Heritage overlays are curious creations. In the most part the Heritage Council’s approvals for many inner Melbourne locations occurred in the 1980s to 1990s. At the time, many of the areas protected featured buildings aged 100 years or over, constructed in the 1870s and 1880s onwards. Now properties outside of these Heritage overlays are at risk, in that unless holding an individual Heritage protection, demolition permits can be issued, readily.
Originally it was East Melbourne, Carlton, South Melbourne, Fitzroy and Flemington – as well as parts of the CBD that were given Heritage protection. Stately homes in Hawthorn, Kew, Essendon, Moonee Ponds and other suburbs also received Heritage protection.
Homes of more a modest dimension often did not, particularly those built in the late 19th Century and also early 20th Century. These homes were constructed between 100 and 130 years ago. But as smaller domestic residences, they had not attracted the attention of the National Trust or the Heritage Council in earlier times. And in the 1980s and 1990s the homes were less than 100 years old.
Heritage listing is a time consuming and meticulous process undertaken by the Heritage Council of Victoria upon request, generally form Municipal Councils or the National Trust. The Council is underfunded and there is no overriding policy enacted by the State Government to protect Heritage buildings outside of current declared Heritage overlays and buildings given a listing on the Victorian Heritage Register.
With the destruction of the property in Seymour Rd Elsternwick (where over 2000 people petitioned to save it), the intervention of Planning Minister Wynne to save Currajong House on Auburn Rd in Hawthorn, and the unfortunate demolition of two 100 year old plus homes in Armadale in recent times, it is obvious that it is time to provide further funding and legislative power to the Heritage Council of Victoria. With only one or two inspectors available most of the time, heritage approvals in dire situations are simply not possible. More demolitions will occur – it’s far quicker to arrange a demolition permit.
Add to this the destructive nuances of Developers seeking prime property locations. The London Hotel Port Melbourne and the Greyhound Hotel in St Kilda were both demolished on the basis of development plans. Both remain vacant blocks, and have been so since demolition nearly two years ago.
Uncertainty with regard to Heritage protections saw the incredible destruction of the property located at 16 St Georges Rd Toorak by its new Chinese owners in 2015. Having paid $16.5 million in 2013 when informed a Heritage protection order was to be applied imminently and not understanding what they would be permitted to do, they promptly demolished the building. It now stands on the market, an empty block valued at $40 million.
All this points to the need for a timely re-assessment of heritage values, their applications and protections. Currently the State Government, Local Councils and VCAT can give totally contradictory orders based on what appears to be out of date and flawed legislation, coverage and values. It’s time to introduce new assessments, values and punitive measures. Surely the Corkman Cowboys have more than adequately demonstrated the urgency of the matter?
Regarding the Seymour Rd Elsternwick demolitions, here is the Age Article where even the Opposition spokesperson on Planning is calling for immediate action (we say this as previously the LNP have been ‘pro-development’ under the then Planning Minister Matthew Guy).
Minister should have heeded locals before wreckers moved in, Libs say
Local outrage should have been enough for Planning Minister Richard Wynne to stop the demolition of a historic Elsternwick home that began on Thursday, the opposition says.
More than 2000 people signed a petition to try and stop the 130-year-old house on Seymour Road – which Glen Eira Council failed to recommend to Mr Wynne for heritage protection – from being torn down.
But a local resident’s referral of the property to Mr Wynne’s agency, Heritage Victoria, and the independent Heritage Council, was not enough to save the home.
A demolition crew arrived on Thursday to begin knocking down the property, bought in June for a touch over $3 million.
“We can’t have Melbourne’s soul torn up because of developers wanting to make a profit,” opposition planning spokesman Tim Smith said on Thursday.
The house is the latest in a number of irreplaceable homes across inner and middle Melbourne whose demolition has enraged locals in recent years.
Four days before May’s federal election, Mr Wynne stepped in to stop an even older property in Hawthorn from being bulldozed.
Mr Wynne said of that 135-year-old property, Currajong House on Auburn Road, that there had “been community concern about the demolition of this grand home, which we have listened to”.
The Elsternwick property destroyed on Thursday is the second historic house in the street to be knocked down this week.
Sam Dugdale, who lives a few doors down from the Seymour Road home started the online petition to save it after a cyclone fence went up outside it last week.
“I was walking past and saw someone was removing the window frames. The next day they were taking out the doors and fixtures,” said Ms Dugdale, who was surprised there was no heritage protection on the tree-lined street.
She rang the council, who said they could not do anything immediately about it. But the council suggested Ms Dugdale file an interim protection order with state heritage authorities.
The department came back to her after she had filled out the form and said “I haven’t established a prima facie case – which isn’t exactly surprising. I don’t know the first thing about planning law or heritage,” said Ms Dugdale, a marketing consultant.
“I just know it’s wrong,” she said, that the house was being demolished without consideration of what was being lost.
Mr Smith said that too many historic homes around inner and middle Melbourne were being demolished because the system set up to protect them was not working.
“Our local heritage protection system in Victoria is broken, and the Andrews government has to do something about it. We can’t just have this constant stream of Federation-era homes, Edwardian-era homes, being knocked down without any recourse,” he said.
Glen Eira councillor Mary Delahunty said until the recent demolitions in the street, “I didn’t realise quite how unprotected parts of Elsternwick are until we started this process”.
“It’s a reminder we need to throw some more resources at our heritage study,” she said.
The National Trust’s Victorian chief executive Simon Ambrose said the state government needed to provide more support for councils to update heritage studies, so that more homes of local importance were not lost.
“This problem is bigger than just one house,” he said. “In many areas across Melbourne, heritage protections have not kept pace with development and community expectations.”
In order to protect a home considered important, a council must apply to the planning minister to change the council’s planning rules – a process that can be costly and take months or even years.
“Planning scheme amendments to apply heritage overlays are expensive and time consuming for councils to undertake,” Mr Ambrose said.
“The state government needs to step in and provide real support.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Wynne said the council was responsible for ensuring its local planning schemes were up to date to protect sites with local heritage significance. She said the council had made no request to the planning minister to stop demolition of the Seymour Road property.
But she acknowledged that Heritage Victoria and the Heritage Council had received an application from another party to stop the demolition.
Both refused the application for an interim protection order because there was no prima facie case on the evidence provided for the building to be deemed of state-level heritage significance.
The issue is becoming quite serious. Both historic and modernist homes are demolished with impunity. Corporations and hospitals partially demolish some of our oldest and most important buildings. Progress and development is entirely a balancing act, we don’t dispute that, but realistically it’s time to ‘put the brakes on’ and review and refresh Victoria’s rather out-of-date and fractured Heritage protection laws. The destruction must stop.