Listing laws need revision

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PROPERTY LOBBYISTS: Jet Nye, Clare Spratt and Tahlia Sinclair report on moves to counter restrictions faced by property owners.

Private property owners should be compensated for the extra costs involved in maintaining a heritage listed property, according to the Victorian Property Council and other industry lobbyists.

They have criticised government handling of its own listed properties, and the restrictions imposed on property owners.

If the property owner says that they can’t afford to maintain the property, “the government has a moral obligation” to contribute its upkeep, since it is listed “in the public interest”, according to John Dowling, principal valuer at K L Dowling & Co.

Dowling said compensation should be provided to private owners, and that there “needs to be a solution to a problem that exists”.

Phil Spencer, a member of the Property Owners’ Association of Victoria, said heritage laws were “immoral” and “total expropriation” on behalf of the local government.

He said that property owners are rarely in favour of their homes being placed on the Victorian Heritage Register, as it is a “total drainer” and “costs the average owner about $30,000 a year”.

Sandra Qian, senior policy advisor at the Property Council of Victoria, described current heritage listing laws as “quite onerous” on property owners.

“We want the local Government to recognise the cost of maintaining a heritage property,” she said.

“We want to make heritage policy in Victoria more equitable for property owners.

“We advocate on behalf of property owners to make sure that heritage policies are not too restrictive for them,” said Qian.

However, Tristan Davis, president of Melbourne Heritage Action lobby group, disagreed. “That’s rubbish,” he said. “Heritage laws at the moment aren’t at all restrictive.”

He said that there are “developments that respect heritage” but for heritage property owners, it’s more about “how much profit they want to make”.

He said the challenge was to win over council and government despite lobby groups with substantial resources.  “We’re not going to save every building in Melbourne.”

However, Davis said that there were “developments that respect heritage” and Melbourne Heritage Action “want to see more creative solutions to development”.

Dowling said that while the listing of publicly owned properties on the Heritage Register “has no material consequences”, owners of private properties on the register must comply with restrictions set out by the Heritage Council of Victoria.

Heritage listings of privately-owned properties are “a confiscation of the asset”, he said. “It is tantamount of the compulsory acquisition of the property rights.

“The upkeep of publicly-owned heritage registered buildings falls to the government, but the government has not been observant of its own principles in allowing the unhappy deterioration of Flinders Street Station.”

Amy Guy, executive officer at the Australian Property Institute Victorian Division, agreed: “If heritage controls are for the public good then this should not come at the expense of any individual … Compensation should be awarded for what is effectively ‘taking away a right’.”

“This is best understood as being akin to compulsory acquisition,” Guy wrote to Heritage Victoria in 2015.

Despite the resistance to heritage, Davis said Melbourne Heritage Action would continue “quietly working behind the scenes” to preserve and protect Melbourne’s history.