Image © Forbidden Places

H division likely to go as Pentridge's rebirth gathers momentum

During the latter months of 2013 the constant hum of demolition and bulk excavation emanated from behind the walls of Pentridge Prison, once Melbourne's premier correctional facility.  Nothing particularly out of the ordinary given the "Bluestone College's" slow transformation into a medium to high density residential enclave.  Yet the latest planning application for the site's northern bounds seeks to demolish a slice of Melbourne's disreputable history.

Second only to the comparatively short lived and brutal Jika Jika unit, the notorious H division within Pentridge was an area of high security where prisoners were kept as a form of discipline or held for their own protection.  Such was the harshness of H division, the likes of Mark Brandon "Chopper" Reed found it fit to cut his ears off in order to escape the wing during the late 1970's, if only temporarily.

Fast forward to present and State planning body DTPLI is considering the merits of a planning application which seeks to demolish H division and replace it in part with dual seven level apartments buildings.  With plans currently displayed under DTPLI's heritage page, those in charge must now determine whether this notorious piece of Melbourne's history will disappear forever. 

Architecture firm PRO-ARK has devised the scheme designated 1 Champ Street on behalf of Shayher Group (itself an affiliate to Taiwanese conglomerate Pau Jar Group), which has a number of high profile developments within Australia including the impressive 300 George Street development in Brisbane. Within the Pentridge development, 46 apartments are expected over seven level 'east' and 'west' apartment blocks.

Of the 46 dwellings, 41 will carry two bedrooms while the remainder will consist of three bedrooms, with apartment sizes ranging between 73 square metres and 114 square metres - and large balconies to boot.  Somewhat impressive is the development teams stance that no single bedroom dwellings be included with the development; a rarity in contemporary apartment developments.  This may be explained away to a degree by the immediate site surrounds where large, multi-bedroom dwellings hold sway whilst in the wider context Pentridge's surrounds are dominated by older, family dwellings where many of Melbourne's early migrants still reside.

Overall the development if delivered will add an extra 46 cars to the area by the way of an underground car park.  In addition 28 bicycle spaces are provided for with 3 set aside for visitors.

New development plans the above may be, but they are certainly not the first to grace Pentridge's northern precinct aka Pentridge Piazza.  A far back as a decade ago a sixteen level apartment block was slated for the corner site directly north of 1 Champ Street, which would have featured a podium art piece sculpted to resemble the mask of Ned Kelly.

Subsequently, now failed developer Valad Property Group put to market Air at Pentridge apartments as the first public offering if its 6.5 hectare development site.  Featuring 259 apartments in a scheme designed by Rothe Lowman, the 18 level tower (seen below left) was to be the first of a number of skyscrapers for the site.  With its fractal facade Air at Pentridge was to feature a host of environmental initiatives such as rainwater harvesting, solar hot water and dual wind turbines located at the towers peak, whilst also setting new benchmarks for apartments living in the City's north. 

Saddled with debt, Valad consequently listed the site for sale during 2011 and in the process put to rest notions of a grand master-planned precinct high in amenity and dotted with cafe/retail spaces.

In submitting their evidence for 1 Champ Street, heritage architecture and urban design firm Bryce Raworth explains that H division amongst other existing buildings is of primary significance according to the Pentridge Conservation Management Plan, yet "given the constraints posed by the way the highly significant early buildings are located across the site, there is little option but for part of Road A (service road) to run through the eastern portion of H Division."  Bryce Raworth summarises the loss of H division with the following, "Although it will result in a substantial and readily appreciable change to the character and appearance of the place, it will also provide an opportunity for the revitalisation of the historic building stock and for conservation works that are, in many instances, long overdue."

The application shows Shayher Group controls the current plot under planning assessment, yet for the sake of the overall Pentridge development one hopes that whoever the owns the balance is prepared to action plans to redevelop the site which has been dormant for the best part of 17 years.

Submissions regarding 1 Champ Street were due New Yars Day, with a decision on awarding planning approval or otherwise to follow in coming months.


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