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No Heritage Overlay for Ashburton’s Commercial Precinct

A 5:4 majority of Boroondara Council’s Urban Planning Committee voted last night not to pursue a heritage overlay on Ashburton’s High Street.

The Heritage Overlay proposal was highly contentious among High Street’s traders and the broader Ashburton community. A petition against it attracted over 900 signatures. Those who spoke at the meeting cited the private, social and economic impact heritage overlay would have on their ability to operate their businesses and the development potential of Ashburton’s High Street for more housing.

However, as the project’s officer pointed out several times at the meeting, these potential impacts are not consideration factors in a heritage overlay decision. It ultimately comes down to whether the High Street Precinct met:

Criterion A: ‘importance to the course, or pattern of the City of Boroondara’s cultural or natural history (historical significance)’.

Criterion D: ‘importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural or natural places or environments (representativeness).

Not worthy of heritage protection
You could argue - as the heritage consultants did - that what makes Ashburton “Ashburton!” is the mishmash of old, decaying brick buildings in various styles that comprise its High Street.

The councillors who supported the proposal noted that Council places great value on heritage and relies on independent advice to make unpopular decisions. Perhaps, they argued, people’s appreciation will change in the future and they may be grateful of the protection.

One noted that the entire shopping precinct is charming and that there is a consistent fabric across the street, with beautiful frontages at ground level and above.

The problem was that the people of Ashburton did not want “Ashburton!” to be represented by a mishmash of old, decaying brick buildings in various styles on High Street.

In their submissions though, they focused on the potential private, social and economic impacts of it. Although the Council received a high number of objections, they could not be taken into account much because they did not argue against the Criterions.

But, as one guest speaker noted, the criterion are designed to ensure a positive outcome.

It seems that despite Council's reassurances to the contrary, residents of Ashburton firmly believe that a heritage overlay on their property will adversely affect them economically.

Fortunately for the Ashburton representatives, several councillors came to their rescue. They pointed out that there was no one building in the High Street that stood out as worthy or notable.

Who comes to Ashburton’s High Street just to look at the buildings as they do for Auburn or Maling Roads?

One councillor noted that it was already ‘sailing close to the wind for heritage protection’ and if they agreed to protect this precinct, it will potentially demean other areas of more significance.

Cr Franco stated that when the heritage overlay went on the Whitehorse Road Precinct in Balwyn, one shop-owner went to great personal cost to have it removed. He argued that with so much community opposition, perhaps Council’s resources are better deployed gaining heritage protection where people actually want it. As Cr Hollingsworth pointed out the same thing could happen here for owners of individual buildings on High Street.

In the end, the Committee raised a motion to abandon the Heritage Overlay proposal for High Street and it passed with five in favour and four dissenters.

You can read about the background to the Heritage Overlay in my post on it. It includes a link to the original report.

If you're having trouble sleeping, you can watch the full Committee meeting on YouTube

The original idea stemmed from a widespread review Boroondara Council undertook in 2021 to identify heritage gaps. Here is the report for Ashburton.

And now, back to researching soccer in Ashburton!

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