Heritage Knock-Downs and the ‘Politics’

There is an old saying many of you will have heard – ‘The law is an ass’. It’s an interesting statement. The ass or donkey is not renowned for its intellect but it is in fact a sturdy beast of burden that will carry heavy loads without complaint. Heritage law for some Councils is in fact ‘a heavy load’.

With competing agendas creating and angling for different outcomes, the current situation in Boroondara Council is an excellent example of legislative failure, at least at a local level, and an inability at a State level to ensure compliance with heritage values enshrined in legislation. The amendment simply makes no sense as currently applied by the State Government.

At 81 Charles Street, stands a striking Victorian-era weatherboard. Built 134 years ago, it could all be replaced by three townhouses.jpg

At 81 Charles Street, stands a striking Victorian-era weatherboard. Built 134 years ago, it could all be replaced by three townhouses

At a Council level, Planning Departments have competing agendas. On the one hand multi-occupancy on single occupancy sites makes for significant increases in rates and revenue per property.

It would also seem that it is somewhat mischievous to permit demolition permits on properties known to be included in projected Heritage overlays being submitted to Heritage Victoria and the Victorian Heritage Council for approval. In saying this, it’s recognised that the approval process for heritage listing can take up to 12-18 months. In this case Boroondara is imploring the Planning Minister to intervene.

The Toorak mansion bought for $18.5 million and razed. The empty block is now on the market for $40 million

The Toorak mansion bought for $18.5 million and razed. The empty block is now on the market for $40 million

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18 months on, the site is an ‘ugly paddock’

There are several deficiencies at work. The Heritage Council is seemingly underfunded and understaffed. With this in mind, it would be sensible of the Council’s in question with outstanding demolition orders on properties included on proposed heritage overlays, or indeed properties to be heritage listed in their own right, to apply a freeze, an injunction on these properties until a decision has been handed down by the Heritage Council. In turn this could be added to current State Heritage legislation as an amendment to current legislation to prevent any such demolitions being pursued through VCAT or the courts.

This is a most serious issue for Heritage protection. To date this demolition permit loophole has been used to demolish properties in Armadale, North Caulfield, Hawthorn, Kew, Black Rock and Beaumaris. Councils such as Boroondara, Stonnington, Glen Eira and Kingston have all been placed in such untimely dilemmas.

It comes down to properly maintaining heritage listings and overlays within their province and keeping them up to date.

This historic house at 55 Seymour Road Elsternwick was demolished in August, despite outrage from locals.jpg

This historic house at 55 Seymour Road Elsternwick was demolished in August, despite outrage from locals

It would appear the dilemma between development offering significant revenue increases and the preservation of heritage style properties is somewhat daunting for our elected officials.

As has been stated previously, the maintenance of the Victorian Heritage Database is unfortunately not keeping pace with the shift in Real Estate valuations and the mounting pressures for development. The process, due to lack of Heritage Inspection staff is interminably slow.

This article from Melissa Heagney in Domain covers much of the current angst.

Heritage knockdowns: Boroondara Council calls on government to close a planning ‘loophole’

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368 Auburn Road was demolished on August 30

Boroondara Council is calling on the state government to close a planning “loophole” which has seen a Victorian-era home torn down, and puts another six homes at risk.

An amendment made to the council’s planning rules by the state government last year allows home owners who have approval to tear down and rebuild a house, to push ahead even if the council attempts to stop them by placing an interim heritage overlay on the property. The council is calling on Planning Minister Richard Wynne to change this.

The properties the council argues are now at risk include homes on Belford Road in Kew East, Toorak Road in Camberwell, Moir Street in Hawthorn, and on Auburn Road and Burwood Road in Hawthorn East. Each has approval for demolition.

Local residents were dismayed at the recent demolition of a 130-year-old home at 368 Auburn Road in Hawthorn, knocked down two weeks ago.

In wake of the razing, the council fears for the other residences in question.

