Melbourne's development march claims another victim

Melbourne Heritage Action is less than impressed that a proposed student accommodation tower located at 42-50 La Trobe Street has been given the nod by City of Melbourne councillors, further eroding the limited heritage value that this particular stretch of La Trobe Street has managed to cling to.

Indeed, City of Melbourne resolved to issue a Notice of Decision to Grant Permit last Thursday evening for the project. In its most recent form which saw it land before City of Melbourne during April, 9 objectors were noted against the development which has a nominal value of $75 million.

Brisbane-based Blue Sky Funds is championing the project which would further add to the strong number of student accommodation projects currently in the Melbourne pipeline.

Melbourne Heritage Action's take on the project

Melbourne Heritage Action's response to the decision was blunt:

It’s arguably Melbourne City Council’s most shameful heritage failure in recent memory.

Councillors have variously sat on their own hands, ignored the advice of their own heritage experts, and ignored the pleas of their own constituents in allowing the demolition of the former Burton’s Livery building at 50 La Trobe Street, a gorgeous, recognised, C-graded 1868 Victorian former carriageworks, in a relatively unique (for the CBD) Italianate style.

The building was left unprotected when in 2011, Council decided to ignore the advice of THEIR OWN HERITAGE EXPERTS in allowing the demolition of its twin building at 40 La Trobe St for an apartment tower, and ignoring contemporaneous recommendations to protect the rest of the streetscape.

Melbourne Heritage Action

Appearing first on Urban Melbourne during 2015, 42-50 La Trobe Street was in the hands of DELWP. Subsequent redesigns to the project landed it below the 25,000sqm threshold, placing the project solely with City of Melbourne for the approvals process.

Hayball's depiction of a new La Trobe Street frontage

With a number of levels removed, the current scheme sees a tower of equal height to the nearby Conservatory apartment development; both will terminate at approximately 130 metres. 42-50 La Trobe Street is designed to accommodate 783 student beds in a number of configurations over 43 levels, with extensive amenities in tow.

Perhaps most salient to the article is the revamped ground level which is set to replace the 1868-era structure currently onsite.

Architects Hayball have sought to connect La Trobe Street with Bell Place which runs along the northern border of the site. The bluestone-paved laneway will be lined with active retail frontages and extensive external seating, catering for both students and the expanding population in the immediate area.

ADCO's Deakin Burwood student accommodation build

The apparent approval of 42-50 La Trobe Street adds to the already robust student accommodation development sector which is experiencing heightened activity at the moment.

On the back of recent completions at RMIT Bundoora, VUT Footscray and Monash Clayton, further builds are in progress within Melbourne's CBD and at Deakin Burwood. Additionally, GSA Group are at the tail end of the construction tender process for 205-223 Pelham Street which is set to commence shortly.

Most recently South Africa-based Redefine secured 16-32 Leicester Street on the doorstep of the CBD with intentions of bowling over the multi-level car park for another 700-bed student housing development.


Adam Ford's picture

Can I just say that on top of my recent whingeing, this is probably more generous to the countervailing perspective than balance would require.

And it's an excellent piece of journalism which encapsulates the proposal within ALL the important urban contexts.

And this remains the only Australian site,or indeed publication in any form that delivers to this bloody important niche. More power to all your arms, and let's have more of this. If it generates debate, this is surely the place for that too?

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Kram's picture

Yes a loss
I gather however that the podium of the new development was designed to accommodate the first 5 metres of the carriageworks building with the entry to the lane through the three arched openings.
- MCC saw no need to support this approach due to the lack of heritage status


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johnproctor's picture

It's not that CoM saw no need to support that approach its that they had no basis to support that approach.

The building is not heritage protected. The permit did not require a decision to allow demolition. It would have required an interim heritage protection order which while some may argue is warranted it is a way of Changing The rules on the landowner half way through the game.

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Dean's picture

Very sad. The CoM just cannot seem to learn. Important sites are being razed because of lack of action or just plain incompetence. They only have themselves to blame.

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Bilby's picture

Johnproctor, what you say might be true, but can you name a single occasion in Victoria's history where a heritage overlay was applied to a property owned by a private entity without, "...changing the rules half was through the game"? Every heritage overlay that covers privately owned real estate in this state was applied while someone owned said property, changing its status from un-heritage listed to listed.

How would this case have been any different? Unfortunately the recognition of the heritage significance of properties doesn't always neatly line up with commissioned city wide heritage studies. And no one - not even council themselves - denies the heritage importance of Melbourne's last (and very intact) 19th century carriage works showroom.

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Adam Ford's picture

John Proctor, re-read what you wrote above. "The city of Melbourne had no basis to support retention of the facade".

Incorrect. The only thing they didn't have was the means to MANDATE it.

And once again this TOTALLY BIZARRE attitude that purchasing a piece of property comes with some sort of default right to build on it. Where when and how has that principle ever become established?

Property ownership is a completely artifical legal construct, and there's nothing whatsoever inherent to the concept concerning the right to build whatever you want just because you own the land.

What you're doing by seeking to change the nature of the built form on ANY property ANYWHERE is you are seeking to affect the PUBLIC REALM, in which we all to some extent as citizens both contribute to and draw from.

