Apple missing in Fed Square debate

By Meg Hill

Apple has been conspicuously absent in the latest saga between heritage and development over its proposed flagship store at Federation Square.

The clash has recently centred, with Federation Square management on one side and the community opposition campaign on the other. On January 30, Federation Square applied to Heritage Victoria for a demolition permit for its own Yarra Building.

Heritage Victoria placed interim protection on the square late last year and is preparing to decide whether it will be added to the heritage register following public hearings scheduled for April. The application to demolish the Yarra Building has been seen as an attempt to pre-empt the heritage decision. 

Brett de Hoedt from the opposition campaign, Our City Our Square, said Federation Square paying for planning documents and permits to demolish the building was essentially “public money spent destroying public space”.

“We do think it’s strange that this development primarily benefits Apple but it’s Federation Square doing the dirty work,” he said.

“The whole process shows that Federation Square management doesn’t believe in public space, we recommend they go back and read their charter which was one of the founding documents.”

“They’re negligent, this is nothing more than corporate vandalism.”

The last time Apple made a significant public statement on the issue was when it released its redesigned concepts in July 2018, before heritage status had been formally recommended.

Our City Our Square also believes that the departure of Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts, announced on February 6, is a sign of instability at Apple and its plans.

Mr de Hoedt said Apple had recently abandoned plans to build a flagship store in a park in central Stockholm following widespread opposition.

Federation Square general manager Suzana Bishop said the permit application for the Yarra Building was the next step in the planning process.

“The application follows the same process as the permit obtained last year for the Metro Tunnel Station entrance site works at Fed Square,” she said

Metro applied for and was granted permission to demolish the visitor centre last year while it was under interim protection, but City of Melbourne councillor and heritage chair Rohan Leppert said the situations were different.

“The demolition of the visitor centre and the demolition of the Yarra Building both need a heritage permit due to the interim protection order in place, but they are hardly comparable,” he said.

“There is a mandate for Metro Tunnel, and the plans for demolition of the visitor centre were properly advertised and publicly scrutinised through the planning process well before a heritage permit was applied for.”

“The Yarra Building’s demolition, however, was announced without notice in December 2017, there has still been zero public consultation on any of the plans, and the heritage permit application was simply reverse engineered from that original secret cabinet decision.”

Similarly, National Trust CEO Simon Ambrose said the process was the same but the examples had differences.

“With the tunnel there was a very considered plan and understanding of the work that was needed to be done, and it was part of a master plan for infrastructure across Melbourne,” he said.

“For the store, it’s a retail change for Federation Square so it’s quite different.”

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