The Victorian Opposition has finally made its position known on the state government’s plans for a “flagship” Apple store at Federation Square. It doesn’t like the idea.
Nine months after plans for the controversial store were revealed, involving the Yarra Building being demolished, the state Liberal Party has come out against the move. But it’s still unclear whether it would move to revoke the planning amendment if it wins the upcoming November election.
Speaking to the media earlier this week, opposition leader Matthew Guy said the public space was not the right fight for a global corporation like Apple.
“You’ve got places like Tiananmen Square or Trafalgar Square. You don’t stick a retail store in the middle of them. They’re public spaces. I think public spaces are for the public, not corporations,” Mr Guy said.
It was a surprise announcement from the opposition after it had previously opposed a Greens motion earlier this year to revoke the planning amendment for the store.
It comes after Heritage Victoria last week implemented a four-month interim protection order over Federation Square as it considers whether to heritage list the site. This order prevents the demolition of the building, but work wasn’t planned to begin into next year anyway.
Shadow planning minister David Davis has been running a public consultation on the issue, and said the Apple store could be moved to another site, such as in Docklands or above a new Metro station.
“You can’t help but feel this is a public space, this is the people’s space. This is a commercialisation of this important public space. It doesn’t seem to have a great connection to Federation and you do ask the question about whether this is the perfect fit with our museums and galleries which are very much part of this precinct,” Mr Davis said earlier this year.
Citizens for Melbourne, a community group formed to oppose the Apple Fed Square store, has welcomed the Liberal Party’s official stance.
“We applaud Matthew Guy’s recognition of the cultural and civic importance of Fed Square as a public space for all Victorians – without a retail store at its heart,” Citizens for Melbourne president Tania Davidge said.
“Given the public outcry, heritage nomination and forthcoming election, now is the right time to reassess the Apple store proposal at Fed Square.”
In December last year the Victorian government announced that a “flagship” Apple store would be built at Federation Square, in the place of the current Yarra building. It was met with widespread criticism over the privatisation of the civic space, and a lack of community consultation over the planning amendment.
But the state government has hit back at this, saying that there are already a number of commercial entities – mainly bars and restaurants – operating out of Federation Square, and that the store would bring an extra two million people to the site annually.
Innovation Minister Philip Dalidakis also said that it would be a major boost for the tech sector.
“We will be the only such global flagship store in the southern hemisphere, second outside of the US and that’s an amazing opportunity for us to speak of our tech sector and our growing importance among the tech community. We can be a beacon of light onto others,” Mr Dalidakis said earlier this year.
A redesign of the Apple store was released last month as a result of discussions between the state government, Apple, the Melbourne council and Fed Square management.
The Victorian government recently created a new steering committee to oversee the design and construction of the building after a number of issues were raised by the local council.
A potential heritage-listing could also block the Apple store. If Federation Square is awarded heritage-listing, it would not expressly prevent the demolition of the building for the store, but this would require an assessment and permission from Heritage Victoria.