Myth Busting Local Heritage Controls 


Feature Image: Glen Eira Post War and Hidden Gems Study (edited)

In December 2023 the National Trust participated in a Planning Panel Hearing regarding a Heritage Overlay planning amendment for the City of Maroondah. During the weeklong hearing several property owners undertook works to their properties to intentionally diminish their significance in the hope the buildings would no longer meet the identified thresholds for inclusion in the proposed Heritage Overlay. Additionally in 2023, Maribyrnong City Council abandoned the West Footscray Inter-war and Post-war Heritage Precinct amendment due to intense community backlash.  

It is clear urgent work is required to address the negative perception of what local heritage protections actually do. Heritage is as much about change, and how we manage our evolving community values and needs into the future, as it is about preservation.  Heritage places are protected through our planning system because they are valued by communities and contribute to our sense of place and identity.  

The National Trust believes the extreme negative reactions towards local heritage protections are being exacerbated by a spread of misconceptions scapegoating heritage protections for contributing to the housing crisis and locking up developable land. These scare tactics are being used to bend Council and community support away from good planning outcomes. The National Trust is determined to set the story straight on local heritage controls and the truth about what they mean for property owners. 

Myth 1: Heritage Overlays restrict development 

Contrary to popular belief, heritage controls do not stop property owners from modifying or extending their properties.

Heritage controls do not prohibit development, subdivision, or even in some cases demolition of a property. The Heritage Overlay establishes a permit approvals process, to ensure that any changes to a protected place consider and are respectful of its recognised heritage values. 

There are many examples across all types of heritage places and municipalities, of approved additions and alterations undertaken to places within a Heritage Overlay to retrofit or adapt a place to meet contemporary standards and to make them more liveable or fit for purpose. Going through this process often leads to a more thoughtful approach to change and as a result, better design outcomes.

Myth 2: Heritage Controls will reduce the value of a property. 

Despite much research into the matter, the myth that a Heritage Overlay reduces property values still persists. In many scenarios the opposite has been found to be true, as areas with Heritage Overlays become more desirable to purchasers due to the ongoing sense of place afforded by local protections. In many cases a place is also sought after because of its individual heritage qualities and architectural style that have been retained due to heritage protections. 

There are often many other factors that impact the value of a property such as location, lot size, landscape and condition. 

Myth 3: Heritage Overlays increase financial burden on property owners 

Additional maintenance requirements are not enforced by Heritage Overlays. Council cannot use a Heritage Overlay to force a property owner to restore their property to a pre-existing state, be it prior to creation of the overlay or prior to the present ownership.

The only laws that enable a Council to enforce a level of maintenance on a property owner are through Local Laws, such as dilapidated or unsightly buildings. Local Laws apply to all properties in the municipality.  

Furthermore, a planning permit is not required under the Heritage Overlay to carry out routine maintenance and repairs which do not change the appearance of a heritage place. It is true that property owners may face additional costs due to a Heritage Overlay if their plans for renovations or development of their property triggers the requirement for a planning permit and, in some cases, contracting a heritage professional. However, similar planning permit triggers also exist across a varied array of overlays and zoning regulations in planning schemes.   

Myth 4: Heritage controls are exacerbating the housing crisis   

Claims that Heritage Overlays “lock up land” and restrict urgently needed development opportunities for community growth in the current housing crisis are unfounded. 

Approximately less than 7% of dwellings in Victoria are protected by a Heritage Overlay. With over 2.5 million dwellings without heritage controls in the state.   

Local heritage controls are not nearly as restrictive as they are being made out to be. Heritage Overlays do not ban home extensions, demolition of derelict buildings or suburban infilling. However, each project to change a heritage protected place needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Heritage controls are in place to ensure a process of considered and respectful change to significant places, and increased housing development can still occur within this framework.

The aim of a Heritage Overlay is simply to enhance and protect the heritage values of a place and ensure that places the community believe are important are not lost forever. This does not mean heritage listed properties will be frozen in time, but that, regardless of changes, their significant values will be conserved for communities to appreciate into the future.  

Myth 5: Heritage Overlays are unsustainable and force old buildings that are not fit for purpose to be retained 

Maintenance is a necessity for all buildings of any age and regardless of any heritage controls, to ensure ongoing resilience against weather events, wear and tear and costly repairs in the future.  A planning permit is not required to carry out routine maintenance and repairs which do not change the appearance of a place protected by a Heritage Overlay.  

Additionally, a Heritage Overlay does not indicate that a house needs to be vacated or is inherently a more expensive property. A Heritage Overlay should not increase your cost of insurance or mean that you cannot live in a property. 

Heritage and the conservation of buildings is also an inherently sustainable practice. Collectively, building reuse and retrofits substantially reduce climate change impacts. Research has shown that when a typical historic building is refurbished and retrofitted, it will emit less carbon by 2050 than a new building.  

Conclusion 

While the application of a Heritage Overlay can result in additional planning requirements for property owners, the National Trust believes, when properly considered and integrated into planning and development, heritage protections provide an opportunity for thoughtful and innovative design solutions that protect what the community values and provide great places to live, work and play.  

The application of Heritage Overlays asks property owners to take on good custodianship on behalf of the community to protect our heritage. We therefore commend the thousands of local heritage custodians who, for the collective good, preserve the values of locally significant sites for their communities now and into the future.   

We also believe that, as a result of this responsibility, heritage custodians should be better supported to look after our important places and reverse the perception that heritage controls are an unfair and limiting burden for property owners.   

The National Trust continues to advocate for the reinstatement of funding to local Councils in relation to heritage, so they can provide assistance and incentives to heritage property owners and continue to carry out their heritage responsibilities under the Planning and Environment Act 1987. 

 

3 Comments

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  1. 2
    Robyn

    I own a Victorian house in Northcote which has a Heritage overlay. I recently had my home restumped. It was done internally. The Baltic pine floorboards were carefully removed and old stumps were removed by hand. Concrete stumps were put in place – without the use of a pump or any heavy machinery. I still had to get a planning permit and pay over $2,000 for Asset Protection. This apparently provided protection in the event of footpath, kerb or channel being damaged! Has anyone looked at the footpaths, kerbs and driveways in Westgarth Street? (The nature strip trees have lifted the footpaths and also damaged many fences) Darebin Council retained $600 of the Asset Protection payment even though nothing was damaged! This was to cover the cost of someone photographing the driveway and footpath before and after the restumping was done. This is an example of why some people don’t want a Heritage overlay on their property.
    Also, I have not been able to paint my weatherboard home the colour I want, which is an early Victorian colour scheme. There’s a fine balance between preservation and dictatorship. This can be used for creating a means of extracting exorbitant amounts of money from residents. The appeal process is lengthy, costly and stressful.
    Maybe Darebin Council should have the guidelines explained to them regarding Heritage overlay.

  2. 3
    Verity Klestadt

    I live in Maldon, Vic although luckily not an area with ‘Overlay’
    However I am interested in the reasoning behind the boring, sludgy paint colours required on Victorian facades. Historically the colours existed because the owners and builders could not afford or access the prettier and softer colours used in Europe. The Georgians loved colour. Think soft French blues, pinks and pale yellows. So sad that we cannot do the same.

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