Sunday, 23 June 2019

Moonee Valley Council Drops the Ball on Heritage - The Sorry Tale of Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Moonee Valley Hertage Activists Stand in Defence of Charles Street, Ascot Vale
photo: Moonee Valley Leader
UPDATE - Moonee Valley Councillors have proudly stood up for process and the community, voting unanimously to have this house properly assessed for heritage significance, but the battle is FAR FROM OVER.

It has since emerged that the Town Planning professional who is proposing these townhouses has extensive links to Moonee Valley Planning Department - having performed training for MVCC Planning staff through his training company in 2017, and as recently as July 2019 having provided an extensive "Evidence Statement" for Moonee Valley Council supporting its Planning Scheme amendment c193moon, which is based on Council's long-term MV2040 strategy.

Although he declares himself to be a property owner in the municipality on p.38 of the document, he does NOT declare that he has a currently pending planning application before Council. He also recently gave evidence based on his submission in support of the proposed scheme at a panel hearing of public submissions based on the changes.

Furthermore, Council's Principal Statutory Planner worked for his company, Glossop Town Planning from 2013-16, immediately before commencing work at Moonee Valley Council. We do not allege any direct malfeasance or abuse of process to date, but we believe it is vital that the community now speaks as one in asking Council to ensure the remainder of the process is completely above board.


The property owner was granted "adverse possession" by Council of what was previously part of a public laneway behind the property, enabling him to facilitate this development proposal, and Council has been curiously assertive throughout our lobbying activities that a property for which it has no paperwork of any heritage assessment ever being performed definitely has no heritage significance.

We now await the report of the independent heritage assessor, but it's important Council hears the community's concern that NOTHING happen to this property through this process, that it remains at arms length and unbiased throughout the remainder of the process, and that it LIFTS ITS GAME radically in terms of its efforts to preserve the community's treasured heritage streetscaes.


The full detail for interested readers follows:
Those who have been following the narrative of late from the Bloodied Wombat and Moonee Valley Heritage Action will be familiar with the argument - our suburban Councils are simply not up to the job of managing and maintaining our heritage inventory, as Melbourne experiences the largest ever development wave in the city's history.

This is the topic of a forthcoming blog post, as the time has come for the heritage community to stand up and demand that the power for nominating significant properties to receive heritage overlays under the Melbourne Planning Scheme be taken out of the hands of councils, and handed to a central statewide body - which in turn needs to be resourced to bring the statewide heritage inventory up to date across all major periods. But more on that to come.

Today, I want to consider just one case study - the application of heritage controls in Charles Street, Ascot Vale under the auspices of Moonee Valley City Council, and in particular the current threat to what is arguably the most significant heritage property in the street - number 81 Charles Street, which now faces demolition owing to past Council failures.

Under Threat - 81 Charles Street, Ascot Vale

81 Charles Street - Nobody in Charge

The significance of number 81 Charles Street can scarcely be in question - whether you are familiar with heritage methodology or not. It's a triple fronted Victorian weatherboard, of exemplary scale, form and in-tactness.

While I'd stop just short of calling it a "mansion" (a much abused term in heritage circles), it's an extremely large four bedroom property on a very sizeable corner block, dating to around the time of original subdivision of the street within what was originally known as the Whiskey Hill precinct, which makes it circa 1885 in terms of its build date.

CLEARLY significant - 81 Charles Street, Ascot Vale

The large wraparound verandah and front bay window are relatively unusual for the period, elevating the property above the standard the typical double fronted Victorian weatherboard, and of course the standard in Moonee Valley at least is that most Victorian weatherboards of that lesser typology actually do have heritage protection. Where is the consistency?

The current owners purchased the property in August 2017 for $1.7m, and have now applied to demolish the building in order to replace it with a proposed subdivided townhouse development, no doubt with the prospect of a large financial windfall awaiting them, with the three townhouses expected to sell for $1.2m+ each, the mathematics is fairly unequivocal.

Proposed redevelopment - Charles Street aspect

Council has received in excess of 80 objections to the proposal - on several significant grounds other than heritage. See Appendix A at the foot of this blog for a detailed summary of many of the bases of those objections.

