National Trust expresses concerns over increasing VHR call-ins

Feature Image: View to Brymay Hall from Russell Street – Proposed Render. Source: Lovell Chen 

The National Trust has serious concerns that the current application for redevelopment of the former Bryant & May match factory in Cremorne has reached the stage of a Ministerial call-in, pre-empting the outcome of an appeal before the state’s independent Heritage Council. It is the third intervention by the Minister for Planning regarding a development proposal at a Victorian Heritage listed site in less than three years.

Following Heritage Victoria’s decision to refuse the permit application for construction of two towers 13 and 12 levels high at the state listed Former Bryant & May Industrial Complex, the Minister’s decision has cut short the process of a permit appeal hearing on the matter with the Heritage Council of Victoria. The National Trust had been preparing to submit on to this hearing to continue to object to the proposal, which we see as an overdevelopment of the heritage place seeking highest and best use, rather than protection and enhancement of its cultural heritage significance.

Generally, we support the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings to ensure they have an ongoing purpose and remain viable assets to their communities. However, the proposed development would see significant change to streetscapes and view lines of the landmark heritage fabric, with the proposed tower additions overwhelming and standing out in stark contrast to the heritage complex. Furthermore, this development doesn’t contribute to community housing, but appears to simply capitulate to the desires of developers. Now that the matter has been called-in there is no longer an opportunity for the National Trust or any other third parties to make submissions.

The Minister for Planning can intervene in a permit application under the Heritage Act 2017, to effectively take over responsibility for granting or refusing the permit. The Minister can exercise a call-in power under section 109 of the the Act in relation to a permit determination that is under review by the Heritage Council of Victoria.

In 2022, the Parliamentary Inquiry into the protections within the Victorian Planning Framework Interim report, noted that a number of stakeholders had provided submissions raising concerns with the use of ministerial call-in powers, these included that;

  • affected communities and other third parties are excluded from planning processes.
  • call-ins lacked transparency and could be used to circumvent proper strategic planning.
  • call-ins created uncertainty and raised questions around fairness of process.

The proposed overdevelopment at Bryant & May is by no means a stand alone occurrence for state significant heritage places of late, several of which have seen developers seeking highest and best use outcomes regardless of the heritage impacts in recent years. The issue continues a concerning precedent set off by the former Minister for Planning Richard Wynne’s extraordinary decision to call-in the application for the redevelopment of Shell House, No. 1 Spring Street in late 2021.

Indeed before the 1 Spring street call-in, intervention for permit decisions at places on the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR) had only happened four times in 25 years.

The status of the three current VHR ministerial call-ins are outlined below.

1 Spring Street:

The application was called in by former planning minister Richard Wynne when it was referred to the Heritage Council for review in December 2021.

The 1 Spring St and 21-25 Flinders Lane Melbourne Advisory Committee was appointed by the Minister for Planning on 24 June 2022 and a hearing was conducted in March 2023. Parties invited to make submission at the hearing were restricted to Heritage Victoria, Melbourne City Council, Phillip Nominees Pty Ltd (the Applicant), Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and Department of Transport.

The committee submitted a report to the Minister in May 2023, providing advice to on planning and heritage matters related to the proposed redevelopment. The minister has not yet made a decision.

No.2 Goods Shed:

The development proposal was rejected by Heritage Victoria and appealed by the applicant. Following a permit appeal hearing but before a decision had been reached by the Heritage Council, the matter was called in by the Minister for Planning in late 2023. The Heritage Council will provide a report to the Minister before a determination is made.

Bryant & May:

The former Bryant & May Industrial factory complex is classified by the National Trust and is included on the Victorian Heritage Register. The complex is one of the finest remnants of Richmond’s industrial heyday and its substantial intactness provides an excellent indication of industrial organisation and design of the early 20th century. The National Trust was preparing to make a submission to the Permit Appeal Hearing due to be heard in May this year when notice of the call-in was provided. The Heritage Council will provide a report to the Minister before a determination is made.

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