The Victorian government’s plan for a “flagship” Apple store at Federation Square are over after Heritage Victoria rejected an application to demolish part of the Melbourne public space.
The plans were announced more than a year ago and have been dogged by controversy for the state government ever since. The primary issues concerned a lack of transparency over the planning permits, the commercialisation of the public space, and the design of the new Apple building.
On Friday afternoon Heritage Victoria announced that it had rejected an application to demolish the Yarra building at Federation Square to make way for the store.
The Victorian government soon confirmed that the store would not be going ahead, and announced a review into the financial and governance arrangements of Federation Square.
“Apple and the Victorian government have acknowledged that based on Heritage Victoria’s decision, the proposed Apple global flagship store cannot proceed,” tourism minister Martin Pakula said in a statement.
“Today’s decision…provides an opportunity to rethink the future vision of the iconic precinct,” he said.
Apple also confirmed that it would no longer be going ahead with the store at Federation Square.
“While we are disappointed we’re no longer able to pursue our plan for Federation Square, we remain committed to serving our customers in Melbourne and across Australia,” Apple said in a statement.
The Federation Square review would have the aim of “ensure that it continues to grow as an innovative and exciting place for our community”, and will be chaired by Victorian government architect Jill Garner and former Ernst and Young managing partner Tim Eddy.
The Koorie Heritage Trust, which would have been relocated in Federation Square if the demolition had gone ahead, will now remain in the Yarra building.
There will be public consultations as part of the review, something the Victorian government was criticised for not conducting in regards to the Apple store.
It’s a significant blow to the state government, which had stood by the controversial plan for more than a year, despite significant and widespread backlash.
Federation Square was nominated to the Victorian Heritage Register by the National Trust, with a 60-day interim heritage order then applied to it. Hearings were set to be held this month to determine the fate of the heritage listing, but at the start of the year Federation Square management applied for a permit to demolish the building anyway.
This permit was rejected by Heritage Victoria as it would have resulted in an “unacceptable and irreversible detrimental impact on the cultural heritage significance of Federation Square”.
The proposed development was for a “visually dominant” stand-alone building that would have detracted from the “design language of the existing buildings and public square” and encroach on public space, Heritage Victoria ruled.
“It has not been sufficiently demonstrated that the requirements of a more a conventional retail or commercial outlet could not be met without having such a significant impact, or that the proposed development is required or necessary to ensure the economic viability or use of Federation Square as a whole,” Heritage Victoria said in its ruling.
“The negative impacts of the proposal are not outweighed by the benefits, including the economic benefits.”
It comes after the Melbourne City Council also resoundingly rejected Apple’s “completely undercooked” application after it received more than a thousand submissions from the public on the matter.
The Apple store was announced by the Victorian government at the end of 2017, but last year’s election saw its two primary supporters in government – then-tourism minister John Eren and then-innovation minister Philip Dalidakis – removed from Cabinet.
But re-elected premier Daniel Andrews stood by the store, and said that jobs and economic benefits would go to Sydney if it wasn’t established at Federation Square.
“My position has always been: do we really want this thing to go to Sydney, and all the jobs and all the opportunities that come from it? That’s not my view,” Mr Andrews said last year.
Federation Square management has also argued that there would be “considerable adverse economic impact” and a “decline in commercial activity at Federation Square” if the store did not go ahead.
The “flagship” Apple store would have been the only one of its type on the southern hemisphere, with claims it would bring an additional 2 million people to the Square each year. But documents later revealed that this figure was based entirely on Apple’s own claims.