An End To Façadism When? Not Any Time Soon!

In July 2020, the Minister for planning approved of a major change to the Heritage policies of the City of Melbourne. An updated policy package and a new contemporary heritage category system was adopted by Council in February 2020 and approved by the Planning Minister – Mr. Richard Wynne in July 2020. This was done under planning amendment C258.

From CBD News, an article by Sean Car provides insight into the Council’s intention.

A move to modernise Melbourne’s heritage system has been approved by the Minister for Planning Richard Wynne, which ends the city’s controversial love affair with façadism.

Heritage policies in the City of Melbourne will be updated and a contemporary heritage category system introduced under Planning Scheme Amendment C258, which was adopted by the council in February and approved by the Minister for Planning in July.  

Chair of the City of Melbourne heritage portfolio Councillor Rohan Leppert said the new policies would better protect heritage buildings and discourage facadism, where only the façade of a heritage building was preserved, while the rest of the building was replaced. 

“We’ve modernised and updated the existing heritage protection system so it’s consistent with contemporary best practice and the system used by the majority of other councils in Victoria,” Cr Leppert said. 

“This will provide more guidance, clarity and certainty for community, landowners and developers.” 

Local heritage planning policies will be revised, and the A to D grading system will be replaced with the “significant/contributory/non-contributory” category system. 

Cr Leppert said the new policies required any additions to a building to be setback to maintain the prominence of the building’s heritage.  

“We’ve seen so many examples of facadism where heritage buildings are gutted and only the shell remains. We don’t want to see facadism become a style of this city,” Cr Leppert said.  

“Under the previous system the mantra had set in that D means demolish. Those days are gone.” 

“The buildings within the heritage overlay include everything from early Victorian houses and shops to grand commercial art deco buildings in the central city.”  

“The amendment also completely reviewed heritage places within the suburb of West Melbourne. 

“Seventeen new significant places have been included in individual overlays in West Melbourne, and hundreds of other places have had their statements of significance and grading updated.” 

“And at long last we are making it easier to install solar panels on the roofs of heritage buildings, so long as efforts are made to preserve the character of heritage places.” 

Amendment C258 was placed on public exhibition from March 30 to May 12 in 2017. An independent panel then considered more than 100 submissions. 

To assist landowners and the community understand the new policies, City of Melbourne also developed a Heritage Design Guide and Heritage Owners Guide which went to the Future Melbourne Committee as a draft in February 2020. The guide will now be finalised following the gazettal of C258 on July 10. 

Fast forward to February 2021. From CBD News, an article by Jess Carrascalao Heard – More City Heritage Under Threat.

The heritage-graded Kilkenny Inn building at the corner of King and Lonsdale streets is the latest historic CBD building under threat of development. 

Heritage lobby group Melbourne Heritage Action (MHA) has called on the local community to send objections to state and local governments after an amended proposal for a $110 million 21-storey office tower on the site of the former pub was submitted by developer Charter Hall late last year.

MHA president Tristan Davies said the Kilkenny Inn, which was built in 1915, was graded as a “significant” building.

“It’s one of the few pubs standing intact in the CBD … it does retain its interiors as well,” he said.

The plans show that the Kilkenny Inn would be largely demolished, with only the facade remaining around the bottom of the 21-storey tower.

The historic bluestone Gough Alley, which runs behind the Kilkenny Inn and serves as a back entrance to the site, is also set to go as part of the plans. 

Under the proposal, the neighbouring former Paramount House at 256-260 King St, built in 1929 as Paramount Films’ Melbourne distribution centre, would also be demolished.

While the building current carries no heritage grading, it was recommended for both permanent and interim heritage protection in the City of Melbourne’s Hoddle Grid Heritage Review last year.

“The former Paramount House is a rare example of an interwar building associated with the film industry in the City of Melbourne, particularly in terms of it being purpose-built as a film distribution centre with exclusive long-term use (from 1930 to 1989) as the headquarters for a number of prominent international film distribution companies,” the council’s heritage review stated. 

MHA described the plans for the Kilkenny Inn as “yet another example of facadism”.

Facadism is when the front shell of a building with a heritage overlay is retained while the remainder of the structure is demolished. It’s a strategy that has been widely adopted by developers of heritage sites across the central city. 

