The Battle to protect Heritage is hotting up. Two Key Issues.

The ongoing battle to protect heritage architecture and our historic buildings from unscrupulous developers has seen two major issues come to a head this January. One is the removal of the planning loophole (Amendment 299) that enabled Heritage destruction in Booroondara. This amendment by the Victorian Government Planning Ministry permitted the destruction of buildings subject to interim Heritage Overlays in Booroondara, and was rescinded by the planning Minister on or about January 2nd 2020.

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A bulldozer moves in on 368 Auburn Road

The second major issue is of course the Corkman Demolition and the ongoing refusal of the developers involved to co-operate or to fulfil the terms of agreement made with Government’s Planning Minister, Mr Richard Wynne, last year.

The Corkman Saga is becoming a major thorn in the side of the Minister and his department. Land value at the time of purchase in 2015 was assessed to be in line with the purchase price of $4.76 million. However as a Heritage listed building this essentially meant nothing until the developers ‘knocked the pub over’. Land value is now estimated to be $8 to $10 million. Its plain to see that with fines reduced to $1.1 million last year in the County Court, compulsory acquisition as being touted by the Victorian Government opposition is hardly punitive.

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The Corkman Hotel, prior to its illegal demolition.

We suspect that current legislation in ineffective in dealing with such matters. As can be seen, fines are limited. It’s probably the right time to introduce stronger punitive measures, but no Government wants to be viewed as ‘anti-development’. In this case the Corkman ‘Developers ‘could reap up to 3 times the land value if they were permitted to build. Quite frankly they should never be permitted to under any circumstances. Again – this will require new legislation.

Here are two recent articles from the Fairfax press on the situation

Seize Corkman land, opposition says, after another broken promise

The developers who own the Carlton site where the historic Corkman Irish Pub once stood have failed to carry out their latest promise, which was to build a temporary public park on the land.

The failure has led the opposition to renew its call for the Andrews government to forcibly acquire the land.

Developers Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski in October 2016 knocked down the 159-year-old pub without planning or building permission.

They were initially fined almost $2 million for brazenly destroying the building over the course of a weekend. Last year, their County Court appeal saw the fines cut to $1.1 million.

Rubble covered the site for three years after the demolition, but in 2019 Planning Minister Richard Wynne reached an agreement with the pair to turn the site into a temporary public park.

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The pub in 2016 before it was knocked down

Under the terms of their agreement with Mr Wynne and Melbourne City Council, the pair cleared the site and were then supposed to deliver a plan for a temporary park, which was meant to be open by February. But the pair have not yet even submitted plans to the city council for approval.

Lord mayor Sally Capp said the council was considering its legal options to make sure the site was turned into public space.

“We’re extremely disappointed the owners of the Corkman site have not complied with the VCAT order,” she said.

Contacted on Tuesday, Mr Kutlesovski refused to say why no action had been taken on the promised park. Mr Shaqiri did not return a message left with him.

Opposition planning spokesman Tim Smith said that Mr Wynne now needed to step in and compulsorily acquire the land, because of his repeated failure to compel the owners to do anything that they had agreed to do.

In 2016 in response to intense public outrage, Mr Shaqiri and Mr Kutlesovski issued a promise – via their public relations consultant, and now Labor MP Will Fowles – to Mr Wynne that they would rebuild the pub. They later reneged on this promise.

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A graffiti piece depicting demolition of the Corkman pub, directly across the road from the site

“Richard Wynne first said the pub would be rebuilt and it hasn’t been,” Mr Smith said. “He then said the rogues that knocked down the Corkman would have the highest fines ever, and that’s not true,” he said.

Mr Smith said the latest failure meant the government “must surely now intervene and compulsorily acquire the site and put it to good use, which is student housing, social housing or a park”.

He questioned why the government was so easily able to compulsorily acquire land needed for major transport projects and yet was unwilling to take the Carlton site off its owners. “We’re not talking tens of millions here,” he said.

