Melbourne Heritage Action launches laneways campaign

Melbourne’s much loved laneways, a symbol of our city, are not safe.

Melbourne’s laneways have long been recognised as one of its greatest assets. Over the past fifteen years previously run down and neglected spaces in the city have been revitalised with the opening of small bars and restaurants, shops, galleries, and walls dedicated to street art that are recognised internationally. The laneways and the businesses that thrive in them are one of the most distinctive characteristics of Melbourne. They are loved by Melburnians and they are a drawcard for tourists. So much so that councils from around Australia and even as far afield as Toronto have sent groups to study our laneway culture in order to recreate it.

One of the many Melbourne laneways with very little protection. Crossley St. Photo by Tristan Davies, 2012.
One of the many Melbourne laneways with very little protection. Crossley St. Photo by Tristan Davies, 2012.

So why do we need a campaign for laneways in Melbourne?

Because Melbourne’s unique laneway network is under threat.  The existing policy for the management, preservation and improvement of our laneways is inadequate and out-of-date. It would shock most people to learn that under the current policy 80% of Melbourne’s laneways have no protection. In recent years this has seen important spaces destroyed by inappropriate and bland development. The demise ofCaledonian Lane between Lonsdale and Lt Bourke Streets is a perfect example. A vibrant laneway with thriving businesses and the original home of the St Jerome’s laneway festival (now a national event) was destroyed to give developers better truck access to build another bland shopping mall.

Old bluestone paving in St John’s Lane. Photo by Tristan Davies, 2012.

Melbourne Heritage Action has prepared a series of reports outlining the importance of these special places, and the threats facing them. We have also done an extensive photographic survey of the most interesting laneway networks, to illustrate what could be lost . Finally, we have proposed three laneway-based heritage precincts that would protect the areas with the richest laneways and unique laneway buildings outside the central retail area.

We call upon the City of Melbourne to review their policies to stop the erosion of our laneway network and to give these unique spaces and buildings the protection they deserve.

Our key concerns are outlined below:

Stop selling laneways to developers

We want a moratorium on all laneways sales until a comprehensive laneway policy is put in place. Any lanes assessed as having a high heritage value, aesthetic character and that are part of the pedestrian network should never be sold.

Recognise the importance of the ‘lanescape’

We want the notion of heritage streetscapes to apply to laneways as well. Often buildings on laneways are small and have had a utilitarian purpose, such as warehouses, and have therefore been overlooked in heritage studies as not of particular significance. We want laneways to have a heritage overlay that recognises where a collection of buildings contribute to a significant ‘lanescape’.

Retain the fabric of laneways

We want original paving, kerbs and channels to be retained, where they need to be removed for building works they should be reconstructed as close to the original as possible.

Control of new developments

MHA recognises that laneways are vibrant and changing spaces. We are calling for new developments on laneways with significant ‘lanescapes’ to be in keeping with the existing fabric. In addition new developments should create the possibility for spaces that front onto laneways and where laneways are part of the pedestrian network they should be designed in a pedestrian friendly manner.

Laneway Networks

MHA is calling for a comprehensive study of the connectivity of Melbourne’s laneway network so that it can be maintained and enhanced.

More information can be found on the new laneways section of our website. Stay tuned to this and our Facebook and Twitter  accounts for updates and information on how you can get involved in this important campaign.

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