An issue that the RHSV has been involved in is the protection of heritage buildings and areas within Melbourne’s central business district (known as the ‘Hoddle Grid’ after Robert Hoddle who laid it out in the mid-nineteenth century). In 2018, the City of Melbourne began a review of the protection provided to buildings in high-growth areas such as the central business district, and the result was a thorough and comprehensive re-examination of all the buildings and precincts within the city and a detailed set of recommendations contained in a report, the Hoddle Grid Heritage Review, released in 2020. This was the first review of heritage buildings in the central city since the 1990s and the largest study of post-war heritage buildings in the city to date.
The review recommended that Heritage Overlays be applied to 137 individual places within the Hoddle Grid, including 82 that were new. Heritage Overlays are a planning tool used in the Melbourne Planning Scheme to protect places of heritage significance, which can be applied to individual places or to a defined area known as a heritage precinct. The review also recommended the application of Heritage Overlays to five precincts within the Hoddle Grid:
- Little Lonsdale Street Precinct (between Russell and Exhibition Streets)
- Flinders Lane East Precinct (between Russell and Spring Streets)
- Drewery Lane Precinct (on Swanston St between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale Streets)
- Swanston Street South (between Little Collins and Bourke Streets)
- Swanston Street North (between Little Bourke and Lonsdale Streets)
The review completed work that should have been done long ago. Many Victorian and Edwardian (that is, pre-1914) buildings in the city were without heritage protection because it had been thought that there were many such buildings of similar quality and that only the outstanding examples needed to be protected. But imperceptibly at first there were significant losses of these buildings, and then in the twenty-first century huge losses, to the extent that it has now become crucial that protection is given the surviving examples.
Equally important is protection for more recent heritage. The attractive Art Deco architecture of the inter-war period (1918 to 1939) and the Modernist buildings of the post-war period (1945 to 1975) are now increasingly important to the city’s character and history. The post-war architecture in particular represents a period of growing prosperity, confidence and optimism, in which Melbourne emerged as an international city. Formerly these post-war buildings were considered to be too recent to be deserving of heritage protection. The Hoddle Grid Heritage Review corrected this by including a significant number of them among its recommendations for individual Heritage Overlays. 55 of the individual places identified by the review were constructed in the post-war period.
The Royal Mail House on the corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets, build in 1961-63, is a highly intact example of a post-war Modernist commercial building.
The recommendations of the Hoddle Grid Heritage Review report released in 2020 needed to be considered by the Victorian State Government. This process involved the review report being considered by a Victorian State Government Planning Panel, which could accept or reject its recommendations. The Planning Panel’s findings took the form of a proposed amendment to the Planning and Environment Act 1987, which would implement those aspects of the review report’s recommendations that the Planning Panel accepted. Final approval for this amendment to the Act then lies in the hands of the Minister for Planning.
The amendments to the Act proposed by the Planning Panel in this case were known as Amendment C387. This was released for public comment in 2020 and included practically all of the Hoddle Grid Heritage Review’s recommendations. It was exhibited for public consultation in late 2020 and received submissions from various interested parties, including one from the RHSV that was strongly supportive of the Amendment. However of the 66 submissions received, 44 were opposed to various aspects of it. These were mainly from developers and owners of buildings who regarded the application of Heritage Overlays to their buildings as a problem that would limit the commercial value of their properties.
Despite strenuous opposition from developers and owners, the Planning Panel in its final report released in November 2021 recommended that Amendment C387 be adopted with only minor changes. This meant that 133 individual buildings in the Hoddle Grid would be protected by Heritage Overlays, as would all five of the precincts listed above. The Panel described the Hoddle Grid Heritage Review as ‘a solid and robust body of work’ that ‘provides an appropriate foundation for the Amendment’.
The RHSV regards this outcome as a significant win for heritage protection. The Amendment, if approved by the Minister, will provide a sound and solid base for the protection of heritage buildings and precincts within the Hoddle Grid. It provides ample opportunity for development to occur to accommodate future growth, while ensuring that the heritage character that makes the city so charming and attractive is maintained.