By Shane Scanlan
Residents, councillors and state politicians are pointing fingers at each other over the failure to protect the historic 488 LaTrobe St which is to be demolished to make way for a residential tower.
Residents at the neighbouring low-rise Royal Flagstaff apartments blame Planning Minister Richard Wynne for failing to grant interim protection when asked by the City of Melbourne last May.
“I think Richard Wynne has been grossly negligent in his duty and aappears to have either dismissed or ignored all requests (and there have been many!) with regards to heritage protection of 488 LaTrobe St. I don’t understand why,” said resident Sharon Vladusic.
Mr Wynne blames the City of Melbourne, pointing out that councillors had the opportunity to vote against a development proposal which came before them on September 20, 2016.
In answer to a question from the Greens in Parliament, Mr Wynne said: “I did not approve the application of interim heritage controls to 488 LaTrobe St as part of this amendment (C273), as the council had issued a notice of decision for the redevelopment of the site which would result in total demolition of the building.”
However, councillors say that the planning permit was not issued until October and there was plenty of time for Mr Wynne to act before the matter came before them in September.
And, without interim protection from Mr Wynne, there were no actual planning grounds to oppose the application which has now recently been determined in VCAT in favour of the developer.
Cr Rohan Leppert said: “It didn’t need to be this way. The City of Melbourne requested heritage controls in May 2016, but the request was not acted upon. Now the city has lost an interesting and significant part of the Latrobe streetscape.”
“I don’t believe that interim heritage controls would have compromised the development potential of the site. Retention of the front parts of the building would still have allowed for significant development, but with the added public benefit of a piece of Melbourne’s history being preserved.”
But councillors didn’t actually vote for or against the application. Rather, they voted to defer the application, knowing that officers would grant the application on their behalf.
When proposing the deferral on September 20, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said: “This does not defer it back to council or Future Melbourne to determine this matter. This leaves it in the hands of our officers. And, therefore, the officers would make a determination – presumably in line with their report to us.”
“By deferring it, it is effectively delegated to our officers to make that recommendation which may lead to a VCAT determination,” he said.
Cr Leppert actually supported the deferral. The deferral was opposed by councillors Ken Ong, Stephen Mayne and Jackie Watts.
When asked by CBD News why he voted for the deferral, Cr Leppert replied: “I understood the deferral to be a deferral to a future FMC meeting not a referral to officers.”
The state Greens have now launched an online petition calling on Mr Wynne to “reverse his decision” and apply heritage protection to 488 LaTrobe St.
488-494 LaTrobe St is the 1882 Victorian-era Spinks Tinsmiths factory and storefront. Multiple heritage studies over many years had recommended it for protection.
The VCAT members were clear in their reason for not including heritage matters when determining to support its demolition and construction of a 15-level tower in its stead.
“Because the Minister for Planning has declined to apply interim heritage controls over the review site, no permit is required to demolish the existing building on the site,” members Laurie Hewett and Stephen Axford said in their August 25 decision.
Asked by CBD News why he failed to provide interim protection between May and September 20 when the matter came before the council, a spokesperson for Mr Wynne said: “The City of Melbourne issued its demolition order before the Minister considered the application for interim heritage protection.”
Asked further whether he thought the building was deserving of protection, the spokesperson did not answer.
A planning application has been made to demolish the Batman’s Hill Hotel despite a heritage overlay on part of the subject property at 607-623 Collins St.
Vontap, the company that owns the property, has sought council approval for the demolition but does not wish to comment on what its plans for the location are afterwards
Dikstein’s Corner Bar on 433 Little Collins St is also the target for a demolition application, though the plans of the property owner, John Daniels Holdings Pty Ltd, are similarly unclear.