Heritage protection of Melbourne’s fabulous older buildings remains a challenge in 2020. In January, the State Government acknowledged that the ‘Corkman Cowboys’ have thumbed their nose at the agreements and requirements those developers had entered into. The State Government has now initiated new legal actions against them. This consists of an enforcement order brought jointly by the State Government and the City of Melbourne at VCAT to ensure the developers deliver on their promises. As yet, they have not.
The reality is that heritage protection in this state remains fairly weak with legislation hamstrung by the inaction of local councils in maintaining Heritage overlays and databases in their areas of control. Some examples of this are Bayside City Council and its intransigence on the protection of the midterm modern architecture in Beaumaris and Black Rock, and the ongoing rolling heritage disputes in the Booroondara Council areas.
Here’s a recent synopsis of the situation in Bayside as published in the Age Newspaper
National Trust slams Bayside Council’s ‘deplorable action’ on heritage sites
Planning Minister Richard Wynne is being urged to intervene to protect unique mid-century heritage in the City of Bayside – home to some of the best post-war architecture in the state – following the “devastating” demolition of two homes last week.
The National Trust has called for urgent action after the “tragic and unnecessary” demolition of the award-winning Breedon House in Brighton, which was designed by architect Geoffrey Woodfall and built in 1966.
Chief executive Simon Ambrose said the modernist house had been left unprotected due to the “deplorable actions” of Bayside Council, which had “for many years abrogated its responsibilities … to ensure the conservation of places of heritage significance”.
A mid-century home in Nautilus Street, Beaumaris, that was designed by architect Charles Bricknell was also demolished last week, despite objections from the National Trust and community association Beaumaris Modern.
And a third modernist home – The Abrahams House on Beach Road, Beaumaris – is also in jeopardy, with an application to build townhouses on the site before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Beaumaris Modern president Fiona Austin said the houses would have been protected if Bayside Council had not abandoned heritage studies in 2008 and 2018.
“This week in Bayside has been devastating for our architectural heritage,” Ms Austin said.
Heritage studies would have identified the best examples of the mid-century period, with a planning scheme amendment prepared to permanently protect them. This approach is taken by almost all other councils.
However, the council abandoned the heritage study in 2018 after some residents hit out when told their homes would be put on an interim heritage overlay until the study was completed.
“As soon as the letters were put in letterboxes, all hell broke loose,” Bayside mayor Clarke Martin told The Age. “It descended into a horrible situation, where people were literally yelling at each other in the streets.”
Cr Martin said some home owners feared the interim heritage overlay would make renovating difficult, drive down property values and mean they couldn’t sell their homes.
“What underlined the whole thing was the view that it is your castle, you should be able to do with it what you like.”
Cr Martin said the process was so divisive the council paused the heritage study and instead invited property owners to nominate their homes for heritage protection on a voluntary register.
He said the voluntary process had identified eight private homes and 11 council properties in Beaumaris, which the council had submitted to Mr Wynne for approval.
He said once these were given protection, the council would restart the heritage study.
However, the National Trust said it was aware of more than 100 places of heritage significance in the City of Bayside that remained unprotected and were at risk.
“Mid century homes are an important part of our history and utilised groundbreaking construction methods, innovative approaches to open-plan living and connections to the landscape,” said Mr Ambrose.
“The Bayside area in particular was a hotbed of architectural expression and experimentation and has one of the best collections of post-war architecture in Victoria, if not Australia.”
The National Trust and Beaumaris Modern have written to the Planning Minister urging him to intervene to protect heritage in Bayside.
Mr Ambrose said he requested that Mr Wynne use his ministerial powers to apply interim heritage overlays to places identified in previous heritage studies.
He said this would be done with a view to pursuing permanent protection through a planning scheme amendment. “[This] allows everyone – including home owners – to have a say.”
Mr Wynne said councils were responsible for protecting their local heritage and this was yet another example of their failure to do so.
“If the council considered these houses to be of local significance, they had the means to protect them and the demolition permits should never have been issued,” he said.
In Booroondara, the gap between Heritage Overlay approval and the protection of a property by a Victorian Heritage Council listing has meant a number of buildings have been demolished with impunity. The demolition permits were issued prior to the Heritage Overlays being approved and applied.
There needs to be an entire overhaul of Heritage protection in Victoria. Many councils are still running with Heritage Listings first applied in the 1980s and 1990s. It is imperative that these listings are kept up to date. Without an up to date Council Heritage listing all such buildings are vulnerable.
The situation has been allowed to slip whilst under the stewardship of both major political parties. There is one simple reason these issues are more often than not consigned to the ‘too hard’ basket – money. Those wishing to develop in these Council areas often represent a significant increase in rateable property income per property – e.g. Strata Title replacing single occupancy. On particular Local Councils, the developers hold major influence.
The National Trust, the Victorian Heritage Councils and the Heritage Inspection processes are heavily underfunded. With only limited staff, inspections that should take weeks, can be delayed for years.
The Real Estate Industry and the Building and Construction sector have good reasons to turn away – the simple answer is profitability. If heritage supporters want significant change then it will be necessary to strongly lobby both the State Government and individual Local Councils to do much more.
In the case of the State Government there needs to be much stronger funding of the Heritage Council of Victoria and Heritage Victoria. These organisations and the State Government Planning Department have the capacity to implement much more effective heritage policy, and for the Planning Department to provide far more realistic funding to these two organisations.
If you know of a Heritage property anywhere in Victoria currently under threat, please don’t hesitate to message us, or alternatively leave a message on our website and we will investigate and publicise the dispute.
Balance Architecture is committed to ensuring Heritage Architecture and listed buildings receive maximum protection and given due respect and recognition by both Government and Local Government Authorities. Heritage is who we are as a population, it’s where we’ve come from, and it’s the true basis on which future generations will rely to acknowledge our growth and diversity as a city and a State.
It’s time to ensure real protection, to value it, and to celebrate it.