction from the planning minister – not only in taking so long to sign the West Melbourne amendment, but in ignoring repeated requests to apply interim heritage protection to this specific building while he decided on the rest.
His reasoning might be that developers had already applied to demolish the building and applied to VCAT to force the City of Melbourne to approve it just before the city send off its heritage review for approval and, therefore, applying a heritage overlay mid-process might be “unfair”.

But this is a very simplistic way of looking at it. On such a large site, we hardy think the “burden” of retaining an important heritage façade, while still having a large profitable development behind, is “unfair” – and that’s all an interim heritage order could have compelled.
Instead, we now have a situation where VCAT has issued a demolition approval, unable to assess or even talk about heritage concerns due to the lack of formal protection, all because the minister refused to apply interim protection when he had ample time to do so.

Instead of allowing compromise that still would have delivered a development of the scale the developers wanted, only perhaps with some heritage retention, we get the worst of both worlds, all to the detriment of the LaTrobe St streetscape and neighbouring residents.
While this decision to be inactive pales in comparison to the arbitrary interventions of the previous minister Matthew Guy, such as his refusal to sign off on any post-war heritage listings despite strong evidence for their protection, it is very disappointing to see a nominally progressive planning minister let the short-term profits of one developer rob Melbourne of its significant heritage.

And its not only here. In other recent cases, he has also ignored local calls for interim protection such as with the Greyhound Hotel in St Kilda or the London Hotel in Port Melbourne.
We urge the minister step up to the mantle of being the pro-active and passionate defender of our heritage and liveability he promised to be, before more irreplaceable heritage is lost to inaction and political games.

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