National Trust seeks commitment on heritage issues in lead-up to state election

On 28 August, the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) issued a series of questions to the leaders of the major parties in the lead-up to the November election concerning heritage and urban planning. The original questions can be viewed below, and we will post responses as they are received.

Heritage issues that the National Trust of Australia (Vic) seeks commitments on at the State election 2014

Will you commit to reform of the Heritage Act? Firstly, will you commit to reform and strengthen the Heritage Act in the event of an adverse decision at the Supreme Court on the matter of Total House? The appellant seeks consideration of economic factors at time of registration of a place on the Victorian Heritage Register. Secondly, will you commit to reform and strengthen the Heritage Act to implement a statutory trigger to require local government consideration of a heritage overlay following determination by Heritage Council that a place is not of state significance? The Act only requires ‘’referral for consideration’’, and such a consideration is very rarely undertaken. Thirdly, and most importantly, will you initiate a review of the Heritage Act to remove the permit process from the Heritage Act, and move the issuing of heritage permits to the Planning & Environment Act and making Heritage Victoria a statutory referral authority? Plan Melbourne (p.131) states: Managing the tension between development and conservation is an important task for the government and one that needs to be streamlined, to make heritage management and planning more effective and supportive of efficient planning and development outcomes. Initiative 4.7.1 Value Heritage When Managing Growth and Change With all three levels of government sharing responsibility for protecting Melbourne’s heritage, decision making must be consistent and credible, and based on a clear and widely accepted understanding of the city’s history. Plan Melbourne aims to protect the city’s heritage, and improve heritage management processes within the Victorian planning system. In the short term • Work with local governments to enhance and improve heritage planning and assessment, including closer engagement with affected landowners. • Review and modernise the Victorian Heritage Act 1995 with a stronger focus on proactive heritage identification and preservation. We believe that a reform of the heritage permitting processes has the benefit of simplifying the process by reducing the current two-step permit process to just one whilst strengthening and not diluting the quality of heritage decisions. Permit applications would be subject to normal local Council processes and considerations, with a referral to Heritage Victoria as a statutory referral authority. Heritage Victoria officers would make considered judgements about heritage impacts alone, without the need to consider the ‘economic clause’ currently in the permit clauses of the Heritage Act. Instead Heritage Victoria would be guided by a suite of new (currently wholly absent) policies. All the balancing of competing issues would be undertaken by the Council, which would take into consideration their own local policies as well as the statutory heritage referral response. This approach (and hence reform) was flagged by the Heritage Provisions Review in 2007 in relation to subdivision – Further consideration should be given to the desirability of legislative change so as to require applications for the subdivision of VHR places to be dealt with under the P&E Act, with Heritage Victoria acting as referral authority to the local Council.(5/247) Any appeals would go to VCAT (preferably with a member of the Heritage Council sitting on VCAT). Heritage Victoria would be able to launch an appeal if they were dissatisfied with the permit or any conditions issued by the local Council. The benefits of this reform would be: i)              to remove the lack of transparency in permit decision-making under the Heritage Act; ii)             allow Heritage Victoria to focus on heritage impacts; iii)            overcome the profound lack of involvement of the Heritage Council; iv)           overcome the absence of third party appeal rights under the Heritage Act; and, v)            streamline the current two-stop shop process. Will you commit to the reinstatement of funding for the Heritage Advisory Services program? The Department of Transport, Planning, Local Infrastructure recently removed dedicated Heritage Advisory Services funding support from local government. Whilst regional and rural Councils can apply for funding support from “The Regional Flying Squad” – a group of departmental planners that assist regional and rural Councils with strategic planning implementation issues – it means that no metropolitan councils are eligible for any heritage advisory support funding. The metropolitan Councils that particularly need assistance are the metro-fringe Councils experiencing high growth and infrastructure building programs. The program was supported by approximately $350,000 and should be wholly reinstated, and preferably expanded to $0.5M. This would reinstate State government support for a service that has been the backbone of the local heritage planning system in Victoria for 30 years. Will you commit to $50M investment in the repair and reuse of the Administration Building at Flinders Street Station and its activation as a retail, business and community start-up facility? Four years on from the last State election and around one-third of the Administration Building remains in a dreadful and unusable condition. Government investment in this public asset is long overdue. The design competitions – both recent and earlier – remain unrealised, and the Trust’s preference remains that the Administration Building be restored and reused in a mixture of ways to maximise community and business benefits afforded by the scale and location of the building. We are aware that a business case for the $1+billion 2013 winning design is apparently being developed but in the meantime the administration building desperately needs repair and reuse. The $10 million estimated in 2005 for repair may now likely be in excess of $50 million, and that is the commitment we are now seeking. Will you commit to statutory support for the protection of Melbourne’s Marvellous Modernism? We seek the support of state government and the Minister for Planning for statutory heritage protection for Melbourne’s significant post-war architectural heritage. Modernism is under threat in Melbourne. Melbourne has already lost some of its most architecturally and socially significant examples of Modernist buildings. In June 2011 the Melbourne City Council proposed to expand heritage protection to an additional 99 buildings in Melbourne’s central business district. These included such prominent examples of the Modernist aesthetic as the 1965 National Mutual Plaza at 447 Collins Street and the Royal Insurance Group Building at 430–444 Collins Street. Protection of these properties excited a very vigorous community and public debate and examination of our idiosyncratic new city, and raised issues of responses to the perceived ‘ugliness’ of some post-war buildings, and the preference of some for an idealised Victorian city. Despite endorsement by an independent Planning Panel in 2012 the Minister for Planning removed 10 post-war buildings from the proposed C186 heritage list citing the need for more study. The National Mutual Building is now to be demolished. Will you commit to a plan B for the Quarantine Station at Point Nepean? The Trust is extremely concerned that the successful EOI for operation of the Quarantine Station will turn into a white elephant. The proponent has made it clear that geo-thermal access is the commercial driver for the proposal. Whilst the proponent is confident, there does not appear a fall-back position to guarantee financial viability. It is stated that a period of 30 – 50 years will be required to pay back the proposed investment. The granting of a 99 year lease to a business proposition that fails quite early presents an enormous risk to government that the site will then be locked-up in complex leasing, sub-leasing or on-selling of lease and simultaneous dispute resolutions with no ongoing net benefit or certainty for a large and highly significant part of the Point Nepean National Park. Whilst the University of Melbourne National Centre for Coast and Climate is laudable, this is understood to be a sub-lease from Point Leisure Group and therefore what are the assurances against failure with this proposal? National Trust of Australia (Vic) August 2014

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