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The pub immediately after Kutlesovski and Shaqiri demolished it

Mr Kutlesovski and Mr Shaqiri bought the pub in 2015 for $4.76 million and it was last year valued at between $8 million and $10 million.

Mr Wynne said the planning department was working with the city council to force Shaqiri and Kutlesovski to comply with the VCAT order to build a park on the site. “These cowboy developers have shown, yet again, that they are recklessly disinterested in obeying the law,” he said.

Mr Wynne did not respond to questioning about whether the government would compulsorily acquire the site.

He has previously said the price the government would have to pay to acquire the site would deliver huge profits to the developers, and for this reason he would not proceed down that path.

Source: brisbanetimes.com.au

‘You’re not above the law’: State takes Corkman Pub ‘rogue developers’ back to court

The state government will take developers who razed the historic Corkman Irish Pub to court again, seeking an order forcing them to build a temporary public park at the Carlton site.

Developers Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski have failed to deliver on their promise to build the park by February under an agreement they reached with Planning Minister Richard Wynne last year.

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The Carlton site on Tuesday

The site remains closed off by a barbed-wire fence and the pair have not submitted plans to the City of Melbourne for approval.

Mr Wynne on Wednesday said the state government and Melbourne council would seek an enforcement order at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to ensure Mr Shaqiri and Mr Kutlesovski delivered on their promise.

The minister said he would speak with Attorney-General Jill Hennessy to expedite the court process and have the matter heard in VCAT soon.

“We don’t want this matter hanging around – we want this matter resolved, we want this park to be built,” Mr Wynne said.

“You can be absolutely confident of my determination and the government’s determination to ensure the enforcement order, if we are successful at VCAT, is in fact abided by these developers. You are not above the law.”

If an enforcement order is issued and the developers again fail to build the park, Mr Wynne said Melbourne council would step in to build the park and seek costs from Mr Shaqiri and Mr Kutlesovski.

The opposition renewed its calls for Mr Wynne to step in and compulsorily acquire the land following his repeated failure to compel the owners to act.

But Mr Wynne rejected those calls, accusing the Coalition of “not understanding planning laws”.

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The Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton, built in 1857, was demolished in 2016

“One of our eminent planning [lawyers] advised me absolutely that the state would be required to pay the enhanced value of the site, plus compensation, and we’re not prepared to do that,” he said.

“We’re not prepared to reward these developers who have flouted the law.

“We will never allow this site to be acquired with a massive windfall gain for these rogue developers at the expense of taxpayers.”

The opposition’s planning spokesman Tim Smith hit back, calling the state government’s decision to take the pair to VCAT a “joke”.

“Dick Wynne has now been dragged back to VCAT, where he says he’s going to get another wet lettuce to slap these two cowboys with over the wrists again,” Mr Smith said.

“Wow, what a joke. These two cowboys are just laughing at Dick.”

Mr Kutlesovski and Mr Shaqiri bought the pub in 2015 for $4.76 million and the site was last year valued at between $8 million and $10 million.

In October 2016 they knocked down the 159-year-old pub without planning or building permission.

They were initially fined almost $2 million for destroying the building over the course of a weekend. Last year a County Court appeal led to the fines being cut to $1.1 million.

Source: theage.com.au

Unfortunately, this saga is now playing into a political situation. To date there is very little substance as to suggestions to compulsorily acquire the property.

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

In the UK, the developers would be forced to reconstruct the hotel, be fined heavily or face confiscation of the property.

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

To the second issue – Booroondara. This is another political gamesmanship issue – the loser has been Heritage. The State Government has rescinded Amendment C299 which applied specifically to buildings subject to Heritage Overlays in the Booroondara Council area.

Here is a statement from the Mayor or Booroondara…

Removal of unjust Amendment C299 loophole boosts heritage protection in Boroondara

Council takes back control of protecting the City’s history.

