It is unacceptable for a nationally significant and government-owned heritage asset to be left to rot, but that is still the case with the administration building at Flinders Street Station. The $10 million estimated in 2005 needed for repair may now likely be in excess of $40 million, and that is the commitment we are now seeking at the 2014 election.
The Victorian government’s international design competition looked for the best ideas from around the world to re-energise the station and its surrounds while making sure integral heritage features are maintained. Whilst we were delighted with that undertaking large areas of the administration building remain in a dreadful condition and government investment in this public asset is long overdue. There have been design competitions in the past that have been unrealised, and our preference is still that the administration building be restored and reused in a mixture of ways to maximise community and business benefits afforded by the scale and location of the building. A business case for the $1+billion winning design is apparently being developed but in the meantime the administration building desperately needs repair and reuse, and as mentioned, a funding commitment for the $40M of repairs.
This celebrated and symbolic gateway to the city, where millions have ‘met under the clocks’ and which was a work and social hub for thousands of railway employees, hides a sorry tale internally of physical neglect by its owner, the State government. Whilst two-thirds of the building is occupied and maintained by lessee Metro Trains, one-third is abandoned and neglected. This includes the largest space in the building, the ballroom, and scores of rooms and spaces of varying sizes which if repaired and restored would be eminently suitable and lettable for small businesses, enterprise start-ups, or a multitude of creative community uses.
In 2005 the Department of Infrastructure asked the Committee for Melbourne to prepare a business case for community use of the vacant spaces. The report estimated $10 million was needed for base building repair costs. In 2014 that figure has inevitably risen, to perhaps more than $40 million. The Business Case guiding principles were to “halt the continued deterioration in one of Melbourne’s most culturally significant buildings and to re-awaken interest not just in the façade but in its heart.” The report made clear that returning the building to an important social hub for whatever purpose would, not unexpectedly, need subsidy.
The redundant section of the station building is a prime example of the opportunity for investing in re-use of historic places. Located as it is at a transport hub, the opportunities presented for re-use are clear if sufficient leadership and commitment is provided to determine a viable future by its owner, the State government. The relatively modest initial investment required to provide for such a city centre space for business start-up and community activity would repay itself handsomely in future years.
We call on all parties in the lead-up to the state election to make commitments for the short-term to restore and reuse and reactivate the nationally significant administration building at Flinders Street Station. We don’t need bold visions we need urgent short-term action.