See also our slideshow about the history, present and future of heritage protection in Melbourne’s CBD here.
Planning in Melbourne
First things first, planning in the CBD is a bit of a mess.
There’s a Melbourne Planning Scheme that says many good things about heritage and height limits (most of them cover heritage precincts), but both the City of Melbourne and, more particularly, the Minister for Planning’s Central City section often ignore what it says.
There are about 140 buildings altogether in the CBD listed on the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR), which is administered by the Heritage Victoria. These include all the major public buildings, just about every church, and the grandest and most stylish commercial buildings. HV is responsible for issuing permits for anything on the VHR, over-riding any listing by the City of Melbourne. Permits for alterations are advertised, but only for 3 weeks. Anyone can make a submission, but they may or may not listen to what we, the City of Melbourne, or anyone else might say.
They rarely have meetings with objectors, and have no detailed guidelines about what is or what is not allowed, except the Burra Charter (link) which is more of a philosophical approach to ‘managing change’. The heritage act includes an ‘economic clause’ which means they must take into account ‘reasonable or economic use’ and whether refusal would ‘cause undue financial hardship’ (link).
Heritage Victoria decisions cannot be appealed by third parties.
The Victoria Heritage Database includes places listed by Heritage Victoria, as well as locally listed places from quite a few Councils and Shires, but not those listed by the City of Melbourne.
There are about 450 buildings in total that are ‘protected’ either by individual listing, or by being ‘graded’ within a Heritage Precincts (Map of Individual Heritage Places (HO2) 2013 and CBD Heritage Precincts (HO1)). These are identified by having a Heritage Overlay (HO), the way heritage places are identified in every planning scheme in Victoria. If there is no Heritage Overlay, it isn’t protected. In the CBD, there are about 330 individually listed buildings, but nearly half of these are the ones listed by Heritage Victoria, leaving about 180 governed by the City of Melbourne, and about 120 more places that are ‘graded’ within precinct (see below).
There is one guideline document to cover all HO places that is one page long (link), and refers mainly to preparing a Conservation Management Plan (CMP), based on the Burra Charter. CMP’s are rarely done in practice, and always paid for by the applicant (developer). City planners rely on advice from their Heritage Adviser (usually). The City of Melbourne (2014/15) is working on new guidelines that should be much more detailed in . Our suggestions are outlined at the end of the PPP in this section of the website.
Permits for alterations to places with an HO must be advertised and objections must be considered. Third parties can also take the Council to VCAT, but only over heritage matters.
Grading within the City of Melbourne
Almost every building in the CBD built before 1975 has a grading (A, B, C or D). These can be found at i-heritage which also has historical information (some entries are more detailed than others) and a reason for the grading if it is A or B. These gradings derive from a 1984 assessment and although they have been reviewed since then they have never been officially updated. Before 1999, the grading of a place was the main method of protection, except for places on the VHR and those with a special ‘Notable Building’ status (this is no longer used). The grading system is now only used in practice as a guide for places within precincts that are not individually listed. Unfortunately if a place is graded D, or even C, that is often an excuse for demolition or façadism. The City of Melbourne is moving to replace this system in 2014/15 with a simple two-tier one, now standard across Victoria, of ‘individually significant’ (inside or outside a precinct), and ‘contributory’ (within a precinct).
The Minister is the ‘Responsible Authority’ (ie. makes the decision, not the Council) for any development over 25,000 sqm. This figure dates from the early 1980s when there were only a few, but now there are dozens per year. The Minister’s department assesses these projects, and receives advice from the City of Melbourne, but its harder to see plans, and they don’t have meetings to attend or reports that can be read. They appear to operate to their own heritage standards, eg. allowing façadism as a starting point. It is not known how seriously they take third party objections.
Where there is a HO, a Ministerial permit can be appealed to VCAT, but only over heritage matters.
The Minister can also do an ‘instant amendment’, where the Planning Scheme is changed by inserting a new clause that allows a development. This cannot be appealed.
A new Heritage Overlay can also be introduced in this way, though it will always be an Interim one, while the normal Amendment process gets underway (see below). The current Minister for Planning Matthew Guy has however broken with established protocol and often does not approve Interim HO’s, leaving places vulnerable while the Amendment process is in progress. (This happened with the ’99 buildings’ Amendment C186 in 2011, where no Interim control was granted, and one building was altered before the Panel got to inspect it. The Minister also waited nearly 9 months after receiving the Panel’s report from Council before approving the Amendment, and excluded all nine post WW2 buildings).
This page outlines the Minister’s powers http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/planning/planning-applications/ministerial-permits
This is a listing of permits submitted to the Minster, but it’s very hard to search http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/planning/planning-applications/ministerial-permits/ministers-permit-register-conditions-of-use
The National Trust is a charity, with very little funding from government. They classify and list places of heritage significance, but this has no standing in the Planning Scheme. Submissions from the National Trust however are given more weight than those from individuals, or indeed MHA. The Trust’s listings can be found here and are also available through the Victoria Heritage database http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/vhd/nattrust.
A Planning Scheme Amendment is required to either change an existing heritage listing, or to list a new building (http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/planning/planning-schemes/changing-the-planning-scheme). This is a different process to a planning permit, and takes much longer, but it is a very independent process. Normally, a heritage study is done which aims to identify what could or should be listed, then an Amendment is advertised that would place an Heritage Overlay on the places. Submissions are received, either in support or not, a Planning Panel is then appointed, which hears all the submissions, and then makes a recommendation to the Heritage Council. Normally the Heritage Council will then accept those recommendations (but sometimes not), and then it must be ratified by the Minister for Planning.
The CBD, Southbank and other adjacent areas are designated the ‘Capital City Zone’. This means that all uses (business, residential etc) are permitted. It also means that is one of the few areas in Victoria that is ‘exempt from advertising and appeals’. This means that objections from third parties to a planned development are simply not allowed, or at least not considered, and you can’t appeal to VCAT. That’s why so many towers can be built right next to other towers, and residents/owners can’t do anything about it.
The good news is that the one type of development where advertising and appeals still exist is when there is a Heritage Overlay. But bad news for all the places not yet listed that should be and bad news for inappropriate developments adjacent to places with a Heritage Overlay.