Proposed redevelopment - Progress/Charles Street aspect
81 Charles Street - current Progress Street aspect

The Ascot Vale land that forms Charles Street today was originally owned by early settler George Newsom, who sold it off as the Myross Estate to Mt Charles Brown Fisher and his brother Hurtle, from where they successfully bred thoroughbred horses for their "Maribyrnong Stud"until selling the land for housing in 1885. The current house was built on the site between 1885 and 1890 as "Amboyne", at what was originally number 99, but which was changed to 81 in 1926. Its original occupant was a tenant - one Edward J. McCheane, whose profession was given in the electoral rolls as simply "clerk" (historical information courtesy Essendon Historical Society).

The History - How Moonee Valley Council Dropped the Ball

The saddest chapter of all in this really quite maudlin tale is ... wait for it ... Council actually did have a heritage overlay on this property up until 2013, when HERITAGE PROTECTION WAS REMOVED.

The virtual entirety of this (southern) side Charles Street from numbers 5-127, as well as 6-38 on the northern side was originally included within Heritage Overlay HO20, which also covers Monash Street, running parallel to the south of Charles Street and surrounding streets down to Langs Road, where HO20 still applies to this day.

The overlay also covered properties in Kingston Avenue - which connects Charles and Monash at the Maribyrnong River end of the street. On inspection, we agree that the properties in Kingston Avenue should certainly have been removed from the overlay and are of no value in heritage terms, but the same in no way applies in Charles Street itself.

At Moonee Valley Heritage Action, we find the assertion that the properties in Monash Street are significant and contiguous such that they warrant a precinct overlay but the same case does not apply in Charles Street is extremely tenuous at best.

According to Moonee Valley Council, these properties in Monash Street are significant,
but a triple fronted weatherboard with wraparound verandah and bay windows dating to the 1880s in the next street is not.

All one has to do is take a short walk to the end of Progress Street. Consider the above two significantly altered and non-representative properties are 100% protected from demolition, but neither 81 Charles Street, nor any of the other properties that we will examine in detail below have the slightest form of protection. Even the most untrained and skeptical of eyes would be driven to ask again "where is the consistency here?"

Outcomes Out of Step With the Community

What is asserted is that Councils are simply taking the path of least resistance in terms of the application and assessment of heritage planning controls resulting in outcomes that are completely out of step with community expectations.

What imperative drove the need to remove all of the properties in Charles Street, including number 81 and those that we will look at below? Was Council captured in some way by some vested interest to give them the impetus to step OUTSIDE EXPECTED COMMUNITY STANDARDS and give effect to the thesis that "it's perfectly OK for us as a Council to leave perfectly in tact and obviously significant properties from the 1880s entirely unprotected and open to demolition".

When one drills deeper into the records at Moonee Valley, it becomes easy to see how Councillors would have voted for this. Councillors are not necessarily heritage experts, much as some Councillors within Moonee Valley do take an active and commendable interest in the area.

In 2010, Council conducted a "Review of Heritage Precincts", this being well in advance of this group being formed I don't have information on what the full effect of that review was, but it appears. at least judging by this case, to have been an exercise in aggressively finding properties to REMOVE from protection.

Again, this is out of step with community expectations. I believe it's essential if we're going to sustain the current levels of migration that are basically the sole driver of growth in our economy at present, that the community's concerns about the potential negative impacts of the changes that come with that are aggressively met.

So it's important in public policy terms that the wider community's valid fears about the destruction of their treasured neighbourhood character are assuaged. We absolutely need more, stronger and wider heritage protections applied in our suburbs, and this is why it's so important, if councils are going to fail at the task, that another arm of government steps up.

Standard Heritage Methodology Betrayed

Council Officers provided a report to Council based on the findings of the Review, as well as convening a panel to adjudicate on its recommendations. The Report found that;
Essentially, what is now contained in HO20 comprises two separate and quite distinct precincts with different patterns of historical development and built form.
Once more for emphasis - two separate and quite distinct precincts. A statement which contains the tacit acknowledgement that Charles Street in fact DOES constitute a unique precinct in its own right (albeit contradictory to other statements in the Report). Yet Council officers have recommended the excision of the MORE HISTORICAL of the two precincts. That's perfectly valid ONLY if that precinct is then properly assessed for its own intrinsic value.

