Why heritage protection doesn't always stop the bulldozers moving in
The razing of the Hawthorn house has angered residents and furthered debate about heritage rules. (ABC News: James Oaten)
As the heavy machinery moved in to tear down a period home more than a century old in Melbourne’s east, residents could only watch on powerless and bewildered.
- Interim heritage protection orders are powerless against existing permits in the Melbourne council of Boroondara
- The Boroondara council fears cultural heritage will be lost if the rules are not changed
- Planning Minister Richard Wynne said local heritage issues were the council’s responsibility
The property, on Auburn Road in Hawthorn, was a quintessential example of Victorian-era architecture and had heritage protection.
It appeared to be in good condition.
So neighbours questioned why it was being torn down to make way for 14 new apartments.
“Heritage is what makes this area very special,” local resident Andrew Sutherland said, as he watched the brick walls crumble under the weight of an excavator boom.
“I don’t think residents are that concerned about increasing density. But it’s at what cost?
“Heritage overlay should mean heritage overlay.”
Hawthorn resident Andrew Sutherland watched on as the home was razed. (ABC News: James Oaten)
Council ‘sat on its hands’, Planning Minister says
What happened on Friday in Hawthorn would not be allowed in other parts of Victoria.
Normally, heritage protection would overrule any existing building or demolition permit, forcing the developers to go back to council to seek new approvals.
But uniquely in Boroondara, which covers leafy eastern suburbs like Balwyn, Camberwell and Hawthorn, interim heritage protection orders are powerless against existing permits thanks to a State Government planning scheme amendment.
“It’s very sad to see,” Opposition planning spokesman Tim Smith said.
“I’m quite taken aback with the wanton destruction of something that was really quite a pleasant old house.”
In July last year, the City of Boroondara granted a building permit to demolish the Auburn Road property.
Then in April this year, the council issued an interim heritage protection order on the property.
On Friday, after the heavy machinery had already moved in, the council wrote to the Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, urging him to intervene.
The council had earlier granted a building permit to demolish the home. (ABC News: James Oaten)
The last-ditch effort from council left him unimpressed.
“If the council was serious about protecting this house, it would not have issued a demolition permit to knock it down last year,” Mr Wynne said in a statement.
“The council has had ample opportunity to request state intervention but instead has sat on its hands until bulldozers are out the front.
“Councils are responsible for local heritage and once again I urge them to protect it.”
Council warns culture will be lost if rules aren’t changed
But the City of Boroondara said for months it has been raising concerns with the State Government about the lack of protection for heritage homes in the state’s planning scheme.
“No other municipal planning scheme in Victoria has an exemption which allows heritage to be demolished in this way,” a council spokesman said.
Letters given to the ABC show the council wrote to Mr Wynne twice in May and once in June this year.
“The permit exemptions introduced through this provision will allow places of local cultural heritage to be lost,” Boroondara Mayor Jane Addis wrote.
The Planning Minister has intervened before in Hawthorn.
In May, he intervened to save another heritage property on Auburn Road, Currajong House, after a community campaign.
Its owner had also been issued a demolition permit by council before interim heritage protection was issued.
This historic house at 55 Seymour Road Elsternwick was demolished in August, despite outrage from locals (Supplied)
But other Victorian-era properties on Auburn Road were not so lucky and have been demolished, residents said.
The council and the Victorian Opposition said a long-term fix was needed to stop further heritage homes being bulldozed.
“Stop discriminating against Boroondara,” Mr Smith said.
“Ensure that there is planning schemes across Melbourne that are fair and equitable for everyone. You’ve got to allow heritage to trump a demolition order.”
Heritage Victoria and Heritage Council are currently conducting a state-wide review into issues of heritage protection.