The City of Boroondara is aware of media reports about the Victorian Minister for Planning’s intention to remove the unjust, discriminatory and exclusively prejudicial ‘Boroondara Planning Scheme Amendment C299’, which uniquely allowed the demolition of buildings subject to Interim Heritage Overlays in Boroondara.

Mayor of Boroondara, Cr Cynthia Watson, said Council had been advocating since June 2018 when C299 was imposed by the Minister on Boroondara, for the removal of Amendment C299.

“We are relieved to see common sense finally prevail with the proposed removal of the Amendment C299 loophole,” said Cr Watson. “No other municipal planning scheme in Victoria is subject to an exemption like this one, which allows heritage properties to be demolished”.

During 2019, Council wrote to the Minister requesting the removal of the Amendment on seven occasions (8 and 13 May, 24 June, 30 August, 9 and 13 September and 21 October) and also wrote to all local members of state parliament and Premier Daniel Andrews, seeking assistance to have Amendment C299 removed.

During this time, Council also repeatedly sought authorisations and decisions from the Minister which would have protected properties at risk of demolition. On average, the Minister took over five months to respond to these requests for heritage controls, with several sitting on his desk for well over a year.

In one such instance, the Minister was given three months’ notice by Council that a property at 360 Auburn Road Hawthorn was at risk, and he chose to do nothing. That property was subsequently demolished on Christmas Eve.

Usually, a building’s inclusion in an interim Heritage Overlay would overrule any building permit issued prior to the introduction of heritage controls.

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Under what has become known as the C299 loophole, which exclusively targeted the City of Boroondara, property owners with a building permit were able to override interim Heritage Overlays and demolish historic buildings.“While we are pleased to finally see the end of Amendment C299, we are saddened that this loophole was responsible for the loss of nine irreplaceable heritage properties. Council can now take back control of protecting our City’s history on behalf of our community,” said Cr Watson.

“The Minister chose to exclusively and unjustly target the community of Boroondara and has clearly realised the error of his ways.”

During community consultation for the Boroondara Community Plan, our residents clearly told us that they place great value on Boroondara’s heritage buildings and precincts. We currently have well over 10,000 properties in Boroondara currently protected by heritage controls and have allocated over $1 million dollars to our five-year Municipal Wide Heritage Gap Study to identify further historical properties and precincts. Boroondara is a Council that has a long history of investing in the protection of our heritage and will continue to have a strong partnership with our community in its ongoing preservation.

Information about the Municipal Wide Heritage Gap Study is available on the City of Boroondara website at http://www.boroondara.vic.gov.au/heritage.

Comments Attributable to Mayor of Boroondara, Councillor Cynthia Watson

After months of petitioning for the removal of the Minister’s ill-conceived loophole, it is disappointing but not surprising that Council has had to learn via the media of the Minister’s plans to revoke Amendment C299.

As at 3 January, Council has not received any notification from the Minister’s office indicating a decision on removing the Amendment has been made.

We are pleased to see common sense finally prevail but frustrated it has taken this long and at such great cost to the heritage of our City. No other municipal planning scheme in Victoria was subject to an exemption allowing heritage properties to be demolished in this way.

Amendment C299 was responsible for the loss of nine heritage properties across the City. With its removal, Council can take back control of protecting our historic properties.

We now encourage the Minister to expedite the removal of Amendment C299 from the Boroondara Planning Scheme by ensuring its gazettal at the first opportunity. Until this is done, as the Minister knows, at least five more historic properties are at risk of demolition.

Source: boroondara.vic.gov.au

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

Mr Tim Smith is the member for Kew, he is also the Shadow Minister for Planning and Heritage. Booroondara is a Liberal party controlled council. Demolition permits are issued via Council. Heritage Overlay submissions are made by Council. A number of vulnerable buildings in both Kew and Hawthorn have been demolished. The State Government Planning Department stepped in to halt the demolition last year of the historic Currajong House.

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This house on Burwood Road, Hawthorn East is set to be demolished

What is required now is an expansions of Heritage Overlays and protections to cover areas not considered important in the 1980s and ‘90s and until recently were not at risk. Armadale, Elsternwick, Hawthorn, Kew and other near city suburbs are in dire need of real action to protect our valuable Heritage buildings from unscrupulous developers.