The report then went on to recommend a thematic study of Charles and its surrounding streets to the north be conducted to assess the merits of a separate precinct overlay, but there is no evidence that this was ever undertaken, and appears to have been completely forgotten.

The report goes on to state;
It is suggested that, until more detailed work is carried out, applications for Charles Street may be treated on their merits using the additional historical and descriptive information contained in this report.  
Finally, it is noted that should Council decide to proceed with removal of Charles Street from HO20 there are no places that would be individually significant (and therefore worthy of retention in the HO).
This is completely flabbergasting on two fronts. Firstly, Councillors are completely powerless, by all precedent in planning law, to use anything as nebulous as historical research concerning a subject site as any basis for assessing any planning permit application for that site in the absence of an actual heritage overlay. And any Council Planning officer with any sound grasp of their practice ought to know that backwards.

Secondly, a bald-faced statement to the effect of "it's OK there are no significant properties in the street", in the very self same report that said further thematic work needed to be undertaken in order to determine that very same question, and with absolutely no evidence presented that any of the subject properties has actually received any individual such assessment is nothing short of a complete abrogation of all duties, and again one needs to question whether the author of this report is professionally qualified to be doing what they are doing, given the importance of the issue to the community.

The report also asserts that;
There are streets in the vicinity of Charles Street that formed part of the same nineteenth century subdivision that have as good, if not better, groups of nineteenth and inter-war housing.
Once again, there is a false methodology at work here - one that has no valid basis in heritage practice. Heritage is NOT a relative exercise. Each potential precinct and site needs to be assessed on its own merits. The principle that "there are better examples in the next street" is absolutely NOT a valid basis for not applying controls in any given locality. It's not even a principle that should be entertained - there are no such things as quotas for particular typologies or the volume of heritage listings in any given geography (although it's worth noting that this is a principle that VCAT has on more than one occasion completely undemocratically and in the absence of any due process applied elsewhere in the past, that's a much larger and very different topic).

Again, the entire report represents a profoundly disappointing abrogation of responsibility by the very people on whose effective discharge of that responsibility we, the community, rely.

Try telling the residents of Charles street (many of whom are busy assiduously and sympathetically caring for their own treasured heritage properties completely absent of any law forcing them to do so) why their beloved heritage streetscape is fair game to be trashed by developers and unsympathetic property owners just because the next street over might be a little bit nicer still.

But we can see how Councillors may have quite reasonably wound up at this point based on the content of that report, as they can't be expected to go out and, say in this instance, survey the entirety of Charles Street by themselves. Where Councillors appear to have failed is in not following through on the recommendation for a more detailed study of the entire area of Ascot Vale in and to the north of Charles Street.

Concluding the sad and sorry tale, in 2013, the Planning Minister signed amendment C109 into law, removing 6-38 and 5-127 Charles Street and 18-24 Kingston Avenue from HO20.

Now it's important to state here that we are NOT seeking recriminations here for what has gone before. What we ARE trying to do, is to feed back into the process in a way that can improve the rigour of the methodology Council applies in future.

Most particularly, we are now asking Councillors as a matter of urgency to commission a new heritage survey of Charles Street, Ascot Vale (especially including number 81) and its adjoining side streets north to Doncaster Road - to specifically assess all potential sites (and those sites that were once deemed worthy of inclusion in an entire precinct but removed), for both individual and precinct overlays, before any more of the community's beloved streetscape is destroyed.

Charles Street, Ascot Vale - A Streetscape of High Heritage Value

Conducting our own assessment of the street's value, it was actually striking how good a representative streetscape over the major turn of the century styles in Australian suburban architecture Charles Street actually is.

Sure, they are not the greatest Victorians ever, sure some of them have been compromised, sure there's quite a bit of modern infill, but it was actually difficult to agree with the original assessment that the entire street wasn't worthy of a precinct overlay.

