Call to save Victoria’s historic buildings

Melbourne urban planner and former Chair of the Historic Buildings Council, Roz Hansen. Photo by Lachlan Ballingall.
CONSERVATION SPECIALISTS: Lachlan Ballingall, Ty Shortis and Asia Taylor report on claims that not enough is being done to protect heritage buildings across Victoria.

More needs to be done to protect potential and existing heritage sites across Victoria, heritage conservation experts have said.

Roz Hansen, a prominent Melbourne urban planner and former chair of the Historic Buildings Council, said there were numerous heritage sites yet to be identified for heritage protection.

“Certainly we have made a very good start, but I feel that there is a lot of heritage that hasn’t been either identified to be of local significance or of state significance,” said Adjunct Professor Hansen.

Former chair of the Historic Building Preservation Council, Graeme Davison, said also that more could be done.

“The degree of threat relates largely to the volume of building activity and development activity. In recent years there has been an awful lot of it and I think that means that heritage is under a fair bit of strain,” said Emeritus Professor Davison.

Earlier this year a 159-year-old Carlton pub was knocked down by developers from 160 Leicester Pty Ltd. The Victorian Building Authority and Melbourne City Council laid 16 charges against the business owners, Stefce Kutlesovski and Raman Shaqiri.

Emeritus Professor Charles Sowerwine, member of the Victorian National Trust, is concerned that there is little protection for such historic buildings throughout Victoria.

“It’s obvious not enough is being done,” he said. “The state doesn’t really have a clear enforcement mechanism either so the actual enforcement has never been a problem because we’re still a fairly law-based society.

“So most developers are not going to go ahead if they do not have a permit for demolishment. I think out of the Corkman Hotel we are getting increased penalties.”

Call to save Victoria's historic buildings
Charles Sowerwine, member of the Victorian National Trust. Photo by Asia Taylor.

Professor Hansen agreed that Carlton’s Corkman Hotel was a rare example of developers disregarding heritage laws.

“The Corkman Hotel is a classic where the developers just came in and demolished it. That’s a clear case of cowboys in the wrong space,” she said.

“They shouldn’t have touched it and nor should they have bought that building if that was their ultimate objective.”

Professor Hansen said she was worried about suburbs losing their heritage due to development, although she had some hope.

“There is a growing awareness in communities when it comes to heritage. With that, a louder voice,” she said.

“Sometimes that voice is quite right for what it is fighting for, and sometimes that voice is quite misguided. Be sensible about what you are fighting to protect and not try and protect everything.”

Heritage consultant and former executive director of Heritage Victoria, Ray Tonkin, said that while there was a greater awareness, there needed to be a better understanding of what was important about heritage properties.

“We’ve protected 170,000 buildings through heritage overlays, but by and large the people who are supportive of that system don’t really understand what’s important,” said Mr Tonkin.

“Each year goes by, more places gain greater value in the public eye and it really is not about not listing things, it’s about learning to use them in a way in which their significance is protected.”

Developers donating to political parties have become a problem, according to Victoria’s Ombudsman Deborah Glass in late 2015.

“There can be little doubt that the lack of transparency in political donations and the lack of limitations on who can make those donations in Victoria creates … a perception that politicians can be bought, which reduces public trust in government,” Ms Glass said.

Professor Sowerwine said both parties were too dependent on developer’s donations.

He said that not much had changed since the Kennett government “dismantled the central planning that Victoria had.”