MELBOURNE HERITAGE ACTION QUESTIONNAIRE | GREENS CANDIDATE for Melbourne ELLEN SANDELL (original pdf Melbourne Heritage Action Questionnaire – Ellen Sandell).
Do you think the built heritage of the CBD is worthy of preservation?
YES. With Melbourne’s inner city in the midst of a development boom not experienced since the gold rush, it is more important than ever that the city’s heritage controls are strong enough to ensure the preservation of Melbourne’s built heritage.
Do you believe that the preservation of just the front walls of heritage buildings (façadism) as part of larger developments should become standard heritage practice?
NO. Facadism should not be the default approach to heritage protection, and Melbourne has seen some exceptionally poor examples of facadism across the decades. The protection of just the facade of a building is sometimes appropriate in exceptional circumstances, but this should not be the assumed starting point of any redevelopment project. To this end, Victorian planning controls and application assessment processes need to be reformed, particularly in relation to sites of local heritage significance.
Do you think that heritage buildings and streetscapes in the CBD are sometimes overly dominated by large new developments?
YES. Melbourne CBD’s great strength, and indeed one of the reasons for its international reputation for liveability, is that its street frontages (whether main streets, little streets or laneways) are generally well suited to the human scale. The fine grain mixture of buildings and land uses, with irregular and small plot sizes due to the deference to laneways, has given Melbourne its urban character, and this character is fundamentally connected to the way built heritage has or has not been preserved. Developments which have acted against the people-friendly character of Melbourne’s built form and streetscapes include the Hotel Windsor redevelopment (approved, but permit will hopefully lapse if construction has not started by
January 2015) and the various tower approvals over recent years which have surrounded and dominated Guildford Lane (which is not an adequately recognised heritage precinct). Height is very possible in parts of the CBD, but Melbourne’s character and people-friendly streetscapes must be preserved.
Do you think that modernist post WW2 buildings are worthy of heritage protection?
YES. It was completely unacceptable of the Minister Guy to carve out 10 post war buildings from planning scheme amendment C186. The planning scheme amendment was based on extensive research, and underwent intense scrutiny at panel, only to be sliced apart by the actions of one man who thought he knew better than the heritage experts, the community and the entire Melbourne City Council. Whilst we have been told that his Department was asked to undertake further analysis of the heritage value of the post war buildings in C186, by all accounts the project has been shelved. This is a travesty for Melbourne’s built heritage, and already one of the 10 post war buildings on C186 has had a demolition permit granted. Government must act today to preserve Melbourne’s built heritage for the future. This must include Melbourne’s significant modernist buildings. It should be noted that protecting the post war buildings in C186 is just the very beginning of this exercise.
Should the height limits in the CBD, which also serve to protect heritage precincts, be more strictly enforced? For instance, should they all return to the mandatory status they had before 1999, as has recently happened for the Bourke Hill precinct?
YES. The major problem with Melbourne’s discretionary built form controls is that developers are not required to provide any particular benefits above and beyond the minimum standards in the Melbourne Planning Scheme if they wish to exceed discretionary heights, setbacks or tower separation controls. The conditions upon which extra height may be granted must be defined in the planning rules, otherwise the discretionary heights will continue to be meaningless. For some parts of the city which currently have discretionary height limits, the controls should go one step further and include mandatory height limits. The Greens support mandatory controls in the Bourke Hill Precinct (this has long been championed by our Greens Councillors at Melbourne City Council), and such a scheme should also be applied to other significant heritage precincts.
What is your opinion of the current approach to planning which see responsibility for planning approvals split between the Planning Minister’s Office (the 25 000 sqm rule) and the City of Melbourne? Would you support lifting the threshold above 25 000 sqm and making the process by which the Minister grants permits more transparent? Or perhaps establishing a new joint City of Melbourne and State Government Committee (on the Sydney model) that would become the Responsible Authority for large-scale new developments in Melbourne?
It has long been Greens policy that the 25,000sqm rule be revoked. The Melbourne City Council makes its decisions on significant planning developments in open session: the advice of planning officers is public, objectors can argue their case in public, and the locally elected representatives make their decisions in public. None of these features apply when the Minister for Planning, acting alone and in secret, assesses planning applications. It is the fundamentally democratic thing to do to return responsible authority status for developments over 25,000sqm to the locally elected Council, and the transparency that this will bring will only act to improve the quality of decisions made.
What is your position on Clause 73 1(b) of the Heritage Act, which specifically requires Heritage Victoria to take ‘undue financial hardship’ into account (something which does not apply to local heritage controls)? Should the whole permit process instead be devolved to Local Government, in order to attain some consistency in heritage decisions?
We support a review of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and Heritage Act 1995 to ensure protection of our built and cultural heritage. This would include clause 73 1(b) of the Heritage Act 1995, which is problematic and sometimes misused by proponents of demolition of heritage places.