The following article was published in ‘The Age’ newspaper on December 29th and includes quotes from SP Councillor Stephen Jolly.
In the shadows of Melbourne’s grand Royal Exhibition Building there is a column of sandstone that at first glance resonates only as a century-old dummy spit.
By Andrew Tate, The Age.
Erected by MP John Woods in the 1880s, this monument to powerlessness in the face of deal-making was erected at his insistence “to express his indignation of the choice of New South Wales stone for Parliament House and to show the enduring qualities of local stone”.
Well, good on John Woods. Thanks to him we know to this day that our Parliament House is an interstate ring-in. It would appear impostors claiming to represent the community are not just a recent phenomenon on Spring Street.
Less than 50 metres from Woods’ Stawell-quarried sandstone, visitors to the Carlton gardens will find a pile of old marble columns â€” the sad remains of the Colonial Mutual Life building, a magnificent edifice demolished from the corner of Collins and Elizabeth streets in 1960 as Melbourne sold itself out as one of the world’s great Victorian-era cities.
Throughout the CBD, similar scars of past planning mistakes abound. How did these atrocities happen, how could we trade the majestic for the cheap and the nasty? The answer is, of course, all too easily. Unblemished by war, Marvellous Melbourne instead succumbed to cultural cringe, greed and apathy.
Now we have the State Government’s flawed Melbourne 2030 planning guidelines and the eyesores are on another push to the suburbs. And while the renewal of urban areas, higher density living, and creative design are all to be applauded â€” three, five and seven-storey developments in historic residential streets are the modern equivalent of “Whelan the Wrecker is here”.
But be warned, for those residents ready to make a stand, prepare yourself for the paper chase. It will suddenly become clearer how bad things happen to beautiful streetscapes. It is not that no one cares, it’s just that people get ground down by the bureaucracy, red tape and the scorn of the “experts”. In my inner-city neighbourhood, the past three years have been marked by opposition to several intrusive developments. The process is long and tortuous and many objectors are lost along the way as they are required to lodge multiple forms, detail objections in planning speak and attend mid-week VCAT hearings to ensure their view is heard. What chance for the elderly and those from non-English-speaking backgrounds?
Just before Christmas the annual ritual started again as the developers’ yellow planning application signs sprang up in the weeks when potential objectors may be lost to the festive season.
In our street a project already opposed by the council, but successfully ploughed through VCAT, has returned â€” bulkier, uglier and with more units. It would appear the earlier “sympathetic” design was merely a Trojan horse for an even less community-minded development.
Speculators looking to huge paydays have the resources and the incentive to dominate the resulting planning process, not so those paying a mortgage who just want the history, integrity and ambience of their neighbourhood preserved.
There’s often little time for outrage to govern daily life. It’s also not as if all the minutia to which you are about to subject yourself is going to change things that much. With your local council hamstrung by Melbourne 2030, that flow of solicitors’ letters, experts’ reports and angst pouring through your front door is seemingly only to prompt the most minor of changes to the published plans.
Even if your community maintains a core group of objectors who follow the process through to the often bitter end, it ultimately won’t guarantee saving the trees, the views or the character of the neighbourhood.
In Fitzroy, ratepayers have responded to the domination of the money men by turning further to the left, with City of Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly â€” the first Socialist Party representative elected to office in Australia since the Second World War. Jolly maintains that much of his first term was spent dealing with communities under pressure from developers. “It’s one series of bushfires after another,” he has said.
Jolly believes residents who do oppose development are in a David and Goliath battle and face a process whereby the view of the community through local elected representatives can be readily overturned by an administrative body.
And while the process takes its toll, many residents await some tangible community benefit from the millions of dollars apparently being made from the fire sale of our streetscapes.
Even now, with its re-election out of the way, the Government could tinker with the balance and start backing communities, heritage and liveability over development at all costs.
Yes, Melbourne must plan for future growth, but those ruined columns of the Colonial Mutual Life building send a clear message about how carefully we should proceed. Failing that, it appears Woods had it right all those years ago. It could well be that the only recourse for weary residents is to start erecting sandstone monuments to express disgust at the impostors in our midst. Try it in your street: “Erected at our insistence to express indignation at the Bracks Government’s failure to protect this neighbourhood from speculators, spivs and architects pulling a cheque.”
Name the culprits in bronze. Sign it and date it like Woods did all those years ago. Then, at least, future generations will know who stood up, and who did the damage.
Andrew Tate is a staff writer and an objector to a development in Gore Street, Fitzroy.