I wonder aloud if the actual heritage methodology is failing to keep up with community expectations now. I personally think the profession is too obsessed with the concept of contiguity in assessing precincts, and I certainly think we default far too often to precinct listings because they are a fraction of the work versus the application of individual overlays (which require every single property to be formally assessed), but then elevate the bar significantly for the application of an INDIVIDUAL overlay. The cause is laziness (or more generously lack of resources), but the effect is the loss of heritage that the community otherwise expects preserved.

Take a look at the following 40 properties, consider there are approximately 80 properties actually in the street, and ask yourselves, readers - "do we in fact actually have a heritage precinct here?" I find it difficult, even being as objective as I can, not to answer "yes."

And again, we'd encourage readers to cast their eyes back up to the really quite unexceptional properties in neighbouring Monash Street that ARE completely protected by Council, and ask the question "are not ALL the 40 properties cited below of greater heritage value than those ones that Council has protected?" Again, I think it's a pretty clear "yes."

Victorian-Era Properties

These all almost certainly date to the original subdivision of the street in 1885

Victorian Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Victorian Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
Add to that list the following more unusual or atypical buildings in a largely Victorian style, again not all of which are necessarily significant, but which are definitely contributory to the overall precinct.

Victorian Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
(top left is a slightly later style)

Federation-Era Properties

Subdivided in 1885, right at the END of the land boom, Charles Street would have developed over the coming twenty odd years, and thus a large number of the remnant original properties show the transition from Victorian into more Federation-influenced styles. Again, I have always felt that as arguably the only truly iconic and unique indigenous architectural style Australia will ever know, we need to make sure that we preserve these buildings within our streetscapes, yet these buildings are probably more usually under threat than their Victorian counterparts, which tend to present as a more "obvious" heritage form.

Federation Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Federation Era Weatherboard Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
The top two photos are the same property

Californian Bungalows

Charles street is home to some excellent, large and highly typical examples of the Californian bungalow style, many of which although unprotected are currently under renovation or recently so. I find it telling that the owners of these buildings can recognise their obvious heritage worth in seeking to preserve their heritage character through their renovation. The pity is that neither the owners of  81 Charles Street, nor the staff providing advice to Councillors appear possessed of the same faculties. The two neighbouring ones shown top left below form a nice little precinct in their own right.

Californian Bungalow Style Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
(OK bottom left is sort of Federation-y but I needed to group these in fours)

Inter/post-war Styles

There is even the following small pocket of interesting variants on cream brick triple front, all side by side at the Maribyrnong end of the street, which I would argue would well be worthy of a precinct overlay in their own right.

Neighbouring Triple Front Cream Brick Style Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

The following properties are either compromised originals, or perhaps even original interwar, but either way I'd argue without being individually significant, they would be considered contributory to the precincts they adjoin or are part of.

Possibly Significant Interwar Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale

The argument is not necessarily that all the above properties would be found individually significant, but I don't see how it could possibly be blanket argued that none of them would be, and I would strongly argue that there are enough such properties to warrant devoting the resources to a proper assessment.

Consider also, that if you have even 2 neighbouring properties, you have met the threshold for a precinct overlay. So to the above selection add the following clearly stylistically contiguous groups, and once again the basis on which the precinct overlay was removed wholus bolus from the entire streetscape just seems like the path of least resistance rather than a valid heritage assessment.

 Potential Precinct Candidate Homes in Charles Street, Ascot Vale
(see also Californian Bungalow pair above)

Consider also exactly how many of the above properties are in archetypal Australian suburban weatherboard form and across the crucial styles and periods in Australian domestic architecture - there's barely an entirely brick structure anywhere in the street. Again, I find it very difficult to argue that this ISN'T a significant heritage precinct, and that it ISN'T worth preserving AS A STREETSCAPE.

So, in summary again, we have 40 properties out of approximately 80 sites in Charles Street that would appear to be realistic candidates for potential precinct or individual listings, and I think it becomes clear that the methodology which Council has applied here has not been rigorous enough, and to an extent that leads us to question the validity of removing the entire overlay in the first place.

