QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET FACES ANOTHER CHALLENGE
In the seemingly endless challenges to the heritage and community values of the QVM, a permit application has been made for the construction of a series of multi-level towers at the southern edge of the QVM on Franklin Street as well as changes to the Franklin Street Stores, demolition works to the existing market carpark, and development of a new public open space (Market Square) in its place. If approved, the development, to be known as Gurrowa Place, would include a 49-level tower for student accommodation, a 46-level residential apartment block and a 28-level office building plus pavilions around the Market Square.
If the project goes ahead it would create a massive wall of tightly packed towers significantly reducing visual connection with much of the rest of the CBD. It would also affect current traders at the market who store their goods on Franklin Street and have been told to leave within six months.
Constructed in stages from the 1860s, the Queen Victoria Market (QVM) was officially opened on 20 March 1878. It followed two earlier Melbourne markets – the Western Market around the corner of William and Collins Streets, and the Eastern (or Paddy’s) Market around the corner of Bourke and Exhibition Streets.
The QVM covers the site of the Old Melbourne Cemetery which was situated between Queen, Franklin and Peel streets and is currently covered by the Market’s car park and some trading sheds. Also known as Burial Hill, most of Melbourne’s early settlers were buried there, including the founder of the city, John Batman. While some bodies were relocated to other cemeteries at various times, the remains of around 9000 people are estimated to still be on the QVM site.
In the years following the official opening in 1878, the QVM expanded as a wholesale and retail fruit and vegetable market. Additional sheds (G,H,I and J) were constructed, shops were built along Elizabeth Street, and the current façade to the Meat and Fish Hall was added in 1884.
In the 1920s the QVM was further expanded to Peel Street, sparking controversy due to the exhumation of more than 900 bodies. In 1928 the Dairy Hall was built, followed by construction of sixty brick stores at the Franklin Street end for wholesale agents and merchants. And in 1936, the M,N and O sheds were added. When completed, the market covered two city blocks, one bounded by Elizabeth, Therry, Queen and Victoria streets, and a larger rectangular block bounded by Queen, Franklin, Peel and Victoria Streets.
The QVM was added to the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR) in 1989. In its statement of significance, the VHR emphasised that ‘The Queen Victoria Market is of social significance for its ongoing role and continued popularity as a fresh meat and vegetable market, shopping and meeting place for Victorians and visitors alike’. In 2018 it was added to the National Heritage List due to its importance as the largest intact market in Australia, its links to Melbourne’s colonial heritage, and as an example of a 19th century metropolitan produce market.
The RHSV consistently emphasised the importance of these characteristics of the QVM. Continuation of the tradition of a food market in the heart of Melbourne, the QVM’s ongoing role as a working market supplying fresh produce to Melbourne’s growing population, and the fact that it still embodies essential aspects of its 19th century character and mode of operation mean that continued protection of the QVM is essential to the preservation of the heritage of Melbourne.
Public Benefit vs Private Profit – An Ongoing Tension
While the physical dimensions of the market were settled by the mid-1930s, the history of the QVM since has been one of repeated tensions about how the site should be used. The rising value of Melbourne real estate during the 1960s gave rise to the first of a series of challenges to the QVM as a vital public asset. Following the relocation of the wholesale market to Footscray in 1969, the area containing the Franklin Street stores was redeveloped as a 1200 space car park, resulting in the demolition of the northern row of stores.
A more serious challenge occurred in the 1970s when Melbourne City Council commissioned a report into options for the market site. The report considered three options, one (Concept C) which contained a trade centre, office block and hotel, but no market at all. Despite a public outcry when the report was leaked to The Age in April 1971, the Council continued to develop a plan based on Option C, with the concession of including a small market. Despite growing opposition, including from the newly formed Keep the Victoria Market Association, residents’ groups, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence and the Builders Labourers Federation, it was not until 1976 that the Council agreed to maintain the entire QVM site as a market and refurbish various buildings and structures.
The Latest Challenge
Further changes occurred in the early 1980s with the extension of the Meat Hall and the construction of the Therry Street and Northern Plazas. Less positive, Sheds N and O were demolished in 1986 to extend the car park near Franklin Street. In 1994, work commenced on a food court behind the lower Victoria Street shops.
