Monday, 2 April 2018

Snouts in the Trough: Melbourne City Councillors Prepare to Demolish Listed Heritage Buildings for Their Own Benefit

As if there's not enough going on in the world right now to make a Wombat want to return to hibernation until the asteroid hits ...

Melbourne City Council are tonight preparing to vote to demolish heritage structures that they only recently voted to protect - by way of the inter-war commercial buildings on Thierry St that are acknowledged as highly contributory to the Queen Victoria Market Heritage Precinct.

For the Wreckers? Thierry Street Shopfronts, with character brick 1940s facade and arched brick interiors

These are C graded Heritage structures, designated as such in planning amendment c198, which adopted the findings of the City North Heritage Review that Council itself commissioned to make sure we don't lose any important heritage as this part of town was coming under enormous development pressure.

And why? Because Council wants to maximise the value it can extract from PDG corporation, who was the sole bidder for the Munro Site tender. That's right. Councillors are so shame-scared that their entire Queen Victoria Market Redevelopment will become even MORE of a fiasco than it already has become via the rank amateurism of its protagonists, that they are willing to let a developer completely rip up the entire basis of heritage protection in Melbourne for a few pieces of silver.

Councillors in Utopia

In what might generously be considered a discarded script line from the comedy series Utopia, Councillors are preparing to replace the C graded 2 storey brick heritage structures fronting Thierry Street with new 2 storey brick structures "reflecting the heritage of the area".

Let's be clear. These are C graded Heritage structures, and if Council allows their demolition, it is by precedent allowing the potential demolition of all the existing C and D grade structures on its inventory. In this day and age, permission to fully demolish any listed heritage structure should only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances, and the proposal in no way demonstrates this imperative.

In fact, what it demonstrates is how Council have dim-wittedly sleepwalked themselves into this position. Council's Chair of Planning Nicholas Reece actually sat directly across the table from yours truly in a meeting and said "Oh I don't think they are actually listed buildings." The Chair of Planning. This is how much scrutiny and care clearly went into drafting the development brief.

Given how desperate Council appears to be to secure PDG's involvement, without which its entire, already shaky Queen Victoria Market redevelopment would doubtless fall over - we would hardly be surprised to learn that the brief document read something a la "yeeeeeehaaaaw! You boys do what you want here ..."

Is there ANY rational reason why THIS (above) ...
Can't be incorporated into THIS, given the identical form and scale?

Throwing out the Basis and Meaning of Heritage

To support this demolition, a clear argument needs to be made that at least the facades could not be incorporated into the new structure. Given the proposal appears to support replacing this structure with buildings of almost identical scale, form and material, there appears to be no such sustainable argument.

The proposal's assertion that "despite their grading of “C”, the shops are quite unpre- possessing architecturally" is not apparently supported by any heritage professional. The first question that needs to be asked is why the heritage assessment has apparently been carried out by Bates Smart, where an independent assessment by a qualified heritage professional would normally be required at the very least, in order to be even contemplating demolition. The impression left is that they were unable to find any professional unethical enough to sanction this.

Furthermore there is no such thing as "despite their grading of C...". These buildings are graded and therefore PROTECTED. Full stop. Councillors will be grossly negligent of their duties if they fail to uphold this.

The citation for heritage overlay HO7 that covers the entire market site and surrounding streets states "What is Significant? ... the south side of Therry Street between Queen and Elizabeth Streets (nos 97-141)." So the buildings HAVE been assessed by a heritage professional as significant, and there is no professional argument tendered to the contrary. Bates Smart and PDG apparently simply know better about matters completely outside their profession than the authors of the City North Heritage Review.

Councillors must surely at the very least require a professional heritage assessment to the contrary to dismiss the findings of the City North Review, otherwise the basis of the entire review can be called in to question.

The Mercat Cross Hotel. Same difference?
"yeah, we'll keep this bit cos people like pubs 'n' that. But not the actual pub ... just the facade ...
we need to make $$$$ from this thing ..."

If the Mercat Cross Hotel facade (which is really identical to the rest of the streetscape) can be retained and incorporated into the development, why can't the other significant heritage buildings?

While the development proposal would have it that these buildings "make a minimal architectural contribution to the precinct", they would never have been listed if that were the case. Furthermore a building's being "unprepossessing architecturally", setting aside the utterly cretinous nature of the statement, must be countered by the absolutely established principle that - particularly for industrial structures, this is NOT the criterion by which we assess heritage. The buildings have been listed by dint of being a typology worth preserving and which contributes to the traditional market ambience that is the basis for the entire overlay. If we can start knocking over C graded buildings for not being beautiful, then Councillors are placing large swathes of the city's heritage at risk.

Which Councillor would care to stand up at VCAT and argue against the next developer who wants to knock over any one of the C graded buildings in the City North Heritage Review (most of which are industrial in nature and not very 'prepossessing') after this?

Put simply, any Councillor who votes to demolish buildings that Council itself only recently nominated as C grade structures will be tendered to the wider community as having placed the entire basis of heritage listing in peril, and find themselves positioned alongside PDG, whose brand will enter into the growing lexicon of troglodyte, heritage-wrecking developers.

Thierry Street, from Queen Street intersection.

We cannot make the point strongly enough, this is a MAJOR heritage litmus test, and it will, if allowed to proceed, set an APPALLING precedent for the demolition of listed structures. This cannot be allowed to pass without consequence.

To date Cr Jackie Watts has been alone amongst current Councillors in opposing the Queen Victoria Market from the outset. This is some testament to how anti-democratic a body Melbourne City Council already is. There has been ample media commentary recently highlighting the fact that it makes more decisions in secret than any other Victorian Council.

PDG - Proudly Destroying Goodness

... and DEATH to heritage ...
The gerrymander handed to the business community, whereby unlike any other democratic election in the country, votes of these non-human ratepayers are given twice as much weight as actual human beings has not surprisingly resulted in electing a group of people who don't represent the community's view, which has been resolutely against the market's redevelopment from the outset (and yet somehow the redevelopment is going to inject $2b dollars into the state's coffers once people are served up the redevelopment that they don't want ... no we don't follow either ...)

And now these same people are preparing to vote to preserve their collective arses by wiping their own heritage rules off the map, because if PDG picked up their bucket and spade, it would certainly be curtains for a fiasco that has already lost its progenitor and Chief Advocate in the former Lord Mayor.

The Ghost of 'Demolition Doyle' Stalks the Corridors

We expect Team Doyle will all vote in unison, and the reality is they have the numbers. We know Cr Jackie Watts will be continue to abide by her record in standing up for the community ahead of vested interests and oppose it.

The Greens have been locked in with Team Doyle over the redevelopment so far, but Cr Rohan Leppert - who has made much of his record on heritage cannot possibly commence his Lord Mayoral bid with a decision to knock over listed heritage buildings.

We therefore look to the Greens and independent Cr Nic Frances Gilley to at least go on record as opposing the unconscionable.

Any Councillors who vote to demolish listed heritage structures for the benefit of their own redevelopment will most certainly find their record regarding this vote placed repeatedly and prominently in the public arena.

Tune in tomorrow, friends, to learn of the outcome ...

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