What will happen to Campbell Arcade?

By Meg Hill

Tenants in Melbourne’s iconic heritage listed Campbell Arcade are holding onto hope despite doubts that still loom over the arcade’s future.

Tenants were told in 2017 that their leases would end in July 2019 as work on the Melbourne Metro Tunnel would demolish one of the arcade’s walls to build an underpass between the future Town Hall Station and Flinders Street Station. But as 2021 approaches many tenants still remain in the as yet untouched arcade, which is also known as the Degraves St subway.

Long-term Campbell Arcade tenant Sticky Institute is one of the shops that would be demolished according to the proposed plans. The volunteer-run zine shop and publisher has been located in Campbell Arcade for almost 20 years.

Sticky Institute coordinator Luke Sinclair was told by Rail Projects Victoria (RPV) in November this year the Sticky shop would be able to stay in the arcade until at least mid-2021.

“The plans for the demolition go directly through our shop, the former hairdressers next door and the plant room behind us,” Mr Sinclair said.

“The hairdresser left because of the uncertainty; it’s been hard for businesses to stay in the arcade. They’d been there for 25 years.”

RPV’s draft plans include the demolition of a part of the eastern wall, the removal of three shops and construction of a ticket gate which would remove free public access to the space.

RPV took over as landlord in the arcade in 2019. CBD News understands tenants in the arcade are currently on month-to-month leases.

Mr Sinclair said RPV was not currently charging Sticky Institute rent.

RPV is yet to apply to Heritage Victoria for a permit to demolish the arcade wall but has received permits from Heritage Victoria for “preparatory works” limited to the back-of-house plant room.

An RPV spokesperson told CBD News an application for further works in the arcade would be made in 2021. But heritage advocates have opposed the plans and criticised what they called a lack of transparency and consultation.

In 2017, the National Trust of Australia publicly responded to the draft plans.

“The National Trust is strongly opposed to the proposal as it stands,” a statement from National Trust advocacy manager Felicity Watson read.

“The National Trust believes that Campbell Arcade has two levels of significance. One; as an example of post-war transport infrastructure (and the first major public infrastructure proj- ect in the city following WWII), and two; the contemporary socio-cultural significance of the tenancies and use as an art space over the past two decades.”

“We believe that for these reasons, it is important that no shops are removed from the arcade, that the symmetry of the arcade is maintained, and that the space remains freely accessible to the general public.”

The statement recommended that the ticket gate be moved to allow free public access to the arcade, and the underpass connection be relocated to a different part of the arcade so multiple shopfronts would not have to be removed.

The National Trust and others opposed to the plans also cite the Victorian Heritage Register’s claim that the arcade has the same level of heritage significance as the other parts of the Flinders Street Station complex, including the façade and concourse.

Sticky Institute Co-cordinator Luke Sinclair (right) and volunteer Bailey Sharp (left) in Campbell Arcade.

Tristan Davies, president of Melbourne Heritage Action (MHA), said the heritage sig- nificance of the arcade warranted a more open approach from RPV.

“The Campbell Arcade plays a crucial role in Melbourne’s cultural scene, and has the highest level of heritage protection, so we would ex- pect more transparency with the plans for this iconic arcade in the same way as other heritage places affected by Metro Tunnel works,” he said.

“But instead, we’ve simply seen its demoli- tion taken as a foregone conclusion, with little discussion on alternatives or availability of plans.”

Mr Davies said the MHA would like to see a rethink of demolition works and tenant removal that used a creative solution to keep the arcade accessible, intact and still home to creative institutions like Sticky Institute.

An RPV spokesperson told CBD News the plans would be made publicly available in 2021 and refuted the process has lacked consultation.

“Stakeholders have been kept informed and involved throughout the planning process and design development of the Campbell Arcade connection. The next step will be the public display of designs for comment in 2021,” the spokesperson said.

The RPV spokesperson also did not rule out a change in design of the proposed ticket gate in the arcade.

“RPV and Cross Yarra Partnership continue to work closely with key stakeholders including Heritage Victoria and Metro Trains to ensure the design and location of the ticket gates meets the needs of passengers while minimising any impact on the arcade,” they said.

Mr Sinclair said Sticky Institute would pre- fer that the works returned to earlier plans to go through the now demolished Port Phillip Arcade instead of Campbell Arcade.

“But if they have to go through Campbell, they should take the National Trust advice,” he said.

“When they apply for their heritage permit, we will mobilise our people to push that they follow that advice.”

“If they demolish Sticky there will be a lot of people in Melbourne who will be really angry with them. I’d like to see the Metro Tunnel look after a not-for-profit arts space which is a Melbourne institution.”

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