The National Trust objects to the proposed removal of external paint and tree controls in the Yarra Ranges

The National Trust has appeared at a Planning Panel this past week objecting to a Planning Scheme Amendment that proposes to weaken heritage controls at various sites of local heritage significance in the Yarra Ranges. Amendment C158, prepared by the Yarra Ranges Shire Council, proposes to ‘delete a number of redundant and unjustified provisions in the Heritage Overlay relating to external painting, internal modifications and vegetation controls’. In our submission the Trust supported the intent of the Amendment to improve the accuracy of the schedule to the Heritage Overlay, acknowledging that for many places tree and paint controls may not be relevant. Yet upon a review of a small sample of places included in the Amendment, we came across various examples where the proposed removal of paint and tree controls seemed unreasonable and unjustified.

For example, Council has proposed the removal of paint controls for the Lilydale Mechanic’s Institute, Library and Athenaeum (see image above) – a prominent building within the streetscape which has painted lettering on the front of the building. Providing justification for the proposed removal, the Council made the following statement:

The Lilydale Athenaeum building was one of a number which have been completely externally covered by paint. As the act of visually covering the building has now taken place, and given the absence of any evidence to confirm that particular colours or styles are required for heritage integrity, we are satisfied that in these cases paint controls are not justified.

We believe that there are various fundamental problems with the above statement from the perspective of heritage conservation practice. Paint controls are justified if the building in question impacts upon a significant streetscape. Paint controls are also put in place to preserve original paint schemes. Just because a building has been painted in the past, does not mean that this original paint scheme is lost forever. The permit trigger for paint controls ensures that if the current or future owner decided to re-paint the building, they would be required to apply a paint colour that was reminiscent of the original paint scheme to ensure the integrity of the streetscape and the heritage of the individual building. We believe that if a building is on a key main street in a town and is a prominent commercial/public building, than paint controls are more than justified. Paint controls ensure that future paint colours are sympathetic to the style and age of the building, regardless of the fact that it had been painted or modified in the past. Paint scrapes can be undertaken to determine original paint schemes, and these colours can be easily and sympathetically matched. This is a very regular and common undertaking by many conservation architects when undertaking restoration projects on heritage buildings.

Similarly, in our submission we objected to the removal of tree controls for various sites specifically delineated as gardens, National Parks, reserves and bushlands. For example, the amendment proposes to removal tree controls at the National Rhododenron Gardens, for which the citation includes reference to several tree species. In a letter sent to the Trust responding to our concerns regarding the Amendment, Council made the assertion that ‘a permit requirement to protect vegetation on a site where the fundamental purpose to begin with is the maintenance of vegetation could serve no useful purpose and was superfluous’. This was specifically cited in response to our objection to the removal of tree controls for the National Rhododendron Gardens. The very purpose of tree controls is to protect trees, gardens, plants and vegetation as they relate and contribute to the significance of the heritage place.  Regardless of the purpose of the site, permit controls should be required to be met by the property manager to protect the public interest in the conservation of that place.  If the management of the site has a conservation objective, there should be no difficulty in obtaining necessary permits.

While the Trust acknowledges that additional permit triggers for vegetation removal do exist at some places, this does not justify the removal of protection for heritage sites that have significance derived from their environmental contribution, or the removal of tree controls that protect vegetation or trees with historic or cultural significance that is above and beyond the aesthetic or landscape value.

To read the Trust’s submission to the panel in full, click here. We now await the decision of the panel and their recommendations to the Council moving forward with the Amendment.

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