This will require a genuine non-partisan co-operative action on the part of both State Politicians, Municipal Councils and bodies such as Heritage Victoria, the National Trust and all interested and involved parties; re-vamped Heritage laws with significant powers, increased funding and staffing of Heritage Victoria and the Heritage Council and the co-operation of organisations like the Master Builders Association and the Housing Industry of Australia.

It’s time for a positive change.

Heritage most definitely does matter.

 

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

The Crunch Time – When neglect is rejected as a legitimate pathway to Demolition.

In the last few years, the Victorian State Government blocked a favourite pathway to demolition by unscrupulous property owners. The method was to leave a property unoccupied, with no security. ‘Vandals’ would arrive and pretty well wreck the place. The owners would then be at a loss ‘What to do?’ – too expensive to repair. The only solution was to apply for a demolition permit which, up until early 2019, was often granted.

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368 Auburn Rd which was 130 years old has now been demolished.

But then the State Government legislated to prevent such practices.

Heritage Victoria was given the power to issue orders of protection and restoration. If after the order had been issued and no action was taken, Heritage Victoria had the right to issue work orders to secure and repair the heritage listed property to a manageable state – at the owner’s expense.

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Urgent repair orders have been issued by Heritage Victoria for Macedon House which has fallen into a state of disrepair.

Of course there are always situations where such actions can spark intense disagreement. Let’s not kid ourselves – a fire has always been seen to be the ultimate ‘stocktake’. It is remarkable how many unoccupied buildings sitting upon valuable real estate manage to be burnt down.

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Valetta House has been neglected and vandalised

But there comes a time when there must be a precedent set, and it would appear that the property located at 38 Black St, Brighton may well set that precedent.

Spurling House was constructed in 1889 by an American Architect – John Harbury Hunt. Mr Hunt was one of the first North American Architects to practice here in Australia.

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The house was very different to other properties of the time which were Italianate Mansions, Gothic, Georgian renditions or other grandiose renditions. This was in Shingle style using natural organic materials. It was truly unique and even today stands as an extraordinary construction.

Here is a recent article reprinted from The Age newspaper dated Jan 15th.

‘Uninhabitable’, but owner loses demolition battle for heritage house

The owner of a historic 131-year-old house in Brighton, which was damaged by fire and is currently uninhabitable because it is infested with mould, has lost her battle to demolish the property.

In a majority determination, the Heritage Council last month refused a permit to knock down Spurling House. The body noted that once demolished, the cultural heritage significance of a place on the Victorian Heritage Register is “ineradicably lost”.

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Spurling House in Brighton is currently uninhabitable

The case raises interesting questions about when the heritage significance of a property should outweigh the cost of maintaining it.

Dissenting Heritage Council member Patrick Doyle argued the refusal of the demolition permit was a “disproportionate price for the (owner) to pay, for the sake of the broader public interest in maintaining the heritage values of the place”.

Spurling House at 38 Black Street in Brighton was built in 1889 by architect John Horbury Hunt, one of the first important North American architects to practise in Australia.

It was the first house in Victoria to be built in the Shingle style, a North American architectural technique that used organic materials in a way that heightened their natural qualities.

“At the height of the boom in Melbourne, when the majority of houses were designed in a highly decorative Italianate style, the surprising design of Spurling House was exceptional,” according to the Victorian Heritage Register.

However, the two-storey home was damaged by a fire in the roof in October 2015 and has deteriorated further over the last few years.

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Spurling House before it was damaged in a fire in October 2015

Water from fire-fighting efforts, ash and exposure to the elements has also led to it being contaminated with fungus or mould.

More than $1.5 million in insurance was paid in 2016.

Heritage Victoria has issued two repair orders to the house’s owner, which require works to be carried out to prevent the further deterioration of the building.