The most serious threat to the future of the QVM as an essentially 19th century fresh food market though has emerged over the past decade. In January 2010, influenced by a visit to the Borough Market in London, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle become attracted to the idea of transforming the QVM into a ‘gourmet hub’ featuring upmarket food stalls. The concept was widely condemned and led to the formation of the Save the Queen Victoria Market group. Opposition to the proposal was summed up in the comments of one store holder who was reported as saying that ‘any plans to tamper with the market would threaten its heart and soul’.[i]
Despite these concerns, an agreement was reached between Melbourne City Council and the Victorian Assistant Treasurer which amounted to a major remake of the QVM and surrounding area. Proposed changes that would have a significant impact on the QVM as a functioning produce market included
- construction of service areas including customer car parking and storage for traders;
- upgrading trader facilities and amenities (despite little support for this from the traders themselves);
- creation of a broader range of retail and hospitality options;
- provision of ‘new and varied’ public spaces within the Market precinct;
- creation of dedicated hireable and mixed use spaces for community festivals and food-oriented events.
The QVM Market Precinct Renewal Master Plan was endorsed by Melbourne City Council on 28 July 2015. Grimshaw Architects designed a $250 million development centred on new underground facilities on three levels plus a mezzanine for back-of-house facilities for traders and car parking. The heritage Sheds A to D above the area were to be disassembled, repaired and rebuilt.
A section of the redevelopment proposed by Grimshaw Architects Image: Grimshaw Architects
Reworking the Plan
Despite the assurance to ‘preserve the authentic market experience’, strong opposition to the proposed redevelopment from both traders and the community continued. A particularly contentious feature was the addition of nine lift, stairwell and service cores extending above the height of Sheds A, B and C to access the underground parking and storage. As well as having a major visual impact, the proposed structures reduced the space available for market stalls.
In its October 2017 submission to Heritage Victoria, the RHSV concluded that while it ‘fully supports the restoration work outlined in the various documents, [it] objects strenuously to the alteration of so much of the historic fabric of Sheds A-D and to the loss of the market’s social significance. Heritage Victoria agreed, and on 27 March 2018 refused a permit application on the grounds that the works would be ‘unacceptably detrimental’ and would have a ‘severe impact’ on the heritage significance of the market.
In response to Heritage Victoria’s rejection, a majority of City of Melbourne councillors approved a ‘people’s panel’ as part of a new consultation process. The Panel consisted of 40 members – 28 independently selected traders, customers and community members plus 12 invited stakeholders. The people’s panel model was chosen on the grounds it would allow ‘adequate time, information and support to examine the issues and have a high level of influence in the chosen outcomes’. But in practice, the Panel contribution was limited to issues around the delivery and location of trader and customer facilities. The panel made 14 recommendations, none of which supported the underground construction beneath Sheds A to D, although they did raise the possibility of underground storage and services in a less disruptive location near Therry Street.
The RHSV participated in the Panel but left the process disillusioned, commenting
‘We … assumed that the People’s Panel was an attempt to reset and find a common basis. The Panel turns out, however, to be an attempt to force the appearance of consensus while avoiding democratic discussion … No alternative views are presented or permitted. Never has there been open, general discussion, never a plenary session, never a vote, still less discussion of the vision for the market and what changes that vision would require… The RHSV is committed to participation in discussion wherever possible, but that discussion must be open and in good faith. That has so far not been the case.
In September 2019, following the People’s Panel process, the City of Melbourne announced changes to the QVM development. In the new plan, the storage, parking and access affecting Sheds A to D would be replaced by cool and dry storage designed after consultation with traders. The revised plan also promised to ‘minimise disruption to traders and the market’s heritage …[and] restore the heritage sheds along with plans to give traders the facilities they need to make it easier to trade at the market”. The original underground parking would be replaced by 500 customer car parks as part of the Munro development and up to 500 more customer car parks on a future Southern Development Site on Franklin Street. The existing carpark would then become a 1.5 hectare public open space called Market Square.
Following the revisions to the Master Plan, three further developments of the QVM were approved. In December 2020, Heritage Victoria approved permits for a trader shed and northern shed containing a range of facilities for storage, waste and recycling, plus customer toilets and facilities for the Market’s 2000-strong workforce. And signifiacnt changes were approved for the food court, including a new frontage onto Queen Street.
Development of the QVM Surrounds
Two areas adjacent to the QVM are also being radically changed as part of the overall development. The Munro site, on the corner of Queen and Therry streets opposite the Market was purchased by the Melbourne City Council for $76 million in 2014. The $450 million Munro development includes community facilities including a new library, 490 built-to-rent apartments, 500 underground car parks for market customers, event spaces, a boutique hotel, and retail stores intended to complement what is available at the QVM.
