Public housing towers nominated for state heritage listing


Feature Image: A high rise public housing tower that has been nominated for assessment for the Victorian Heritage Register, Park Towers, South Melbourne. Source: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

A late 1960s public housing tower, Park Towers in South Melbourne, has been nominated to be assessed for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register. This is a reminder that heritage is not always gilded with gold, and places and objects significant to our communities are diverse and layered. We should protect examples of places that are an important part of our social history and fabric and provide a balanced representation of our history.

The National Trust is concerned that the Victorian Government proposal to retire and redevelop all of Melbourne’s 44 ageing high-rise public housing estates by 2051 is being conducted without the necessary assessment of potential cultural heritage values of these places. As should be the case with any re-development proposal, these sites should be assessed prior to any decision making or commencement of works. 

The first set of towers slated for demolition include:

  • 120 Flemington Road, Flemington
  • 12 Holland Court, Flemington
  • 33 Alfred Street, North Melbourne
  • 20 Elgin Street, Carlton
  • 141 Nicholson Street, Carlton

Source: https://www.homes.vic.gov.au/high-rise-victoria-which-towers

Social Housing flats proposed to be demolished, 20 Elgin Rd and 141 Nicholson St

Feature Image: Social Housing flats proposed to be demolished, 20 Elgin St. and 141 Nicholson St. Source: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

The Trust advocates for a holistic, group heritage assessment that evaluates the significance of all 44 tower sites as a co-ordinated project. This would be far more transparent and effective than a piecemeal approach to assessment as each tower site comes up for redevelopment. 

If any of the sites within the project are found to be of local or state significance through this process, relevant protections should be sought that respond to any identified heritage values, rather than demolition. 

Heritage protections do not mean that necessary change cannot occur. Retrofitting that improves and upgrades the housing for residents whilst retaining them in their existing locations and communities is a viable alternative to demolition that can also retain identified heritage values.

The majority of these towers are built from concrete, and the release of CO2 with their demolition would be in direct conflict with the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Furthermore, the loss of established green space around the towers through increased development would remove important environmental amenities and trees.

The National Trust maintains our position as outlined in our response to the Victorian Housing Statement that regardless of their significance, the government should meaningfully explore options to retrofit and refurbish the towers, rather than progress a pre-determined knock down and rebuild approach from the outset. This option is more sustainable, makes strategic and economic sense and will avoid displacing vulnerable communities who can remain involved in the process. 

Heritage conservation and adaptive re-use of existing buildings is a powerful sustainable development tool, contributing to the mitigation of climate impacts, and the incorporation of shared values into housing design to enrich the existing places in which we live. 

Image: Brunswick St and Napier St Housing Commission estate with Matryoshka garden sculptures. Source: National Trust of Australia (Victoria)

The National Trust calls on the State Government to lead by example in best heritage practice and to immediately embark on an independent and holistic cultural heritage assessment of all 44 towers and their environs, to determine their local and state values and put necessary protections in place prior to any decision making on redevelopment works. 

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