Failure to comply with a repair order can result in fines of up to $396,528 or five years’ imprisonment, or both.

Spurling House owner Dr Damien Louis applied for a demolition permit in February last year.

She argued the house posed a serious health risk and demolition was the only method to make the site safe and remove the cross-contamination infection and allergen risks.

But this was refused by Heritage Victoria executive director Steven Avery, who said demolition would result in the complete loss of the cultural heritage significance of the place.

Mr Avery said Heritage Victoria was not satisfied that the contamination issues were unable to be remediated.

The decision was reviewed by the Heritage Council.

Committee members Professor Stuart Macintyre and Jeffrey Robinson upheld the decision to refuse permission to knock the house down in a majority determination on December 20.

“The committee accepts that the place is currently uninhabitable and finds that in order for the place to be occupied as a residence again, extensive and costly remediation works would have to be undertaken,” they said in their finding.

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The Heritage Council has upheld a decision to refuse a demolition permit

However, they disagreed with Dr Louis that it was impossible to remediate the house and said it could be made habitable within the amount provided by the insurance payout.

“It is the committee’s view that … the complete and irretrievable demolition of a registered heritage place … should be a last resort, even in exceptional circumstances, including in cases where there has been clear damage, contamination and deterioration at a place.”

However, Mr Doyle, the dissenting member, said he would have allowed the demolition provided there was an archival recording.

“If a place is added to the register, the private owners of that land should not be compelled to leave no stone unturned for the sake of the public interest in favour of heritage protection, all at the expense of their own private interest.”

Heritage Victoria executive director Steven Avery welcomed the majority determination to refuse demolition.

“It is outrageous that four years after a fire destroyed the roof of a significant heritage place appropriate repairs are yet to be carried out,” Mr Avery said.

“This building has continued to deteriorate while the owner has done as little as possible to maintain the building.”

Dr Louis is appealing the repair orders in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Source: theage.com.au

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Spurling House engulfed in flames.

With the matter now heading to VCAT on appeal, it is likely to ultimately be heard in the Victorian Supreme Court if the appeal is upheld. It is a test case that will determine the strength of Heritage Victoria’s powers and its ability to enforce repair orders.

It is a most significant case. We will continue to follow it with interest. Again, dare we suggest it, Heritage regulations – overlays, protection orders and listings all need further updating and strengthened legislation.

Heritage is precious. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Til next time.

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

Melbourne’s Architectural Integrity and Heritage Buildings – the vision of the City of Melbourne

Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 2.35.01 pmThe City of Melbourne for the main has a vision that looks to protect heritage architecture and buildings. In December, the City approved the new Central Melbourne Design Guide.

Specifically it looks to prevent some of the largesse and profiteering of developers only looking to create rentable space in the sky – at any cost. Investors from Asia and the Middle East combining with local developers built tower after tower in the 1990s, much to the chagrin of opponents. Many stand today with low occupancy.

Melbourne City Councillor Nicholas Reece presented this piece in The Age Newspaper on Dec 5 2019.

Spreadsheets in the sky are putting Melbourne’s liveability at risk

It has been said that the history of a city is written by its architects and urban planners.

Melbourne’s earliest days are still evident in the genius of the Hoddle Grid with its big streets, little streets and laneways. The legacy of the 1850s gold rush that transformed a remote outpost into a city of worldwide fame can still be found in the grand public buildings, beautiful boulevards and picturesque brick terraces with their iron lacework.

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Standards of development in Melbourne’s CBD need to be improved if the city wants to build on its healthy legacy.

Over the past two decades modern Melbourne has gone through another gold rush of sorts, fuelled by record immigration and population growth, a thriving financial and business sector, and an international student boom.

So how is the history of modern Melbourne being written by architects, planners and developers? The good news is that despite the demolition crimes of the 1970s, Melbourne has preserved more of its heritage buildings than other Australian capital cities. An emphasis on good street design, bluestone pavements, quality street furniture, beautiful trees, and some stunning examples of modern architecture have given Melbourne a distinctive contemporary character.

