National Trust objects to St Vincent’s Hospital redevelopment within the World Heritage Environs Area

Feature image: The proposed development on the corner of Victoria Parade and Nicholson Street by Denton Corker Marshall. 

The National Trust has objected to a planning application for the redevelopment of the Aikenhead Wing of St Vincent’s Hospital, on the corner of Victoria Parade and Nicholson Street. The site is located at one of the most prominent intersections in Melbourne, which is the gateway to the World Heritage Environs Area (WHEA) of the Royal Exhibition Building & Carlton Gardens, inscribed by UNESCO. 

The proposed Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery has been designed by architects Denton Corker Marshall, and while we don’t object to the redevelopment of the existing building — recognising the proposed centre’s strategic importance for Melbourne, and Australia — we argue that the building will dominate views to and from the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens, competing in prominence with the Royal Exhibition Building itself. We have called for the proposal to be rejected, and for Yarra Council and the Commonwealth to ensure that the future redevelopment of this site responds to the sensitive heritage context of the World Heritage environs.

We are disappointed that while plans for this development have been progressing behind closed doors for several years, no consultation has been undertaken with heritage experts and community stakeholders to inform the project, which is out of step with best practice around the management of world heritage sites.

The existing Aikenhead wing was built well prior to the Royal Exhibition Building’s recognition for its heritage values and inclusion in the World Heritage List. However the redevelopment of the site provides an opportunity to build something which responds directly to the heritage values of the REB & Carlton Gardens and surrounding buffer zone, and from a heritage standpoint, the scale of the existing building should not necessarily be used as a measure of what can and should be built on the site. 

We have also strongly objected to the proposed partial demolition of the former Hall of Science (Brenan Hall) on Victoria Parade as part of the redevelopment. This site was classified in 2011 by the National Trust as a place of national significance, as one of the only remaining buildings in Australia, and indeed in the world, associated with the radical and influential Freethought movement. Brenan Hall is also graded as Contributory to HO334 under the Yarra Planning Scheme. 

This application highlights the lack of clarity regarding planning controls in the WHEA, with the World Heritage Environs Area Strategy Plan providing little guidance regarding the redevelopment of this site. We have also raised similar concerns regarding a proposed development at 1-9 Gertrude Street which is currently before Yarra Council. We have respectfully called on Yarra Council to refuse this permit application. 

Together, these applications have also shone a light on the confusing approvals process for developments within the World Heritage Environs Area. Under the planning scheme, the City of Yarra is the responsible planning authority, despite the area’s world heritage status. However under the Commonwealth Environment Protection & Biodiversity Act 1999, proponents are required to undertake a self-assessment and make a referral to the Commonwealth for applications which may impact on the heritage values of the place. It is unclear whether this has been undertaken, and we are writing to Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley, to seek clarification and advocate for the Commonwealth to require a referral under the Act, to ensure that the proposed developments receive the highest level of scrutiny.

Read our full submission here

Hall of Science Facade, July 2010 


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