The Palace Theatre VCAT matter has now concluded following three very full days of hearings before VCAT’s most senior member, Deputy President Helen Gibson. The applicant, Jinshan Investment Group, seeks to demolish the entire Palace Theatre building and replace it with a 78 room hotel. Jinshan argued that the proposal represents an investment in “revitalising” the Bourke Hill precinct. The City of Melbourne (represented by barrister Adrian Finanzio SC) and the objectors – National Trust, Save the Palace and Melbourne Heritage Action (represented by barrister Andrew Walker), argued that the Palace is of sufficient cultural heritage significance such that it should not be demolished.
The Trust has been advocating for the heritage of Melbourne’s CBD for many decades and is delighted to have joined forces with the the Save The Palace Committee (STPC) activist group and with Melbourne Heritage Action on this landmark issue, championing the preservation of a live entertainment venue of cultural (social and historical) significance to Melbourne.
The Trust and STPC worked cooperatively to raise the funds necessary for barrister representation at VCAT, which was the forum where our advocacy campaigning over 12 months came to a head. Many months of exceptional work by the community groups working cooperatively meant that the City of Melbourne was also very actively fighting this demolition application.
Historically, the building dates from 1912 and is important as the second-earliest major theatre to survive in Victoria, and the only one from the Edwardian era. It is also the only theatre to survive on Bourke Street, once the home of entertainment in Melbourne and lined with theatres, halls, and other attractions. The building has undergone many internal and external alterations in its lively and varied history, however it significance lies beyond attachment to any one period and it retains a very strong social significance for several generations of Melburnians.
STPC provided lay witness statements from Kate Ceberano, Molly Meldrum, Tim Rogers, Mark Seymour, Eddie Perfect, Patrick Donovan (CEO of Music Victoria and Chair of Australian Music Industry Network), Reg Livermore AO, and Chris O’Brien of Soundwave providing evidence of the Palace Theatre’s recent significance. The City of Melbourne’s expert witness was historian Emeritus Prof. Graeme Davison of Monash University. Expert evidence for the applicant was provided by Mr Peter Lovell.
The core of the the City’s and the objectors’ case is that the Palace Theatre has historical and social significance, and that the usual reliance by heritage consultants on consideration of aesthetic and architectural values is to improperly judge its significance. We said that earlier lower grade assessments of the Palace that downplay its significance may have been the result of unintentional bias by consultants who have been dominated by architectural historians rather than cultural historians.
The Palace has been at the forefront of the entertainment industry during all its 100 year life. We said “buildings which have social or historical significance are often the poor cousin to buildings of architectural significance” and that the focus of the planning scheme is to recognise places of “cultural significance” generally, not just architectural significance.
We are grateful for the generous support of Harwood Andrews Lawyers for their work as instructing solicitors and providing legal advice.
A decision is expected in around 4 weeks.