Inquiry into Heritage Protection in Victoria

April 2023

The RHSV is concerned that there has been a serious decline in the protection afforded to heritage buildings by local planning legislation in Victoria and as a result an alarming loss of heritage in recent years. There is an urgent need for fundamental reform of the Victorian Planning Framework. In October 2020 a positive step in this direction was taken when the upper house of the Victorian Parliament (the Legislative Council) initiated an inquiry into Victoria’s planning regulations with respect to heritage protection. RHSV welcomed this as an opportunity for positive reform. The parliamentary committee conducting this inquiry received over 280 submissions from a variety of stakeholders, including an extensive one from the RHSV, but held no public hearings.

In its submission to the inquiry, the RHSV called for a revitalisation of the State Government’s role in providing leadership in the protection and management of local heritage. It argued that the department then responsible for planning, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), had not only abrogated responsibility for local heritage protection but was seriously undermining it by imposing design objectives that invited developers to construct new buildings even on sites covered by a Heritage Overlay.


Image above: The historic Corkman Hotel in Carlton before it was demolished by developers.


A notable example of this was the Corkman Hotel in Carlton, which became a target for developers after the Minister approved a Design and Development Overlay (DDO) that prescribed a twelve or thirteen storey building for the site, thus inviting developers’ greed. The John Curtin Hotel in Lygon Street, Carlton, was another example. It is covered by the Heritage Overlay but also by a DDO calling for an eight storey building on the site. It was only saved by a public outcry and threats of a Green Ban on the project. Similar DDOs are being applied to the historic shopping strips of Melbourne with the result that developers are being encouraged to demolish heritage shops and replace them with six to ten storey buildings. These DDOs encourage developers and make a mockery of the Heritage Overlay.

The RHSV submission also expressed concern that local heritage protection was not covering all appropriate sites. All too often, RHSV members discover that a building under threat was not even covered by a Heritage Overlay. A major factor in this stems from the closure of the local government unit in Heritage Victoria, which provided advice and tangible support to local councils to ensure that they actively pursued heritage studies to ascertain which sites should be protected.

On 2 August 2022 the parliamentary committee conducting the inquiry into the Victorian Planning Framework released a report. The central recommendation of this report was that, after the forthcoming State elections, which were due in late November that year, the Victorian Government should hold a full inquiry into the adequacy of the protections afforded by the Victorian Planning Framework. The lack of public hearings by the parliamentary committee and the postponement of the inquiry until after the State election may have indicated that for our political leaders, heritage protection was too hot an issue to have publicly debated in an election year.

Image above: The historic Corkman Hotel in the process of being demolished. (Photo: Facebook RIP Corkman Irish Pub).




Campaign directed at election candidates

With the fate of the inquiry dependent on the outcome of the State elections, the RHSV in October 2022 launched a public campaign aimed at having candidates for the upper house commit themselves to supporting the restarting of the inquiry. The Chair of the RHSV Heritage Committee, Charles Sowerwine, wrote to every candidate seeking a commitment that, if elected, they would support having this inquiry into the Victorian Planning Framework restarted with full hearings and deliberations. RHSV members, local historical societies, and many others who supported the preservation of Victoria’s heritage were also urged to write to the candidates in their area.

Responses were received from all of the major political parties except the Australian Labor Party, and from most of the cross bench, all of them very positive and supportive. The two upper house politicians who had originally initiated the inquiry, Clifford Hayes MLC (from Sustainable Australia) and Samantha Ratnam MLC (from the Greens), both gave their strong personal support and committed their parties. Cross-bencher Derryn Hinch wrote a personal pledge of support on behalf of his Justice Party, as did Bronwyn Currie for the Animal Justice Party, of which she is Victorian Convenor and Lead Candidate. The Victorian Socialists also made a firm and extensive statement of support. The leader of the Liberal Party in the Legislative Council, David Davis, MLC, wrote a personal response of some substance, committing not only the Liberal Party but also the Coalition to supporting the inquiry, including extending its terms of reference. Of particular note was his commitment to “the protection of precincts where individual properties may not reach a relevant threshold for protection, but in fact the precinct in aggregate is of great significance and worthy of protection”. Despite several requests, the RHSV was not been able to obtain a response from the Australian Labor Party. This is surprising as the former Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, supported the original inquiry and his successor, the Hon. Lizzie Blandthorn MP, had made some excellent decisions, most notably in extending the boundaries of the World Heritage Environs Area protecting the Royal Exhibition Building / Carlton Gardens World Heritage site. 

In the aftermath of the election, the RHSV has begun contacting members of the upper house Committee and other MPs to put our case for the urgent need to restart the inquiry.


To read the Heritage Survey results conducted by RHSV on behalf of Heritage Council for the State of Heritage Review click here.

To read the Heritage Council of Victoria’s 2020 State of Heritage Review click here.

To read the RHSV’s submission of 31 January 2022 click here.

To read the June 2022 edition of History News click here.

To read the RHSV’s statement on the postponement of the inquiry click here.

To read the RHSV letter to candidates 5 October 2022 click here.

To read the RHSV media release 10 October 2022 click here .