Friday, 6 April 2018

Pace/Urbis Proposes Demolition of Listed Mt Alexander Rd 1880s Heritage Shops

Another threat has emerged to Moonee Valley's heritage fabric this week, with newly advertised plans by Pace developments, apparently in tandem with Urbis proposing to demolish the two double storey heritage shopfronts shown in white below.

Under threat - 347 (left) & 357 (middle) plus 359 (right, not part of subject site) Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale

What's the Threat?

The proposal seeks to demolish both these protected buildings based on the fact that the heritage overlay which protects them does not individually cite their addresses, and indeed the way the overlay has been mapped, it appears to apply to a number of non-heritage structures including the adjacent carpark and garden centre.

Moonee Valley Heritage Action's response is, essentially "STIFF CHEDDAR". There IS a heritage overlay on these buildings, it has been formally adopted within the Melbourne Planning Scheme, and permission is required to demolish ANY structures within that overlay.

The very purpose of having these overlays mapped into the Planning Scheme is to provide certainty to both the community and developers around what is protected and what is not.

Developers MUST be forced to comply with the letter of the law, which does not rely on a building's individual nomination within the schedule. This is NOT a precinct overlay, and therefore the significant buildings are not required to be individually listed. The entire overlay is protected in law.

HO363, as formally gazetted in to the Melbourne Planning Scheme

There has very obviously been some administrative confusion in the creation of this particular overlay, but the intent of the overlay is clear - to protect the entire row of contemporaneous two storey Victorian shopfronts along Mt Alexander Rd.

Moonee Valley City Council has already sent this proposal back to the developer, Urbis, once, suggesting they needed to retain the heritage buildings, and this was clearly ordained in law. Disappointingly, the developer and the developer's heritage consultant of choice, Bryce "knock it down" Raworth have responded with some facile and frankly unconscionable arguments suggesting they wish to press ahead with their plans for demolition.

The proposal for the entirety of 327-357 Mt Alexander Rd, Ascot Vale, currently, a garden centre, "Cheaper Buy Miles" and ... a few listed heritage buildings ...

What's the History?

The citation for the heritage overlay gives us quite a bit of detail about No. 161. It began its life in 1869-70 as Twinem & Sons Beehive Stores. John Twinem opened his first store on Flemington Hill by 1858, and moved to this site shortly after 1865. It is a two-storey, face-brick building (overpainted) with a slate-clad, hipped roof with very narrow eaves. The shopfront dates from the interwar era, and is sympathetic in its design.

Once was a Beehive - 361 Mt Alexander Rd

The history section of the citation notes that the pair of shops at 357-359 Mt Alexander Road were constructed in 1886 as an addition to the Beehive Stores.

In 1887, new owner J. J. Downing was proud enough of these additions to promote his apparently thriving Beehive Stores in the North Melbourne Advertiser as purveyors of "Groceries, Indian and China Tea, Builder's and Furnishing Ironmongery, Galvanised Iron, Spouting and Ridging, Crockery and Earthenware, Drain Pipes, Tiles and Garden Edging, Oils, Paints and Colours, Lime and Cement &c, at Melbourne Prices." No wonder he needed the extra space!

North Melbourne Advertiser, February 11, 1887, p.2


So, let's be clear, the rightmost of the two buildings for demolition dates to the 1880s. Whether is either in tact or a particularly fine examples of the period, the community's expectation is that really all our surviving 19th century structures ought these days to be protected.

The Mt Alexander Rd was originally Melbourne's goldfields route, and although the lustre of goldfields had somewhat tarnished by the 1880s, for some time after their construction these buildings would have watched over a steady stream of expectant prospectors.

The building at 347 has a slightly murkier provenance, it is apparently early 20th century in origin, but has very clearly, with regard to its pediment, scale, form and with its recessed entryway, been constructed to stylistically match the existing buildings.

So to have a heritage "professional" - namely Bryce Raworth (whom readers may remember we have already encountered when he gave the thumbs up to seven storeys of sheer concrete being erected adjacent to Raccourse Rd's streetscape of Victorian shops) give the thumbs up to demolition of a listed structures dating to the 1880s, and its simultaneously protected matching counterpart is frankly galling, and evidence of an appallingly careless attitude to the strictures of the profession. The man appears to have an active hatred of 19th century shops in particular.