The second major development connecting to the QVM is the Southern site. Adjoining the heritage-listed Franklin Street stores, the mixed-use development will include more than 600 residential units, with up to 25 per cent allocated to affordable housing, and additional car parking for the QVM for up to 500 vehicles. Any shops in the ground floor of the development cannot include a supermarket or the products offered in the Market. The heritage listed Franklin Street stores will be restored and returned to the City of Melbourne for retail, hospitality or other uses that purportedly complement the Market. The Southern Site development will also involve removal of the Franklin Street roundabout with the loss of a group of mature eucalyptus trees.
Continuing Objections to the QVM Redevelopment
Despite the changes to the original Master Plan, significant objections over some fundamental aspects of the QVM redevelopment remain. A major concern relates to the changes to the nature of trading in the market. A constant feature of the redevelopment has been to relocate underground the delivery and handling of produce that has always been a feature of the trading area. A widespread and continuing concern is that this and other changes to the design and operation of the QVM will sanitise it, making it more akin to a supermarket and greatly dilute the market experience that generations of Melbournians and visitors have valued.
The RHSV has made detailed submissions on these issues. We have argued that
It is clear that the planned transformation of the market’s operation will lead to exactly what people have opposed all along. The attempt to hide ‘back of house’ operations by central unloading and discreet movement of goods goes against the value of movement, which, the report found, are part of what shoppers and visitors value … The heritage value of the Market is at the basis of its attraction to customers and tourists. It operates today in the same mode as when it began operation in 1878, with stallholders bringing goods to their stall in their conveyances, putting up their stalls and operating from their conveyances … Attempts to improve the market must build on that value, not undermine it.
The Friends of Queen Victoria Market have expressed similar concerns, saying the changes risk the QVM developing a ‘shopping centre’ mode of operation’, with fewer traders operating in a ‘boutique market’ and entertainment precinct.
The Current State of Play
- In May 2020, the $30 million project to repair, conserve and restore the market’s open-air sheds commenced. Work is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
- Work is underway on greater weather protection under the open-air sheds. In December, Heritage Victoria granted an exemption to construct a prototype canopy between E and F Sheds for a 12-month trial. Subject to the outcomes of the trial, plans for a full length canopy from Peel to Queen streets will be submitted to Heritage Victoria for approval.
- In June, Melbourne City Council endorsed a framework for the developing the new open space on the current customer carpark. Choice of an Aboriginal place name for the space in consultation with Traditional Owner groups was also endorsed.
- An application to install a refrigerated display unit approximately 2.1 metres high and 3.7 metres wide in I Shed was rejected by Heritage Victoria in October 2021 on the grounds that ‘it would set a precedent … that would lead to significant change in traditional display methods of produce’, it would be inconsistent with ‘maintaining the visual setting of the place’, and that and other viable alternatives exist.
 Lovell Chen Queen Victoria Market 513 Elizabeth St, Melbourne Conservation Management Plan Appendix B History of the Queen Victoria Market https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/qvm-cmp-appendix-b.pdf April 2017; Allom Lovell & Associates Queen Victoria Market Elizabeth Street Melbourne – Conservation Development Plan https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/qvm-conservation-management-plan.pdf ; https://qvm.com.au/history/
 Siu-Ling Hui Queen Victoria Market: History, Recipes, Stories pp 18-20
 ArchitectureAU 16 Aug 2018 https://architectureau.com/articles/peoples-panel-to-steer-queen-vic-market-redevelopment/
 City of Melbourne https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/building-and-development/urban-planning/local-area-planning/queen-victoria-market-precinct-renewal-plan/project-planning-framework/Pages/improving-market-facilities.aspx
 https://www.historyvictoria.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/statement-on-qvm-panel.pdf ; https://www.historyvictoria.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/RHSV-Submission-to-MCC-re-Discontinuance-19.10.16.pdf
Click here to read the full list of RHSV QVM submissions, 2018 to 2020
Click here to read the RHSV submission of 26 July 2021 on Refrigerated Display Units
Click here to read the RHSV submission of 26 October 2021
Click here to read the RHSV submission of 12 September 2022 on Lockable Sheds
Click here to read the RHSV submission of 29 August 2023