National Trust provide feedback on the draft five-year strategy for Queen Victoria Market

Feature image by Jessica Hood

In May, we provided feedback on the Queen Victoria Market draft five-year Future Market Strategy, which will guide retail and operational changes to support the Market’s COVID-19 recovery and beyond.   

We are broadly supportive of many of the proposed changes outlined in the Strategy, and believe most changes align with the recommendations of the 2018 People’s Panel, which carefully considered how to balance heritage and operational concerns. However, we raised concerns that some of the proposed changes have not been guided by an understanding of the Market’s heritage values, particularly its “intangible” values, and that the infrastructure required to deliver these changes is likely to have adverse heritage impacts.  

What is significant?  

While we strongly support the No. 1 Guiding Principle of the Strategy – Protect the Market’s Heritage (p.12), there is a need to further articulate what is meant by “heritage” – both in relation to the built form of the market, and the “intangible” heritage values, such as ongoing practices and patterns of use.  

This understanding should underpin the Strategy as a whole, as well as individual initiatives that are proposed. Currently, the Strategy does not clearly define what needs to be protected, and how decision-making is to take this into account.  

The following extract from the gazetted Statement of Significance in the National Heritage List for the Queen Victoria Market states: 

The Queen Victoria Market has outstanding heritage value to the nation as an  outstanding example of an Australian metropolitan food market established in the nineteenth century. The Market contains a substantially intact array of Victorian era buildings and structures, which is unique in its demonstration of all four key building typologies of a market from this period, including open sheds, enclosed market halls, warehouses, and perimeter shops. Together with its continued functioning as a modern day marketplace with a particular emphasis on produce, the layout and integrity of these features are significant aspects of the Market which strengthen its historic value.  

Operating for almost 140 years as a food market, and prior to that as a meat market, the Queen Victoria Market has borne witness to the huge changes in food science, technology, transport and communications that have revolutionised the production, distribution and retailing of food. While evidence of these changes can be seen in modern market day practices, the Queen Victoria Market still retains many of its original attributes, liveliness and character. 

Furthermore, the Queen Victoria Market: Intangible Values Report undertaken by the Digital Ethnography Research Centre at RMIT for the City of Melbourne and Queen Victoria Market Pty Ltd, 2017, found that the Market is commonly understood and valued through sensory experience. This research found that:  

Sensory aspects cannot be adequately understood without seeing them as entangled with the other things that people valued: relationships and social connectedness; memory; routines of movement and choice; and contingency and improvisation. Accordingly, changes to the ‘look and feel’ of the Market – are likely to be seen to alter other highly valued ways of understanding it atmospherically. (p. 23)  

Many of the retail and operational changes outlined in the Strategy have the potential to impact the social and intangible values of the market. Unlike the assessment of changes to the built heritage values of a place, which can arguably be understood immediately through design and material choices, the impact on intangible values is much more subtle. This impact may occur slowly over time as invisible and intricate connections are disrupted. 

Key concerns  

Value-add food  

We strongly objected to the proposal to increase ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat food offerings, particularly from fresh produce traders under the Open Sheds.  

The Open Sheds do not currently have the adequate facilities to support the production of ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat food offerings because their primary use and significance is as a fresh produce market. The infrastructure and space required to enable this kind of service would also have a dramatic and unacceptable impact on the heritage values of the Market.  

These values are captured in the following extract from the National Heritage List citation:  

It continues to operate as a city produce and general market, and exhibits a high degree of social interaction, mixture of cultural experiences and authenticity in its practices, providing a tangible link to the Market’s origins in the nineteenth century. (emphasis added)  

The infrastructure required for traders to provide value-added food and ready-to-cook options (eg staffing, preparation spaces, packaging) is significantly different to that required to sell fresh produce. We have concerns that an emphasis on encouraging existing and new traders to expand into value-added food will alienate the market’s traditional focus on fresh produce, and supporting small local businesses. We are also concerned about the additional refrigeration required for value added-food, which is likely to have an adverse impact on the heritage values of the open sheds.  

We encouraged the de-emphasis or removal of this initiative from throughout strategy. 

Lockable trading formats  

We raised serious concerns regarding the introduction of lockable trading formats within the Open Sheds. While we acknowledge that this trading format has been successful in String Bean Alley, and the challenge of attracting new businesses to stall-based trading, we believe that an increase in lockable trading formats within the Open Sheds would dramatically change the open-air market experience.  

It was the strong view of the People’s Panel that the program of renewal and restoration, “should retain and display all the vibrancy and theatre of a traditional market, including delivery and unloading, setting up and taking down” (Recommendation 2) (emphasis added).  

The following extract from the National Heritage List citation for Queen Victoria Market notes that:  

Significant features of the market sheds include their open design to allow accessibility and circulation, absence of permanent stall structures, layout in regular row pattern flanked by laneways. (emphasis added) 

The National Trust accepts that the provision of storage and services as part of Market renewal is necessary to support the reasonable and ongoing function of the place in its original use as an open-air market. However, we feel that the increase of a ‘lockable trading formats’ would encroach too far on the traditional retail operations of the Market, and in turn its ‘vibrancy and theatre’. We believe that other initiatives to attract and retain new businesses to the Open Sheds must be explored, and that an increase in the lockable trading formats could have an unacceptable impact on the heritage values of the market. The National Trust would also welcome the opportunity to provide feedback on design concepts for new point of sale and trading formats, prior to the lodgement of planning applications. 

Overall, we are broadly supportive of the Strategy, however further work must be undertaken to balance the economic and operational needs with the social and cultural values of the Market.  

Read our full submission here 

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