The proposal is well stepped back to the North St heritage streetscape (RIGHT), but does rather tend to overwhelm the remaining heritage buildings from its Moonee Street aspect (LEFT)


Bryce's Blarney

Mr Raworth argues that "these late nineteenth century shops are not particularly fine or notable examples of their type, and their intactness has been compromised." Which while to some extent true, this is a typology that the community now expects to be preserved from an historical, much more than an architectural viewpoint, and the fact is that once they have a heritage overlay on them, none of these factors are any longer relevant.

The assertion that "the demolition of these structures will not have an adverse impact on the significance of HO363" is in no way supported. The buildings were constructed in a matching style, formed part of a single retail complex, and its the combined massing of Victorian era double storey shopfront forms that very specifically sets in place the character of the overlay from its most significant aspect - Mt Alexander Rd.

Looming over the remnant heritage

The fact that they were built a few years later than the original building is of no consequence, the subject buildings are not significantly less in tact than no. 361, and were built in the same period in the same style. They all feature relatively unique recessed shopfronts and most likely all featured the very elegant cream dado tiling that 361 still sports today.

359 has likely lost its dado titling, and 357 lacks the arched first floor windows, but 361 has possibly also lost its parapet. It is clear that attempting to play historical favourites with any of these structures is illogical, and will do nothing but have the effect of reducing the significance of whichever structure you chose to retain.

But Bryce still manages to spin this into "the building abutting the northern boundary of the subject site at 359 Mt Alexander Road has a somewhat taller, parapeted two storey form", which in plain English is an attempt to say the buildings are "different heights and therefore not contiguous."

This disingenuously ignores the fact that it is the larger two storey Victorian and interwar shopfronts that create the contiguous heritage style which is quite clearly what the overlay was created to preserve. Saying "the most historic building is out of scale" could only be accepted here if it were an argument to demolish the 1860s building, and that argument is absent.



What's the Solution?

Put simply, the developers need to return to the drawing board and re-submit a proposal for the site that retains a significant portion of all the listed structures. We would support some extent of demolition to the rear of the buildings, provided any demolition left the facades untouched or otherwise restored and effected enough retention to retain contextual internal space behind the facade.

Any development would also need appropriately set back from the retained structures, and allow the buildings to retain their heritage context. Hopefully the following five minute Photoshop job gives readers some idea just how simple this would be.

See how easy it is NOT to vandalise?
Our dodgy photoshop job shows that provided those apartments were set back a little more,
retaining the heritage buildings would be neither difficult, nor much reduce the footprint
of this no doubt potentially highly profitable development.

And let's end on a positive note. MVHA acknowledges the otherwise positive extent to which the proposal responds to its surrounding heritage neighbourhoods. In fact, developer's assertion that the proposal's Mt Alexander Rd frontage is an effective contextual response to the two storey Victorian heritage shopfront form IS supported by MVHA. Were this not proposing any demolition, we would otherwise suggest the design quality of the proposal is exemplary.

However, in making that statement, it is also very clear just how easily the heritage structures could be retained. Should they fail to return to the table with an appropriate proposal, Urbis will join our ever expanding list of Heritage Criminal Developers. But our good books remain open and we so much prefer doing things this way. Retain the heritage structures, and we would otherwise encourage the community to support the development, pending compliance with the Design and Development Overlay (which would be a whole other distracting essay.

What Can I Do to Help?


  • 1. If you want to look at the plans in detail, you can find them advertised HERE as MV/925/2017 325-347 Mt Alexander Rd Ascot Vale (probably now on page two - the records are a little hard to search)
  • 2. If you want to help by object on heritage or any other grounds please download this form and return it to Council by post or by email to council@mvcc.vic.gov.au asap, and ideally before April 13. Objections are the only formal way of letting Council know your feelings, and volume DOES matter. Please be polite and to the point.
  • 3. Join Moonee Valley Heritage Action on Facebook to stay up with all the latest development news