“All six properties can be demolished in accordance with the loophole implemented in the Boroondara Planning Scheme by the minister through Amendment C299,” Boroondara Mayor Jane Addis said.

“Typically, an interim Heritage Overlay would invalidate these building permits, thereby protecting properties from demolition and maintain their contribution to their respective heritage precincts.

“We fear that without the removal of the loophole, these six properties will share the same fate as 368 Auburn Road, Hawthorn.

“Council has requested the minister to remove this loophole four times now and we are hopeful the Minister will now act.”

Planning Minister Richard Wynne has argued that the changes to Boroondara’s rules made the planning process fairer for home owners.

“I introduced the planning amendment to stop this council from continually moving the goalposts,” Mr Wynne told Domain in an email. It was the only council with such an amendment, he said.

Since February 2018, more than 20 amendments had been approved for the Boroondara planning scheme to provide heritage protection for precincts and individual sites, Mr Wynne said.

It was the most extensive application of interim heritage overlays in any council area in Victoria in recent times, protecting thousands of properties.

He said Boroondara had been too slow putting together its heritage applications.

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This house on Burwood Road, Hawthorn East is one of the six homes set to be demolished

The issue in Boroondara came to a head after approval to tear down a home at 25-27 Victoria Avenue, Canterbury was brought into question when the council introduced an interim heritage overlay on the property after it had been torn down.

The Victoria Avenue property was legally demolished in early 2018.

“It doesn’t make sense for the council to seek heritage protection for a house … many months after approving a demolition permit to knock it down,” Mr Wynne said.

But Boroondara Council argued Mr Wynne had taken six months to review some of these studies before a decision was made.

The council had been undertaking heritage gap studies while some home owners applied for demolitions. As there had been no heritage protection in place at the time, the council was unable to protect such houses.

Under Victoria’s planning rules, a council permit to demolish a home is only required in certain circumstances including: if it is listed on the heritage register; is larger than 40 square metres; or would create a danger to the public when being torn down.

Losing these types of homes has raised the ire of local residents, politicians and the National Trust, with two state MPs airing the issue this week.

The National Trust raised concerns about the number of homes under threat as a result of the Boroondara-specific planning scheme amendment.

“This issue has highlighted the need for clearer and more consistent State Government guidelines around heritage protection, including interim heritage overlays,” National Trust of Australia (Victoria) chief executive Simon Ambrose said.

Boroondara Council and other councils should be “identifying places of potential heritage significance and seeking heritage protection before demolition permits are issued”, he said.

“The best way to do this is through implementing strategic heritage studies, like the gap studies recently undertaken by the City of Boroondara,” he said.

“But even in individual cases, councils have a safety net under the Building Act to withhold consent for demolition and apply for interim heritage protection if it’s warranted.”

Source: domain.com.au

So as the Chief Executive of the National Trust has stated, Councils have a safety net under the building Act to ‘withhold consent for a demolition and apply for interim protection if it is warranted’. We would also suggest ‘if they have an appetite for it’.

The whole scenario illustrates perfectly that the time to act is now. The minister must step in and prevent demolitions until heritage status is determined.

Currajong House in Hawthorn was saved from demolition by Planning Minister Richard Wynne in May

Currajong House in Hawthorn was saved from demolition by Planning Minister Richard Wynne in May

Councils must urgently create ‘Gap’ studies and ensure that their heritage registers are up to date. Local Government and State Government bureaucracies can move slowly and often it’s too slowly. It’s time to step in and intervene – co-operatively to save our valuable heritage buildings and precincts – State Government and Local Government – co-operatively. We simply cannot afford to lose further heritage treasures. Act now and stop politicking. This is far too important.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Heritage – a true appreciation has evolved. Can this be matched with Government action on preservation?

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, if it was ‘old’ then it had little or no value. There was very little appreciation or understanding of heritage – whether it was architectural, historical, social or community based. The mantra was knock it down and build a nice new facility. Today we look at both ends of this spectrum, the ignorance of the past and the appreciation of present heritage values.