Regardless, there is a clear argument, given the volume of properties and the likelihood of many being found significant and possibly warranting smaller precincts in their own right that we feel it is now vital that Council moves to have this really quite valuable and exemplary streetscape properly assessed, and we feel the community would expect no less from the Councillors whom they have elected to stand up for the character of their neighbourhood.

It's disappointing that we've supposedly now been through a process of conducting "gap surveys" across most of these major periods and some of the more glaring omissions (of which 81 Charles Street seems the most significant), and this speaks again to the inadequate resources that Councils are actually able to allocate to heritage. The studies seem inadequate in both scope and methodology for ensuring they are comprehensive, and they take too long to complete, resulting in the loss of significant properties while we wait for the gap studies to report, but again that topic is really for another day.

What Can You Do To Help?

1. Sign the Petition
We've started an online petition to make sure that Councillors hear the community's voice loud and clear -it just takes two clicks to lend your weight, please SIGN THE PETITION

2. Connect/Get Involved with Moonee Valley Heritage Action
The other obvious thing we'd encourage all concerned locals to do is to connect with Moonee Valley Heritage Action and GET INVOLVED. You can FIND US ON FACEBOOK HERE, use the subscription box in the right sidebar to follow this blog, and we URGENTLY need assistance in staying up to date with the huge volume of new planning applications being received by Moonee Valley Council and coordinating objections.

We are a volunteer organisation, and we obviously allow people to contribute as little or as much as your time allows - we're not looking for a major ongoing time commitment from anyone - but many hands make light work, and right now the work is all on the shoulders of the author of this here blog, and he is just one very fallible mere human mortal.

If you're at all interested in doing even a little - even as much as meeting of an evening somewhere infrequently to coordinate our resources - please get in touch with Adam Ford at or phone 0425 320 533.

We believe the current proposal before Council needs to be rejected - and that it should be rejected on the wide range of grounds outlined below. But we also believe that this property and the entirety of Charles Street and the surrounding streets to its north require an urgent and immediate heritage assessment in order for Councillors to have adequately discharged their specific responsibility to stand up for the community's interests within the otherwise highly beaurocratic processes of government and planning.

We trust that the Moonee Valley community would agree with the majority of that - so now is the time for the community to stand up and say so - for the precedent that is set here today could very well be applied in your street tomorrow.

-Adam Ford
President, Moonee Valley Heritage Action


Statement of Non-Heritage Objections to the Proposed Development at 81 Charles Street, Ascot Vale

Out of Character for Neighborhood – Design and layout issues
The scale and siting of the proposed development is not considered to respond appropriately to the character of the area. As such, the proposal fails to achieve relevant policy objectives at Clause 32.08 (General Residential - Neighbourhood Character objectives) and fails to comply with 55.02 Standard B1 (Neighbourhood Character) of Clause 55.02. In order to respond more appropriately to the traditional, single storey streetscape the scale of the proposal needs to be reduced and the first floor element needs to be recessive. The height of the development along with roof pitch is too dominant in this traditional, single storey streetscape of the General residential Zone.

The length of the proposed wall on the northern boundary does not comply with the requirements of Standard B18 (Walls on boundaries) of Clause 55.04. Standard B11 provides for a maximum length of 17.55 metres, where 25.300m has been proposed.

As demonstrated on TPA06 the proposal does not comply with Standard B17 (Side and rear setbacks) of Clause 55.04. The extent of variation sought should not be considered to be appropriate in this neighbourhood character context. Whilst we understand the adjoining property located in MUZ presents a double storey wall on boundary. The non-compliance in this proposal adds excessive visual bulk to surrounding properties.

The design detail of the proposed development, including the first-floor balcony, the extent of glazing (i.e. the solid:void ratio) to the front fa├žade, is not in keeping with the GRZ character of the area and does not comply with Standard B31 (Design detail) of Clause 55.06. Further, while the incorporation of a pitched roof element picks up on the traditional hips seen in the street, it is considered that the proposed skillion roofs exacerbate the height of the development and should not be seen as appropriate. We strongly recommend council to revisit the design detail of the dwelling, in order to provide a more respectful response to the GRZ existing streetscape and adjoining heritage overlay.

