New Heritage legislation, which comes into effect in November this year, has received praise from local governments and lobby groups for clarifying what constitutes state and local heritage values.
Municipal Association of Victoria planning policy advisor Michelle Croughan said the Heritage Act 2017, passed by State Parliament late last year and given Royal assent in March, was “an improvement to heritage protection”.
“We’re very happy with the outcome, both ourselves and councils are glad it’s clearer,” she said. “We believe state and local governments are on the same page in relation to heritage.”
Glen Eira City councillor Joel Silver agreed, saying he was in favour of any change that “gives local governments more power to make such decisions”.
He said: “If an issue is raised we are generally able to respond rapidly and more appropriately given our closer ties to the community.”
The new legislation establishes a framework for heritage protection in Victoria. It followed public consultation, with 125 submissions received, and a review of the existing law.
It improves processes and protections, reduces regulatory burden and “also improves compliance and enforcement to ensure higher level protection for State significant heritage”, according to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
Gregory Kent, coordinator of statutory planning at Knox City Council, also believes in greater local government authority over heritage, with the majority of historically significant buildings in the municipality publicly owned.
“[Knox City Council] doesn’t have many heritage listed buildings that are privately owned. Because we don’t have as many [old buildings], we actually value ours more,” Kent said. “As a result we tend to push back on developers harder.”
Kent also said communities should be better educated on the history of their local area.
“Walking around Melbourne, we don’t do it as well as places such as Hobart. People do not understand why these places are significant,” he said. “Culturally, we’re not doing enough…We don’t look at our past enough”.
Frankston City Council senior strategic planner James Smith said the planning department tries its best to educate the public about how and why it uses heritage overlays.
“Heritage is important,” he said. “Unfortunately most of whatever heritage there was in Frankston City Centre was demolished in the 1960s. We only really have photographic evidence of what was there.
“During our last heritage study, some who lived in potentially significant houses came to us asking not to have their home under the overlay due to fears of loss of land value,” Smith said.
“If anything, I would’ve thought it would increase in value due to that significance.”
There are 2300 places and objects, as well as 650 shipwrecks, on the Victorian Heritage Register.