In 1972, the once powerful Victorian Railways was being usurped by Road Transport. Steam Engines were largely replaced by Diesel Locomotives, the main line from Sydney to Melbourne had been converted to standard gauge from broad gauge (track widths) enabling an express train to run without impediment between our two largest cities.

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Benalla Railway Station

What was actually happening though was rather sad. Branch lines were neglected or closed. And the substantial buildings that had served the public for many years were either demolished or repurposed in renditions of the architecture of the times. People drove cars, cars needed carparks. The old steam locomotive infrastructure paid the price. Buildings were demolished, tracks removed.

But the real travesty was the destruction of what were in effect community assets – the actual station buildings.

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Benalla Railway Station

Benalla was a good example.

From The Age, Nov 14th 1974, by Jennifer Byrne.

“It’s just an old railway station”

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71822892_131636181553441_331139362886516736_nThe battle to save Benalla’s historic railway station has been lost.

Demolition of the 19th century brick building is now well advanced, despite strenuous opposition from a local preservation group and intervention by the National Trust.

Both groups have struggled for years to retain the building-former refreshment rooms and tower section of the station-claiming it has architectural and historical significance.

But a railway wrecking crew moved in several days ago.

Preservation is now impossible.

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Bar at Benalla Railway Station

The chairman of the National Trust (Mr. Rodney Davidson) has called on the Premier (Mr. Hamer) to halt the demolition.

The demolition marks the end of a 14 month fight by the Benalla Railway Preservation Society-an offshoot of the Benalla Tourist Association-to save this dilapidated yet impressive section of the building.

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They planned to build a $60,000 museum-type complex in the old refreshment rooms.

A society spokesman said townspeople had been “totally apathetic” to the idea of saving the building.

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Benalla station master Mr. George Pryor, 47, said yesterday he wanted a new railway station and carpark-not an old museum.

“It’s all right if you’re an historical bod about these things, but if you’re a passenger waiting in the rain or someone working in a cramped hot office it’s not so good,” he said.

“It’s attractive but it’s not really historical at all…it’s just an old railway station which has been here for almost 100 years.”

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Mr. Pryor said the building had been closed for more than 10 years.

A recent report said it was infested with white ants.

The society has one small consolation-the Victorian Railways has offered it nearly all the station’s internal and external fixtures, to be used in a museum which may be built of Benalla station bricks in the public gardens.

[Picture: Benalla station master George Pryor, holds wrought iron from the old building…”It’s just an old railway station”]

Source: facebook

“It’s not really historical at all – it’s just an old railway station which has been here for almost 100 years” – Stationmaster George Pryor

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What a staggering attitude – but one very common at the time. It was this attitude that gave free reign to the ‘Whelan the Wreckers’ of the time in demolishing much of our heritage.

At the time, the National Trust was but a fledgling organisation. There was no Victorian Heritage Database. It was open slather.

The building was an extraordinary architectural marvel complete with tower. Gothic in style, it was a striking edifice with fully capped chimneys, polychromic brick bands and curious upper level windows. It appeared to have a mansard roof in slate, high pitched with circular windows in the tower.

This was a building built with purpose, designed to be a landmark for generations to come. Today the demolition would not have got past the architects report.

Contrast that to the vision shown by Maldon couple Kieran and Karen Moy. Moving to a town nominated by the National Trust as ‘Australia’s first notable town’, the Moys showed sensitivity and respect for the town and its heritage by transporting and restoring (although already in fine repair) an original California style bungalow dwelling (which would otherwise have been demolished) from McKinnon to Maldon.

And there’s more to the story.

Maldon heart of gold saves McKinnon home from wrecking ball

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The recently relocated home with the historic Maldon Dairy in the foreground.

A historic dairy with ties to a renowned Australian philosopher is on the market with a relocated house saved from a developer’s wrecking ball in one of Victoria’s most historic towns.

