Builders frustrated by delays

Green Stars demolition worker Blake Linnell. Photo by Dewi Sherry.
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BUILDERS: Amanda Kirkovski, Dewi Sherry and Jacob Lynch report on claims by builders that heritage listing adds significant costs.

A growing number of builders are becoming frustrated with the increasing amount of time it takes to complete heritage listed projects.

Builders say restrictions imposed by heritage-related overlays are increasing their costs and adding significant time delays to projects.

Heritage overlays are used to protect sites deemed to have heritage value. They are imposed by councils and Heritage Victoria, following an assessment of a building or site’s historical significance.

Lendlease site manager Paul Skalka said issues surrounding heritage protection could push back projects from six months to a year, resulting in “major delays”.

“Once you get involved in heritage and heritage Victoria it can halt [works] for quite a length of time,” Skalka said.

He said one job, involving a heritage building with Melbourne’s Port Authority, took “a couple of years” to complete because of the difficulty involved.

During a job at a Collingwood property, Green Stars demolition worker Blake Linnell endured the long and tiring effects a heritage overlay can have on simple tasks.

“Time builds up when you’re working on heritage listed properties. In my case, pulling apart everything in the building, step by step, took two weeks,” he said.

“If it wasn’t heritage listed and we were able to knock down the front outer wall, it would’ve halved the time we took.”

Linnell added that further restrictions to demolishing the structure of the building made the job harder. The builders had to pull apart materials from the top floor and carry it down three flights of stairs.

“Because of the heritage listing the building wasn’t allowed to have an elevator so getting the material to the truck was very tiring, especially when we were pulling the top floors apart.”

Darren Pollock, a builder with Hotondo Homes, said: “When we come to do construction, certain parts of heritage can be a tree, meaning we can’t touch the trees – we have to build around them.

“This then limits what tools can be brought onto the property and limits the number of workers on-site at a time.

“You’re very limited with what you can do. I understand the aspects of preserving history. But if there’s better technology and a safer way to do construction, we should do that,” he said.

What is viewed as a heritage site or property depends on each council’s assessment of heritage value.

“When we do heritage, there’s no rule book we can read from. It’s always the interpretation of the council and what they see as heritage and what they don’t,” Pollock said.

He said obtaining relevant permits from councils could be a long process. “We’ll call the council to find out [how long we have to wait for a permit]. But you don’t know where you are in the queue.

“You don’t know if you’ll be looked at next. Or if there are 10, or 20 other people ahead of you. All you have to do is pay your fee and wait.”

Council inefficiency and lack of communication further hindered the work on heritage sites.

Pollock said: “Whatever heritage we pull down, you have to replicate it back. You even have to use the same materials which makes it hard.”

According to Skalka, not many builders can work on delicate heritage sites.

“[There are] a lot of specialist trades that are involved with that type of work. [It] can be quite difficult to find the right people,” he said.

Linnell said, “I’ve worked on non-heritage listed buildings before and it’s an easier job. Heritage listing just adds unnecessary time”.