Since launching our petition over a month ago we have collected over 500 signatures, each time someone signs the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle recieves an email letting him know we want the City of Melbourne to act now and offer protection to these important spaces and the buildings in them. The Lord Mayor has responded with the following letter (see the original as a pdf Lord Mayor’s letter):
RE: Stop selling our iconic laneways.
Thank you for your email concerning Melbourne’s iconic lanes and their potential sale.
The City laneway network is a highly valued and vital part of the City’s urban form and provides an insight into the City’s development. Lanes create some of the most important and unique spaces making a significant contribution to the enjoyment, identity and vitality of Melbourne. They provide pedestrian connectivity, help activate shop frontages and provide aesthetic and spatial interests in the public realm. Many have valuable historic significance and require protection from development whilst others may benefit from enhancements and upgrades.
Clause 22.20 of the Melbourne Planning Scheme
http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/planningschemes/melbourne/ordinance/22_lpp20_melb.pdfwas introduced in late 2008 following a substantive review of our central laneways. Our objective is to ensure the unique and valued characteristics of Melbourne’s laneways are maintained and enhanced through appropriate built form outcomes in all future development. All central City laneways have been graded with reference to their significance.
Although Council generally avoids the sale of lanes there are occasions where sales are appropriate. Before selling a lane it must first be legally closed, meaning it must be subjected to a formal process under the Local Government Act. Council’s policy for this prevents higher graded lanes from closure. The policy also prevents the closure of any Central City laneway unless the future development and use of the closed road has been identified by an approved planning development. The closure and sale are thus linked to the development. The related development is subject to appropriate planning controls and processes. All road closures require public notice and Council must consider all received submissions.
A recent trend is for a lane to be discontinued and sol to allow basement level connections as part of the development of properties abutting the lane. Later a new laneway is constructed above the new basements, allowing for public access on the lines of the original road. This has been the case for Goldsborough Lane (550 Bourke Street development); part of Wills Street (Brady Will development) and part of Royal Lane (CH@/240 Little Collins Street development).
Independent research shows the number of accessible and active lanes, arcades and alleys increased between 1994 and 2004. More recently there has been 500 metres of new lane or arcade development within the QV, Melbourne Central, GPO, Southern Cross and CH2 projects.
We have responded to the Lord Mayor with the following letter (original here as a pdf):
Dear Cr Doyle,
RE: Protection of Melbourne’s laneways
Thank you for your communication dated 13th of July 2012 regarding Melbourne’s iconic laneways. Your response however did not address the specific concerns raised in our petition or respond to our detailed report on the current lack of proper controls for Melbourne’s iconic laneway network.
We can only conclude that Melbourne City Council does not appreciate the extremely strong link between Melbourne’s built heritage and the fine grain character of Melbourne’s lanes. Your discussion of additional laneways being added to Melbourne’s network such as the QV development is misleading. These are not heritage laneways and do not contain the same essential character that so many people, here and overseas, have come to love. These are essentially shopping routes with little soul or variety.
As we all agree, Melbourne’s laneway network is an integral part of the city’s identity. The laneways provide amenity for residents and historical continuity. They are increasingly becoming the arteries of Melbourne’s vibrant cultural network where social activities and a rich array of commerce can take place. Indeed their walls are a living canvas for street art, now recognised as one of Melbourne’s most important cultural offerings. What gives our laneways their special character is the surrounding buildings that form the physical envelope of the space. It is now time for the City of Melbourne to acknowledge that our lanescapes are as integral a part of our built heritage as the grand streetscapes. You mention that “all central City laneways have been graded with reference to their significance”. Only 9 have any actual protection under the planning scheme. Indeed a great number of laneways which form integral parts of Melbourne’s cultural and heritage universe such as Bennetts Lane, Croft Alley and AC/DC lane, have no actual protection at all.
The current laneway protection policy, clause 22.20 of the Melbourne Planning Scheme, is primarily concerned with the functional aspects of laneways and their role as linking elements or service access. The current planning scheme identifies a very small number of laneways as being significant, based on their connectivity, active frontages, elevation articulation and views. In this way, the policy fails to protect the unique character of many of Melbourne’s lanes exemplified in the fine details and heritage fabric of the adjoining buildings. Under the current policy 80% of Melbourne’s laneways (all those graded 3) have no protection at all. Only 9 lanes have been given class 1 protection. This represents an appalling failure of the City of Melbourne and the current council to provide one of our most vital cultural resources with adequate protection.
There is now an immediate need for action. Melbourne Heritage Action calls for a moratorium on the further sale of any laneways until a comprehensive policy is adopted. We call on the City of Melbourne to commit to reviewing the way laneways are managed and protected in the CBD. This study should involve a full assessment of all existing laneways, their layout, fabric, use, potential future use and the heritage buildings which abut them. It is time the public were given the opportunity to contribute to a new laneway policy which gives this economic, cultural and heritage resource the protection it deserves.
It is fantastic that this petition has made the Lord Mayor take notice of our campaign, this means we are making progress and we hope to organise a meeting to present our petition. In the meantime we need more signatures on the petition, so if you haven’t signed please do so now and send your message direct to the Lord Mayor. If you have signed it then please forward the petition to others and ask them to sign, the more signatures we get the more impact we can make.