So piss off to this idea that a heritage overlay applied after the purchase of the property is some kind of evil imposition. You can't therefore develop the site? Oh well. You still own exactly the same bit of land and bricks and mortar that you did five minutes ago. So nothing's changed on your property, it's only the future potential that's affected.

And you're a property developer. So you purchased this land entirely speculatively anyway. So I won't cry a single tear, and there won't be a single skerrick of actual economic damage done by limiting that speculative potential, because there are PLENTY of other potential development sites that don't have heritage buildings on them.

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johnproctor's picture

In considering the planning permit application the City of Melbourne had no basis to consider heritage, period. Without a heritage overlay demolition of the building was not in question.

In your world they could have rejected the application and just had it appealed to VCAT for approval - wouldn't that be a waste of money. The sort of money they haven't been investing Heritage Reviews for the last 30 years.

I don't care if you don't like that Adam Ford but it is a fact.

Bilby - I agree with your point. Heritage overlays are always placed on land that someone owns. What would be unusual with an interim heritage protection order is for the application for permit to trigger the response by Council. It happened recently with the Palace Theatre at the top of Bourke but generally not something that occurs.

While the position I've taken here appears to support development I'm equally (more) concerned about 'changing the rules' in favour of developers when they request it to increase yield. Eg. buy land in a height limited area or whatever and seek a site specific amendment (or a Ministerial call in) to reap more profit from a site.

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Bilby's picture

Agreed, that is also a significant issue in Melbourne, John Proctor. There is a key difference, however - in the first case, heritage implies a kind of civic ownership. Once it has become evident that a place has high heritage value (as was established by council's own advisory in this case), then there is a moral (or perhaps we could just say, civic) imperative to safeguard the aspect of the site that corresponds to this heritage. Council failed in this respect.

In the case you mention, where a developer seeks to have the rules changed in their favour, what is "lost", in civic terms, is less tangible. If more floors are added to a site than would otherwise have been the case, there may be amenity impacts, which do affect certain civic "goods" (e.g. sunlight penetration or wind effects, for example), but these can sometimes be mitigated or traded against. In the case of heritage, what is lost is not merely site specific, but cultural. The demolition of a building like Burton's Livery and Stables not only reduces urban amenity, but permanently removes a piece of the mosaic of Melbourne's cultural heritage.

Sure, we can still view photographs and talk about the age of the horse and cart in Melbourne's history in an academic way, but that built or embodied urban connection to that past will now be irrevocably cut off from the public consciousness.

Soon, it may be possible to imagine the presence of this past world in Melbourne - but it will be an impoverished, sidelined kind of imagination, lacking the impact and presence of the physical site that exists currently. As such the story of these places is diminished in civic memory.

Imagine if instead of the bland "laneway" development at the base of the student apartments, we had retained Burton's Coach Builders as a student lounge, or cafe as a permanent, physical reminder of this aspect of life and commerce in the 19th century? Many of those students would no doubt be from overseas, and just by virtue of the unique identity of this space, would gain an immediate insight into Melbourne's past, it's history of development as a colony and its place in the industrial revolution. But as it is, they will arrive at their dormitory spaces in 2018 to find nothing more than a contemporary streetscape of glass and aluminium that says little more about the place they are studying in than the airport terminal through which they entered the country. This is the opportunity cost of heritage lost.

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theboynoodle's picture

And once again this TOTALLY BIZARRE attitude that purchasing a piece of property comes with some sort of default right to build on it. Where when and how has that principle ever become established?

Well we can get deeply into legal philosophy if you like, but Australia broadly works along the anglo-saxon principle that everything is legal until legislated otherwise. So the default position is that if you own a piece of property then you can do whatever the damn hell you like with it.

When it comes to development, however, all sorts of restrictions are placed on landowners which, when combined, for broad parameters within which the landowner can, again, do whatever the damn hell he likes.

I totally dispute the idea that this right to build on your own property is 'bizarre'. I think it's natural and proper.. but perhaps we occupy opposite sides of a philosophical debate on that point. I think it's the job of the law to place such restrictions on the rights of landowners so as to maintain order, represent the interests of those impacted, and deal with the externalities of development.

This case isn't a failure of the core principles of planning law, it's a failure of the application of those potential frameworks to the site in question.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

^ It'd be interesting to see how this property rights has evolved since the Magna Carta - just doing a little bit of reading on the background of MC and found that there are still 3 parts of the MC that are a part of English law and most other sections have been superseded by other laws.

But around 1788, it'd be interesting to see how the law on property rights was written (and how it was interpreted) and transported to NSW.

I know there's a fair few property lawyers on here/viewing the site - there's going to be a chain (of statutes - Vic/AU/English) that we could be able to trace back to the MC, no?

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Bilby's picture

The idea that property owners have the right to "do whatever they want" with their property is an overly convenient fiction, however. There has never been such a situation in Australia, even in colonial times, controls such as prohibitions on quarrying within town boundaries, certain types of trade and other uses have existed over most subdivisions ever since the land first was regulated by the crown in the 18th and 19th centuries. It should therefore not come as a surprise that property continues to be regulated in these ways today, despite the fact that the powerful still find ways to influence the authorities to leverage additional speculative value from their property, at the expense of the wider community.

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