“Preston Market is the soul of the city,” says Darebin councillor Gaetano Greco.
“The market cannot be demolished or relocated. You can build something new, but how do you transpose all that character and soul?”
In April, the Victorian Planning Authority released revisions to the draft redevelopment plan for historic Preston Market, after considering 386 submissions from a host of individual objectors and community groups.
Changes include a reduction in the maximum height of buildings from 20 storeys to 14 storeys, reduction in the number of dwellings from 2200 to 1200, some improvements to sustainability and a slight increase in open space.
The market, which is privately owned, is also covered by heritage overlays, which are seen as providing only weak protections. The draft allows for demolition of 80 per cent of the structures.
Save The Preston Market spokesman Chris Erlandsen said the group was working hard to preserve the site, including online petitions and writing to politicians.
This is the only way of saving the market.
The local community is preparing to present their case for preserving Preston Market to the Standing Advisory Committee. It was originally set for May, but was postponed to give those involved more time to prepare, and is expected in June or July.
“The power of the people is important. We have a lot of support and I think the government will listen to the community and their overwhelming objections,” Erlandsen says.
Cr Greco says the current discussion is all “about what are the planning limits of construction”.
Only major market in private hands
The market is owned by Salta Properties and was acquired in 2004 for $36.75 million. The plan to redevelop has been the background since.
Melbourne’s other major markets – such as South Melbourne, Queen Victoria and Dandenong – are owned by their local councils.
Cr Greco said the market had always been private land. “There could have been an opportunity in the distant past to purchase but I don’t think it was considered,” he said.
Darebin Appropriate Development Association president Maria Poletti says it should be a civic site. “I believe there are quite a few models to make public acquisition possible.”
“I’ve asked the council in the past to help with the acquisition, but so far it has been rejected outright,” she says.
Cr Greco says the market has “heritage value and multicultural and social significance”.
A heritage overlay on the market recognises it as a site of historical and cultural significance to the local community, though the controls are not strong and most of the structures are listed for demolition.
Erlandsen says the fate of the market functions are not clear. “There is a lot of uncertainty about the future of stallholders’ relationship with the market, what parking will look like, and even the number and mix of stalls that will be approved.”
“The main issue here is that people in power are ignoring the heritage overlay,” he says.
Preston Market was built in 1970 by Leon and Lola Polson, two Polish immigrants who wanted to create a European-style open market in Melbourne.
This site quickly became a fixture in the northern suburbs and now is a go-to place for people from Greek, Macedonian, Italian, Middle Eastern, and many more backgrounds.
Poletti says the revised plan doesn’t take this into account. “If you look at the plan from the VPA, you can see that what is lost, is the open-air market feeling.”
Response to growth
Preston Market’s location is seen as an optimal place to accommodate housing and jobs. The first draft plan document states, “Preston as a suburb area is anticipated to grow from approximately 39,000 to 68,000 residents by 2041.”
It is one of the first plans to be part of the VPA’s fast-track program, which was created in 2020 response to the pandemic. It aimed to fast track the planning permits for 19 projects that would reinvigorate housing and job growth within communities.
On March 17, Planning Minister Richard Wynne said it was important site for Preston’s development. “A strong Preston Market Precinct means more jobs and more affordable housing, on the doorstep of the new Preston Station – that is now level-crossing free,” he said.
Erlandsen says the Save Our Preston Market group is not opposed to some development, “but only if it is conducted appropriately and more sensitively”.
He says there is no indication that the developer Salta is interested in this discussion. “There have been no compromises throughout the years. They are extremely aggressive in wanting to redevelop,” he says.
Salta properties did not respond to a request for comment.
Taking the next step
In the lead up to the upcoming SAC hearing, the community is preparing talking points to highlight their stance.
“One of the strong arguments is that Darebin is a municipality where a large percentage is able to be developed,” Erlandsen says.
This means there are other locations within the municipality that could support future population growth.
Councillor Greco says there are other places in the city where higher density would be suitable.
“It doesn’t have to be on the market site. It’s not like it’s going to solve our issues,” he says.
Poletti says the community is considering every option. “We have many plans that I can’t speak on yet.”