A likely heritage listing could derail the Victorian government plan to help tech giant Apple to establish a “flagship” store at Federation Square.
Heritage Victoria late last week confirmed it had recommended that the civic square be included in the Victorian Heritage Register, after it was nominated by the National Trust in August.
There will now be two months of public consultations before Heritage Victoria makes its final decision by the end of the year or in early 2019. But it is likely that the listing will go ahead.
The Victorian government announced late last year that it had secretly given planning approval for an Apple store at Federation Square, with ministerial powers utilised to avoid a public consultation. The plan involves the demolition of the current Yarra building to make way for the new store.
Despite the announcement being made just days before Christmas 2017, it garnered widespread public outcry, with anger over the commercialisation of a public space and lack of public consultation.
The heritage recommendation has thrown the plans to demolish an existing building to construct an Apple store in its place into jeopardy.
A heritage listing would not prevent the Apple store entirely, but would require the global tech giant to seek a permit from Heritage Victoria to demolish the building, and conduct public consultation.
National Trust (Victoria) CEO Simon Ambrose said the recommendation to heritage list the site is a “great result”.
“We are very pleased that Heritage Victoria has deemed that Federation Square is worthy of inclusion on the state and territory register. It’s a great result,” Mr Ambrose told InnovationAus.com.
“All Victorians should have a say on their Federation Square and its future, and we’re very grateful for Heritage Victoria for looking at it so practically and quickly,” he said.
The Heritage Council of Victoria found that Federation Square meets five of the criteria to warrant inclusion at a state level, including for its importance to the course of Victoria’s cultural history, its strong association with a particular community and importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement at a particular period.
“Federation Square is socially significant to the Victorian community as the state’s preeminent civic space for public gatherings. It has been regularly used in times of celebration, grief and protest, such as the Iraq War demonstration in 2003,” the report said.
If the site is heritage listed, Apple would have to apply to the executive director of Heritage Victoria for a permit to enable them to demolish the Yarra building to make way for the new store.
The permit is meant to “enable appropriate change to a place and to effectively manage adverse impacts on the cultural heritage significance of a place as a consequence of the change”.
While the National Trust is not theoretically against the Apple store at Federation Square, Mr Ambrose said more public consultation needs to be undertaken, and a proper “masterplan” for the overall site needs to be developed.
“We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re not anti-development at all. If it’s the right thing for the Apple store to be a part of Federation Square, then that’s fine,” he said.
“But what we’re asking for is appropriate community consultation and an appropriate masterplan for the whole site, and whether that includes the Apple store.”
“If it’s deemed that Apple is appropriate for the site through the masterplan and consultation, then that’s fine. What we’re saying is the site is worthy of inclusion on the heritage register, and that as part of the process the community should have a say on its use.”
The state government has labelled the move “unprecedented” and claimed that Federation Square, at just 16 years old, is too young to be heritage-listed.
But Heritage Victoria goes to lengths to justify granting heritage listing to such a young site.
“The site has been deemed to be worthy of inclusion because experts have looked at it and said no matter how old it is, that it has won a whole stack of heritage awards, it’s part of Victoria’s culture and it’s where people meet in Melbourne,” Mr Ambrose said.
There’s no other place like that, it’s a public space and it’s an important place for the future of all Victorians.
““It doesn’t matter if it’s two years old, if it has that ability to garner the support from the community then there’s a place for people to be involved in it, and it’s appropriate that it’s deemed to be worthy of inclusion.”
It comes as the secretive process behind how the state government agreed to the store was revealed through documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The documents revealed that the plans for the store were not revealed to the general public or local council in an effort to protect Apple’s efforts and deny other states the chance to bid for the store.
The documents also showed that the claim that the new store will bring an additional two million visitors to Federation Square was based solely on Apple’s own figures.