But unfortunately, too much cheap and nasty development has crept in. Too many new towers are nothing more than spreadsheets in the sky, delivering a big profit for developers but leaving the city poorer because of bad design and low-quality materials, particularly at street level. The biggest building boom the central city has ever known has put our world famous liveability and appeal at risk.

The point was driven home to me during a recent visit to Sydney. Our northern neighbour is blessed with a spectacular harbour but it is cursed by poor street layout, a century of bad planning decisions and a hotchpotch of urban street designs. But now after two decades of determined focus by local and state government on lifting architectural and design quality, the dividends are increasingly apparent.

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A legacy of heritage and good structure has served Melbourne well up to now.

More than a hundred buildings have been through the City of Sydney’s design competition process, while many other buildings have benefited from architectural design reviews. Last year the University of NSW surveyed 26 projects that were the result of design competitions. The researchers found 62 per cent went on to win industry awards.

With the wrappers finally coming off the long-delayed George Street tram, central Sydney stands proudly as a showcase of world-leading modern architecture. Meanwhile, Melbourne has produced some brilliant new buildings and has been buoyed by home-grown local architects and a distinctive design culture, without resorting to a line-up of global “starchitects” like Sydney. The new Parliament House Annexe, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Federation Square and Eureka Tower are all examples of local designers creating amazing buildings that we should acknowledge and celebrate.

But the painful truth is that Melbourne has suffered from far too many poor developments. Featureless glass boxes that could be in any city in the world. Buildings that are low grade and bland when newly complete, and destined to deteriorate into eyesores over time. Tall towers that set out to be seen from afar, but offer nothing to the pedestrians walking the streets of the city. Our planning processes are quicker and involve far less red tape compared to other big cities. This is an advantage we need to preserve. But we also need to acknowledge that we need to lift the general standard.

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The Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Parkville stands out as one recent success.

So the City of Melbourne is drawing a line. We are saying that we must do better. The city last week gave the green light to the new Central Melbourne Design Guide and associated planning scheme amendments to encourage design excellence in future developments. The guide is the biggest rewrite of the city’s urban design policies since the 1990s and even includes a pictorial guide to make it easy for everyone to follow.

Some examples of the new mandatory provisions include the requirement that parking in buildings within the Hoddle Grid be underground, while parking in buildings within Southbank must be concealed by offices or apartments. Ugly building services will not be able to occupy more than 40 per cent of the ground floor, and we will require 80 per cent active frontages to streets and laneways in some areas.

We want to create more public spaces for people. This means at least 50 per cent of private plazas should be retained and refurbished to preserve access to these valuable open spaces in the city. We want to see more buildings that give back to the public realm, with well-designed ground floors that have character and contribute to rich street experiences with more fine-grain detail and quality materials.

The city is also establishing a Design Excellence Committee to engage members of professional design institutes, public advocacy organisations, the development industry and community members in championing good design in our city.

We’re also investigating the establishment of a Melbourne Design Review Panel to review development projects of local significance and provide design advice as part of the planning process. The new panel will be made up of independent design industry leaders and experts and will bring a new level of focus on the design of new buildings. This Melbourne Design Review Panel will complement the work of the design review processes run by the Office of the Victorian Government Architect but will significantly expand the number and type of buildings that will be subject to design review.

The City of Melbourne will continue to develop policy to encourage the use of design competitions in the right circumstances. This parallels an increased interest from private developers in the value of competitions to explore a range of design options.

Melbourne remains Australia’s most architecturally interesting and attractive city. But if we want to keep our world-beating liveability and appeal then we must do better. “Average” is no longer good enough when it comes to new design, development and urban amenity in our city.

Councillor Nicholas Reece is the chair of the City of Melbourne’s planning portfolio.

Source: theage.com.au

The Central Melbourne Design Guide offers some genuine hope that at least inner Melbourne is actually preserved and enhanced. Perhaps the Victoria Market could be reviewed in this light?

Til next week.

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