June 14, 2010
VICTORIA’S heritage watchdog has come under attack for not doing enough to protect some of Melbourne’s most valued buildings as a string of prominent central business district properties are targeted by developers.
The chief executive of the National Trust, Martin Purslow, has attacked Heritage Victoria’s decision to grant the Halim Group a heritage permit for a 91-metre hotel tower to be built at the back of the Windsor Hotel.
”When you allow a building like this, 91 metres, on economic grounds, we don’t feel you take due consideration of the heritage overlay applying to that whole precinct. You basically open the floodgates on economic grounds,” he said.
Mr Purslow said Heritage Victoria registration now offered questionable protection for buildings given the Windsor permit in an area with a 23-metre height limit.
Some Melburnians are now considering forming a new community group to champion the heritage protection of significant CBD buildings.
In August, the Melbourne City Council will begin its first review in two decades of its heritage overlays and protection of significant buildings in the city.
It follows the destruction this year of the 1934 art deco Lonsdale House to make a laneway wider for delivery trucks.
Across the CBD, heritage buildings are attracting the attention of developers.
Some, such as the 1937 Royal Melbourne Regiment Drill Hall on Victoria Street, have been granted a heritage permit for a big redevelopment; others such as the Equity Chambers building on Bourke Street could soon require a heritage permit.
Heritage Victoria chief executive Jim Gard’ner told The Age economic considerations were important when making heritage decisions on a building, including ”the reasonable or economic use of the owner”.
He said about 95 per cent of heritage permit applications were granted in some form.
”One has to allow a degree of alteration, adaption or development to allow sustainable uses so that heritage can be maintained and conserved for future generations,” he said.
Mr Gard’ner, an architect who has worked in Britain with heritage authorities, said some changes to heritage buildings could be described as ”enabling development” that allowed a form of restoration to the building.
Others are horrified at what is happening to some of Melbourne’s most important buildings.
Julianne Bell from the Protectors of Public Lands Victoria describes the Windsor decision as shocking, a view supported by actor Geoffrey Rush who in March compared the proposed Windsor redevelopment to the bombing of Dresden during World War II.
Ms Bell said many redevelopments were just ”facadism”, where only the front of the building was maintained.
The president of the Victorian chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, Robert Puksand, said some in the community were confusing poor heritage decisions with poor urban planning