New heritage policies developed by the City of Melbourne and approved by the Minister for Planning last year discourage facadism by enforcing greater internal setbacks and Mr Davies said the Kilkenny Inn plans were not consistent with heritage guidelines. 

The City of Melbourne’s heritage portfolio chair Cr Rohan Leppert said that to have a true understanding about Melbourne’s history, one needed to see what buildings were like in their three-dimensional form.

“If you’ve only got a shell of a building with no life behind the windows and an obvious modern form immediately behind that wall, you’ve lost so much of what heritage is about,” he said.

Mr Davies agreed, and said that it was important to keep these significant buildings as buildings, and retaining just the facade of a building was like having “a Hollywood set piece”.

He also said that heritage was not just about what a building was, but what it could be as a part of social heritage.

“[Facadism] really hollows out the city and the way that we use buildings. So many of these older buildings can have so many uses behind them, even if their interiors aren’t perfect,” Mr Davies said.

The news follows confirmation by the owner of the nearby heritage Metropolitan Hotel building at 263 William St that it was proceeding with approved plans for a $70 million 20-storey office tower at the site. 

The Metropolitan Hotel was also considered for protection as part of the council’s Hoddle Grid Heritage Review as a site of “social significance”. 

In February, Minister for Planning Richard Wynne introduced the Planning and Environment Amendment Bill 2021 to state parliament, which partly seeks to prohibit the development of land for up to 10 years where a heritage building has been unlawfully demolished.

The new provisions under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 will prevent developers from benefiting from the unlawful demolition or neglect of our precious heritage, enabling existing permits to be revoked and allow for new permits to be issued for specific purposes – such as building a park or reconstruction or repair of the heritage building.  

The Bill comes in the wake of the illegal demolition by developers of the Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton and Minister Wynne said the “tough” new laws would strengthen Victoria’s building system and provide greater protection for heritage-listed places. 

“These new laws remove the financial incentive to illegally demolish by stopping development on the land for up to 10 years,” he said. 

“We’re sending a clear message to those developers who do the wrong thing – there are real consequences for willfully destroying our precious heritage.”

“Fines shouldn’t just be the cost of doing business. Preventing those who illegally demolish our heritage from redeveloping means they can no longer reap windfall gains from selling or rebuilding on their land.”

The Bill will also improve the efficiency and operation of Victoria’s planning system, in relation to the publication of notices, the inspection of documents and for panel hearings.

Cr Leppert said he looked forward to parliament debating the detail.

“Previously there has not been enough of a deterrent in our law to demolish heritage buildings or degrade by neglect,” he said.

Mr Davies said in the past, heritage had only been about the bigger, grander buildings, and viewed social changes as being negative.

“I think people are starting to wake up to the fact that we’ve got so much of the city that is unrecognised,” he said. 

Cr Leppert said that despite much of the city’s heritage being lost, Melbourne still retained a “fascinating mix of architecture and design change at its heart.”

“This is Melbourne’s story, and we need to be able to keep telling it,” he said.

The Issue? In the interim, planning permits for a range of façade style developments to continue to be presented for approval to the Melbourne City Council. The City of Melbourne is one of the more effective Councils yet developments such as the Eblana Mansion façade and multi-storey development proposal in Jolimont Rd East Melbourne continue to provide troubling dilemmas for Council and those supporting Heritage Values.

Other Councils need to urgently update their planning schemes with similar amendments as the City of Melbourne’s C258 amendment. There is simply too much inaction and meanwhile hundreds of Heritage listed buildings and those located in specific Heritage Overlays remain at risk.

It’s way past time for Government legislation to bring all local Government planning schemes into line with uniform Heritage policies. At the moment, the overall landscape remains a Developer’s picnic.

There are some powerful lobby groups working towards a proper acknowledgement of Heritage Values across Victoria, however there are far more powerful business interests pushing to roll back Heritage restrictions in many cases. The National Trust, The City of Melbourne, Melbourne Heritage Actions need real support and in the cases of not-for-profit organisations, financial backing. Heritage Victoria definitely needs to be financed adequately to do its job.

Balance Architecture is preparing a lobby group page for all interested in protecting the wonderful architectural Heritage of Victoria and its capital Melbourne (Greater Melbourne, that is.). Stay tuned for further details in April.

 ‘Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the restoration and renovation of Heritage properties and buildings.’

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