The famous and much-loved Queen Victoria Market is set for a major face-lift and major redevelopment of the surrounding area, though exactly what form this will take is still in flux.
Since 2013 there have been draft schemes, a master plan developed, and a consultation processes. There has been the proposal to remove the low height limits on the blocks immediately next to the market (originally designed to maintain the low-scale of the precinct), and Council itself has purchased major sites and planned to make others available for development in order to help fund the ‘revitalisation’. Over the past few years the scale of the project has expanded from refreshing ‘a tired old lady’ to creating ‘the Federation Square of the north’ on the current car park (former cemetery site). The cost of the project has increased from $100 million to $250 million. The project now seems more focused on ‘precinct renewal’ than simply refreshing the market.
Removing the low height limits was an idea driven by Council, partly because they were being ignored by Ministerial decisions on sites between Franklin and A’Beckett, but mainly to allow for towers on Council sites, one to the immediate south, the other being the Munro site across the road from the dairy hall. Changing the height limits involved an Independent Planning Panel, to which MHA and the National Trust both made submissions. We were pleased that the Panel found that removing height limits altogether, and the podium setbacks, on sites closest to the market would not be sensitive to the precinct. But we would have preferred even lower height limits and greater setbacks for new developments. It’s worth remembering that if Council weren’t trying to develop these two sites themselves, they would probably have opposed any private developments.
The latest step was an ‘Implementation Plan’ by Council, which came a little out of the blue. This included a proposal to temporarily dismantle many of the sheds to allow construction of a service basement, and another proposal to replace the fresh produce in the sheds next to the dairy hall with food venues and takeaways, which apparently came as a shock to many market stall holders. At the same time it was revealed that the development of the Council purchased land (‘the Munro site’ opposite the Diary Hall) would include a range of community facilities and the relocated car park, at a cost of $50 million. These facilities were to be partly funded by a developer, who would build an apartment tower up to 60 floors (200 metres) as part of the Munro site development. The Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, weighed into the debate stating that he wasn’t certain such tall buildings were a good idea, and the Independent Planning Panel recommended that something more like 30 storeys (100 metres) was preferable.
Council Meeting 26th July
A Council meeting on Tuesday 26th July – attended by numerous irate traders – approved the Implementation Plan but with several amendments. It was agreed that the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls near the dairy hall would remain as is, and the proposal for an underground service basement is now less certain. The council meeting also agreed to the Panel’s height limits, but at the same time agreed to go ahead with the deal to redevelop the Munro site (this part of the meeting was not public).
MHA is disappointed that height limits all around the market have been raised as this directly threatens many listed heritage buildings along Therry, Queen and Franklin Streets with demolition, or at best facadism, in an area of the city that has already seen rapid change and high-rise development. The new height limits essentially ensure that the market will come to be surrounded by a streetscape of a few low old buildings, squeezed between tall podiums at the foot of much taller towers.
This is also likely for Franklin Street, where new controls will be much the same as the rest of the CBD, and one historic building has already been lost and another proposed for facadism.
Our greatest concern is for the Munro site. It includes the Mercat Cross on the corner which will be retained (or facaded) but the rest is an an amalgamation of historic buildings – the Therry Street frontage was built c1940 in front of earlier buildings, and has popular market facing shopfronts, and may be outright demolished, despite recent upgraded heritage status in the City North Heritage Amendment. A possibly Victorian redbrick laneway building on the rear of the site was given individual listing thanks to MHA’s submission, bit it’s future is unclear.
A big development may be acceptable if setback behind the retained Therry Street frontage, but we remain concerned council’s development plans simply seek to ignore heritage listing or any investigation of the uniqueness of the site in favour of treating this low rise block as a blank canvas.
It seems that what started as a plan to refurbish the market has morphed into a much grander plan with less justification. We wonder whether the main concern is to create a better place for Melburnians to buy their fresh produce at higher qualities and lower prices than the supermarkets, or to create a precinct whose main purpose is to attract visitors and tourists, to attend programmed events and sample artisanal wares? We hope that one will not be sacrificed for the other.
History of the Market
The Meat Market facing Elizabeth Street was built in 1869, with the current facade added in 1884. The fruit & veg market was established in open sheds built in 1878, with small extensions to take them up to Peel and Queen Street boundaries completed with the current timber facades in 1905. Shops facing the streets were built in 1887 and 1891, and the dairy hall added in 1928. Sheds A-C were built on public land (where only a few buildings already been built), just north of the Old Melbourne Cemetery, which was established in 1839 and closed in 1853 (though it still received burials up until 1917). Sheds D-F were built over the northernmost part of the cemetery. In 1923, after about 900 tombstones from the old cemetery were relocated to Fawkner Cemetery (leaving all the unmarked burials in place), Sheds K & L were built for wholesale trade, which was expanded over all the old cemetery land in more sheds and storehouses in 1930. These last sheds were in turn demolished in the late 1960s for car parking after the wholesale market moved to Footscray Road, leaving the storerooms at the south end of the site.
The somewhat rough, open appearance, the waxing and waning in popularity, and the drain on the coffers of the City of Melbourne, saw the Queen Vic Market’s existence threatened a number of times in the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1964 it was to become a giant car park, in 1968 a hotel and high-rise apartments were proposed, and in 1976 the car park was earmarked as the site for a new state library. Public outcry scotched all these plans, and the old market buildings were instead retained and restored, with a grand re-opening in 1985.