The value of Melbourne’s laneways

Melbourne’s central city laneways are one of the city’s most distinctive and now highly-regarded historical assets.

Once simply a place for rubbish bins or delivery carts, they are now sought-after for their raw and ‘hidden’ character.

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Many of Melbourne’s lanes are paved with bluestone cobbles and run between the backs or sides of often older buildings that have remained unchanged and unpainted, often in contrast to their modernised fronts. There are many older buildings that only have a frontage onto laneways. These buildings tend to be overlooked in heritage studies. Many of these buildings provide access to the upper floors of older buildings via the back entrance.

None of these facts are reflected in the current City of Melbourne laneways policy, which focuses mainly on their usefulness for providing pedestrian access though city blocks. Heritage is only taken into account if a lane happens to be within a heritage precinct. The majority of Melbourne’s lanes are outside these areas.

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Aside from whether they provide pedestrian thoroughfares, the following factors should be taken into consideration when assessing lanes for heritage value:

1. A unique history or pattern of development
2. A strong heritage character (typically with bluestone paving and old brick walls)
3. Whether they provide direct access to older buildings

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(Photos: Tristan Davies and Rohan Storey)

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