National Trust Calls for Heritage Funding


Feature Image: Como House restoration works funded through Heritage Victoria Living Heritage program, 2021.

The National Trust is concerned by a lack of funding initiatives to support heritage protections and conservation in the Victorian Budget 2024/25. This ongoing hesitance to fund heritage initiatives signals the Victorian Government is undervaluing the contributions of heritage to community wellbeing and the economy. Heritage conservation and the adaptive re-use of existing buildings is a powerful sustainable development tool, contributing to the mitigation of climate impacts and heritage is also a key economic driver for Victoria through development and tourism.

While the National Trust is pleased the Victorian Government has recently funded two World Heritage bids in the state, we do not want to see the protection of places that are significant to our local and state communities left behind. For the second budget in a row the State Government has discontinued the Living Heritage Grants Program, which demonstrated how investment in restoration leads to positive heritage, economic, and social outcomes.

Additionally, until 2012 the Victorian Government operated a modest funding program to provide technical and financial support for Councils to conduct heritage studies and employ heritage advisors. We call on the State Government to reinstate a dedicated local heritage unit within DTP to provide technical heritage support to Councils and coordinate funding for local heritage studies and heritage advisors.

Funding for heritage places has been proven to not only sustainably retain buildings in good condition but also results in direct job generation to support our state’s economy. Recent research has indicated that investing in refurbishment and repair of existing buildings can create more jobs than investing in new builds. Moreover, the National Trust believes the State Government should be funding incentives for not just conservation and maintenance of heritage buildings, but also the adaptive re-use of heritage places and spaces to make more heritage buildings accessible and viable for various uses included housing. 

Victoria’s Heritage Restoration Fund 

An effective example of a program supporting local heritage restoration is the Victorian Heritage Restoration Fund (VHRF), established in 2013 as a Committee of Management providing a program of restoration grants to local government Councils for heritage places in private or public ownership. The VHRF was formerly known as the Melbourne Heritage Restoration Fund, which has been successfully operating in Melbourne for over 30 years, and was developed in 1988. The VHRF is administered by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) and is one of the few grant-giving bodies providing funding to private property owners focused on increasing social amenity through streetscape improvement and providing support to heritage custodians through access to experienced heritage conservation and trades professionals. 

Over the last three years the VHRF has partnered with six Councils—Melbourne City Council, Yarra City Council, Ballarat City Council, Casey City Council, Greater Bendigo City Council and Merri-bek City Council – to deliver their grants programs for restoration projects to places included in the Heritage Overlay.

The centralised management of the fund provides efficiencies and savings for Councils, as well as access to the National Trust’s expert heritage conservation staff who administer the fund. The VHRF Committee transparently and independently assesses applications and oversees the distribution of grants and works undertaken. There would be significant benefits in expanding this program to other councils across the state.

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