The design siting & design of the development does not respond appropriately to Standard B10 (Energy Efficiency Objective) of Clause 55.03 and file to comply with Standard B29 (solar access to open space objective) Clause 55.05. The development has not be designed / orientated to make appropriate use of solar energy, living areas are locate to the south. Private opened space are considered to be south facing and does not comply with the solar access setback.(2+0.9h) where ‘H is the height of the wall. Taking the lowest point of the pitch 6.94m shows the first floor should have a rear setback form the garages of 8.46m. Taking the high-test point of the pitch 8.5m shows the first floor should have a first floor setback of 9.65. Both of these heights fail to comply and clearly show why 3 townhouses in this area is an overdevelopment of the site.

Characteristics of General residential zone area

  • Single storey dwelling.
  • Symmetrical pitched roof.
  • Separation between dwellings.
  • Proposed development
  • Sitting and layout issues.
  • Cheap lightweight materials that are not consistent with the area.
  • Skillion roofs not consistent with area.
  • Height not constant with area.
  • 3 townhouses with no separation not constant with GRZ.
  • Boundary to Boundary Garage construction not constant with area.
  • Visually dominating especially when it adjoins a Heritage interface
  • Top heavy design that does not present large recess to first floor.
  • Rear elevation present large double storey sheer walls. First floor again should be recessed in particular when this elevation adjoins heritage properties.

Increased Traffic and Parking Congestion
81 Charles Street is situated on a full clearway zone for public traffic and substantial PTV bus route 472 (every 15 minutes) and chartered school bus movement (both at front of 81 Charles Street and side at Progress Street).

This development will cause increased traffic congestion in Chauvel, Monash, Charles and Progress Streets impeding my access to my private enjoyment of my property;

There is no parking in the Progress Street clearway for this substantial development, and surrounding streets are already fully parked.  Plans suggest garages at rear of the proposed development will house 2 cars each, however as the minimum size of the proposed garages have extremely tight clearance, together with associated guest parking requirements for this development, will increase further burden on already congested local on-street parking;

Traffic has been steadily increasing in Progress and Charles Streets over the past 3 years due to a substantial increase in Royal Melbourne Showgrounds and Flemington Victorian Racing Club events (inc concerts etc) without traffic management plans, Traffic and parking often congests for hours without movement in Charles and Progress streets during event periods preventing entry/exit to my home;

81 Charles Street development has not supplied a proposed traffic management plan for the proposed build on a full clearway adjacent to a public bus stop.

Loss of Vegetation and Impact to Native Fauna
81 Charles Street is currently fully vegetated with a significant number of mature native trees, supported by European vegetation such as the mature Jacaranda nature-strip tree – the single nature strip tree in Progress Street.

The 81 Charles Street development proposal is to completely remove all existing mature trees causing a significant impact on neighborhood character, including the landscape and environmental quality of Ascot Vale, which is already significantly suffering the heat effect of tree removal and a lack of mature trees.  This development is detrimental to Moonee Valley City Council tree canopy coverage plans for Ascot Vale;

The proposal for removing these mature trees will dislocate at least 6 species of native birds using the trees to nest, roost and as a food source.  It will also dislocate families of protected ringtail possums residing in these mature trees.

There is no detailed landscaping plan supplied with the proposed 81 Charles Street development.

Issues During Proposed Building of this Development
How do 81 Charles Street P/L propose to build on a high traffic clearway with bus traffic every 15 minutes and a lane way that is in use 24/7?   Are PTC going to reroute buses?  What is the traffic management plan proposed for this development build?

Where will building materials be sited for this development given it’s a full clearway and the development is proposed to be built to all boundaries?

1 comment:

  1. Why do we have the need to demoslish something old and with history to replace with something that does not fit into the remaining street view. Having lived in a neighbouring suburg, watch it become an eyesore and the street becoming a obstacle course just trying to get down the streets with the extra traffic and parked cars, If they wish to build townhouses, go to the NEW suburbs and not destroy these beautiful homes, just to make $$$$$$ I also think there is a conflict of interest with some of the people involved. with this project. Please leave some history intact for future generations to come.