The Maldon Dairy and a family home are for sale at 36 Parkins Reef Rd with a $640,000 asking price.

The milking shed was home to farming equipment built by Romulus Gaita, father of renowned philosopher Raimond Gaita and titular character in his esteemed 1998 book, Romulus, My Father.

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The Maldon Dairy contained equipment built by local figure Romulus Gaita.

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Kieran and Karen Moy at the home while it was still in McKinnon

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and after they relocated it to Maldon

The vendors recently donated the galvanised steel stalls and cow bails made by the builder to the Maldon Museum.

They sit alongside the motorbike used by actor Eric Bana when he played the title role in the 2007 film version of Romulus, My Father.

The movie was based on Mr Gaita’s 1998 memoir of his childhood at a dilapidated farm in the Maldon region.

Bana travelled to Maldon, dubbed by the National Trust as “Australia’s first notable town”, to shoot the film.

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The Moys recently donated equipment used at the dairy to the Maldon Museum.

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The property has a price guide of $640,000.

The weatherboard house was moved to the block by vendors Kieran and Karen Moy, who saved it from destruction in McKinnon a few years ago and finalised the move last year.

Controversial plans to build a three-storey apartment block at 2-4 Penang St, McKinnon had locals seeing red and two weatherboard homes in jeopardy of being demolished.

Luckily for residents — who were unhappy to see dramatic changes to the quiet street’s character — Kieran and Karen Moy, both 58, purchased the dwelling and relocated it.

Mr Moy said getting approval to move the house to the town was straightforward because it was in keeping with the style of historic homes in Maldon.

“We couldn’t just build a new house in that area — the old California bungalow fit into the council criteria,” Mr Moy said.

“My wife and I wanted to put a house on a block and we decided we’d look at our options with a house for sale for removal — that’s how we came across the house in McKinnon.”

“When we went down to look at the house to inspect it, we saw all the signs around McKinnon in people’s yards saying, ‘Save Our Neighbourhood’ — we thought it was a bit odd to start with.

“We realised it was developers who had bought the houses to be demolished — we were getting looks from some of the neighbours, so we wandered over and, after talking with them, they were so relieved and happy that we were saving the house.”

Mr Moy said the couple were thrilled with the way the house fit into Maldon’s landscape.

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Inside the old dairy, which is now more suited to short-stay accommodation than milking.

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The Moys are selling because they have moved interstate.

“I wish we knew the people that owned it — they obviously loved it because it was a beautiful house that was maintained wonderfully,” he said.

“Now that we’ve finished it’s sitting there in Maldon, proud as punch.”

Jellis Craig Castlemaine agent Kate Graham said the dairy, the facade of which could not be altered, had potential to become short-stay accommodation or studio.

“Much of the town has been assiduously preserved, including the old 1954 dairy,” Ms Graham said.

She said the property would suit downsizers and tree-changers alike.

Source: realestate.com.au

The property is still on the market if anyone is interested.

Heritage is largely an educated perception. Victorian history dates from the 1830s and ’40s when the State was established. The Benalla Station building would now be 146 years old if it had been protected and retained.

There are still too many people out there with the attitude ‘it’s just an old building’. An old building designed and executed by amazing architects, tradesmen and artisans in a fashion no longer practiced in many cases. A gem, an iconic location.

The Victorian State government and local Councils must endeavour to ‘catch up’ again and provide legislation that precludes such travesties ever occurring again. Certainly, these beautiful buildings are eye catching and show extraordinary architecture in stunning detail. But more than that, given the times, the materials involved and the mechanisation of the times, they provide a unique and precious vision of our past and where we have come from. It’s well past time to ensure their protection, maintenance and prominence as integral elements of Victoria’s development as a State. Heritage protection is critical. A timely message would be that “those who neglect the lessons of history are destined to repeat them”. Let’s hope not.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.