Advocating for our heritage

Save the Brickworks was delighted to present on Protecting heritage in Victoria to Clifford Hayes MLC and Samantha Ratnam MLC, members of the Legislative Council Environment and Planning Committee that is enquiring into Protections within the Victorian Planning Framework. Our submission focused on the Hoffman brickworks as a case study of what can go wrong, offering some straightforward suggestions to improve the Victoria’s heritage protection system. Here is our full submission and our presentation.

Reflecting on the initial heritage recognition of the Brickworks back in the 1980s – a time when the brickworks was still operating – Chris Johnston pointed to the agreements, the planning scheme, Heritage Victoria permit and the conservation management plan that were all in place at the start of this very long journey. She described this as a strong foundation.

Ruth Giles pointed out that nearly 25 years after Sungrove purchased the brickworks in 1993, and these important agreements were reached in 1998, the heritage significance of the brickworks has been impacted by neglect and demolition of important buildings, poor interpretation, failure to establish a heritage maintenance fund, and an increased number of apartments. And for residents who bought in believing in the marketing spin that the brickworks would be a vibrant living and cultural space, they have been impacted by those years of living in a neglected and at times dangerous site.

Megan McDougall emphasised these key points, based on the many lessons highlighted in our submission:

  1. Heritage Victoria permits need to be enforceable beyond the life of the permit. 
  2. Enforcement of permits and breaches needs to be effective and swift. This is not currently the case for both Heritage Victoria and local government. The constraints mean that both end up as ‘toothless tigers’.
  3. Major redevelopment of heritage sites such as the Brickworks needs an agreed, legally enforceable master plan – supported by local and state government and community – that serves as the basis for assessing permit applications.
  4. Neglect has been an important issue at the Brickworks and stronger action was needed. Under the Heritage Act, Heritage Victoria can take action when a building falls into disrepair to the extent that its existence is threatened. Proactive monitoring of the condition of all Victorian Heritage Register places is needed. This may require more funding for Heritage Victoria, regular condition audits, and effective follow-up action where serious deterioration is reported.

In summing up Megan said: ‘We are all saddened by the appalling outcome at this site, with the undoubtable loss of significance.  But if lessons can be learned, it may lead to better outcomes at other significant sites in the future.’

Questions from Committee members explored issues around enforcement, established agreements and the reasons these failed. Thanks to Chris Johnston, Ruth Giles, Megan McDougall & Hannah Lynn for preparing and presenting our submission to the Committee members.

Demolition of the former Steam Engine House

Yesterday – 25 January 2022 – Heritage Victoria granted a permit for the demolition of large brick Steam Engine House building that faces Dawson Street. Tomorrow, we have been told, demolition will start.

Heritage Victoria plans to share the permit decision via their website tomorrow. At the same time, the walls will be coming down forever.

Heritage Victoria has provided a Q&A document this evening in response to our urgent emails to them. It’s here for you to read and weep. While contamination is at the heart of the decision, the failure to adequately maintain this building and the adjoining Brick Pressing Shed has contributed significantly to this devastating outcome.

Sungrove Corporation has failed to deliver what it has repeatedly promised, and this outcome raises serious questions about the adequacy of Victoria’s heritage legislation to protect our most significant industrial sites.

When the granted demolition permit is available, we will also share it with you.

And for those who missed it, this article in the Brunswick Voice describes the reasons for the demolition of the Brick Pressing Shed which started in December 2021.