An “unprecedented” heritage-listing of Federation Square could put the Victorian government plan for a ‘flagship’ Apple Store in jeopardy, with community groups planning to take the issue to the state election.
Late last year the state announced that the Yarra Building in Federation Square would be demolished to make way for an Apple Store. The move was met with major public backlash over the commercialisation of the public space, and a lack of transparency over the planning permits that were granted without public consultation.
A redesign of the planned building was revealed last month, but did little to stem the criticism of the project. The potential heritage listing of Federation Square could prevent the Apple Store as a community group prepares to ramp up its lobbying efforts against the project in the lead up to November’s state election.
The National Trust’s nomination of Federation Square to the Victorian Heritage Register was accepted by Heritage Victoria last week. A 60-day interim heritage order has now been applied to the public space in Melbourne’s CBD while the nomination is assessed, preventing any demolition or construction work in the square.
If the application is successful and Federation Square is included on the Victorian Heritage Register, it would not necessarily block the Apple Store, but it would be required to apply for an assessment and permission from Heritage Victoria for the planned work.
National Trust of Australia (Victoria) chief executive Simon Ambrose said Federation Square should be recognised as a “place of historical, architectural, aesthetic and social significance to the state”.
“With significant changes proposed at Federation Square, we have fast-tracked our nomination to ensure there is a coordinated approach which takes into account the architectural and cultural significance of this important place,” Mr Ambrose said.
“Additionally, the lack of transparency has been concerning, with no attempt to consult Victorians – the very people who Federation Square was built for.”
The National Trust has also called on Federation Square to produce a “masterplan” through public consultation that would guide future developments on the site.
The heritage application has been slammed by the Victorian government, with tourism minister John Eren labelling it an “unprecedented” move, that wouldn’t stop the Apple Store or the construction of the Metro Tunnel.
“It would be unprecedented to heritage list a site that is only 16 years old, and to do so could lead to significant implications for future projects. This will not stop us delivering the Metro Tunnel and other vital projects that are good for Melbourne and good for jobs,” Mr Eren said in a statement.
Mr Ambrose said the nomination is the result of 12 months of consultations with heritage and architectural representatives, and is not without precedent, with the VFL grandstand at Waverley Park receiving a heritage listing 24 years after it was built.
Community group Citizens for Melbourne, which was formed earlier this year to oppose the plans for an Apple store at Federation Square, has welcomed the news.
“It’s excellent news. It gives the government a chance to reset and rethink about the cultural significance of the square,” Citizens for Melbourne president and architect Tania Davidge told InnovationAus.com.
“It’s an architectural benchmark worldwide for public space. International critics have written about it and used it as a benchmark for public space worldwide,” she said.
“It’s a really outstanding example of deconstructivist architecture. There aren’t that many international examples of this type of architecture, and it was built during a period of economic depression. To get a significant set of buildings like that was unusual.”
The group now plans to lobby state politicians across the spectrum in the lead up to the November state election.
“We are planning on taking it to the election. That’s always been our plan from the get go. We know that there are some marginal seats that can be lobbied and we are chatting with all the political parties and independents all the way up to the election, and hopefully we can influence the decision making process,” Ms Davidge said.
“In terms of money, Fed Square is actually a very small drop in the bucket, especially for a government that is making such a huge infrastructure spend. But in terms of the effect on public space in Melbourne it would be huge.”
The state opposition does not yet have a formal position on the Apple Store, but a Greens motion to revoke the planning permits for the store was voted down by both major parties in Parliament earlier this year.