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My Opinion Pieces

Herald Sun - Government is slowly eroding our heritage

   Monday, 26 August 2019

When most of us are asked about what historic sites should be granted heritage protection by the government chances are the Royal Exhibition Buildings, Government House, and Old Melbourne Gaol, might come to mind. They are old, they are almost unanimously regarded as beautiful, if not significant, and Melbourne would be greatly diminished without their presence.

Equally, at a local level, many Victorians are increasingly exasperated by the ease at which beautiful heritage properties from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are demolished.

So many of us probably received the news, broken by the Herald Sun last week, of the Andrews Labor government referring the Eastern Freeway for heritage protection as some kind of joke. Apparently, the Eastern Freeway has “aesthetic and historical heritage values” for its design and engineering. How absurd, it’s a brutal concrete carpark!

Freeways form part of our infrastructure and are constructed purely for utilitarian purposes. This infrastructure needs to evolve to continue to serve the needs of the fastest growing city in Australia. As Bryce Prosser from the RACV said, “it is essential the freeway’s flexibility is protected for the future and a heritage listing may prevent this.”

If the heritage listing for the Eastern Freeway is successful, this will make a much-needed future East West Link from the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway much more difficult to achieve.

From Carnegie to Ascot Vale and Essendon; from Kew, to Hawthorn, and Elsternwick; saving heritage homes is fast becoming the hot button issue in suburbs around Melbourne.

Labor has a shocking history with the very notion of what heritage is, and what it is not. Under this Labor government, we have lost some magnificent properties.

In 2015, 125 years of history disappeared forever when Frogmore House in Carnegie was reduced to rubble. A few months later, Forres, in my electorate of Kew, was demolished. I wrote a submission to Heritage Victoria attempting to save this beautiful home. They were no help, and neither was their masters, the Andrews Labor government.

Surely out of consistency they will reject the Eastern Freeway too, for just being plain hideous.

The Planning Minister has the power to stop the demolition of heritage properties. Earlier this year Labor’s Planning Minister Richard Wynne issued a last-minute reprieve for a property in Hawthorn East after a public outcry over the future of Currajong, which was hours away from demolition. It took frantic efforts from locals, the council and my colleagues to persuade the government that interim heritage controls were important so the heritage value of the property could be properly assessed. The long-term future of this building is still very much in doubt.

Wynne has declined to save properties in a number of other notable cases, not just in Kew or Carnegie, but also for a beautiful Edwardian property in Seymour Road, Elsternwick. The National Trust's Felicity Watson said; “it’s very frustrating to have these individual cases keep coming up while the systemic issue underlying that is not addressed.” That is, this government’s quite bizarre priorities such as protecting a freeway instead of an Edwardian property.

Let’s see if he has the courage to save a beautiful Victorian property in Charles Street, Ascot Vale, or will he continue his ongoing failures to protect our built form heritage?

Cowboy developers, Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski, unlawfully demolished the historic Corkman Hotel in 2016. Realising their predicament, they wrote a letter to the Andrews government, on the advice of their then lobbyist now disgraced Labor MP Will Fowles, promising to rebuild the heritage property. Richard Wynne promised that this pledge would be enforced, but he misled Victorians. It was never going to happen.

These rogues will now profit from their vandalism because of a deal with the state government that allows them to develop the site to the height of 40 metres, or 12 storeys. Despite the significant fines that these men have received, they are still likely to make substantial profits when construction is concluded on such a sought-after location.

Many Victorians will be quite rightly outraged to see the Andrews government attempting to list a freeway on the Victorian Heritage Register when beautiful heritage homes and pubs are routinely smashed to pieces in established suburbs around Melbourne and the government rarely does anything to stop it.

A proposed review into local heritage protections is currently being conducted by the state government, but it does not have the opportunity to recommend legislative change, so it is window dressing at best.

If the Andrews government continues down the path of listing the awful looking Eastern Freeway that desperately requires a connection to Citylink, but continues to ignore the demolition of our beautiful streetscapes, this great city that belongs to all of us will be nothing but a brutal, soulless, concrete jungle that frankly will not be a very nice place to live for future generations.