Please write to Heritage Victoria AGAIN!
Although Heritage Victoria recently refused to grant a heritage permit to build a 5-room school building on St Mary’s paddock, another application was lodged last week, for a similar building, this time on the current playground and for the playground to be relocated to the site of the heritage swimming pool.
This was mooted over the past few weeks by the applicant, Sophia Mundi Steiner school, in a cleverly designed media campaign publicising endorsement of this proposal by neighbouring Collingwood Children’s farm.
The current application is, by their own admission, not dissimilar to the one that was refused by Heritage Victoria two months ago, however, because the building is now sited within the existing school boundary, a replacement play area was identified, thereby actually increasing the heritage open space to be locked up along with the rest of their lease for the next 20 years.
(From experience, we remain sceptical of any assurances by the ACF (see the Media Release: ACF approves new plans for Steiner school – with conditions) that these and other locked up spaces will be opened up to the public on weekends. Indeed at a recent public meeting, members of the Board dismissed a suggestion from the floor to test the practicality of enforcing these conditions by trialling some public access straightaway.)
There was no attempt in the Permit application documents to address the first three ‘Reasons for refusal to grant a Permit’. Furthermore, we strongly contest that the proposal conforms to the intent and spirit of the Master plan – which is the document defining the responsibilities of the ACF to protect the heritage open spaces in perpetuity on behalf of the people of Victoria.
We ask you to write to Heritage Victoria (again!) to ask that this current permit application be refused. Deadline for submissions is 10th August.
Below is a sample letter: you can copy it directly into an email and/or modify it and attach it to an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Just add your name and contact details at the bottom.
Jim Gard’ner, Executive Director
Dear Mr Gard’ner,
I write to object to Permit application P17343 Former Convent of the Good Shepherd.
The Abbotsford Convent was saved from private development 10 years ago to become restored for public use and for its heritage value and significance to be protected and enjoyed for all Victorians.
The planned private school takeover of the swimming pool area and surrounds amounts to a land grab and annexation of the site from the public for their own organisation’s purpose and comes at a great cost to the public.
The school’s central argument that it’s a ‘good use for a significant disused feature’ is a misreading of the site. The Convent site has some unused areas. It started off as completely ‘disused’ to be developed and ‘used’ by the public. This process has come a long way and is continually evolving. Handing over portions for private use is not in keeping with the vision of the community that sought to wrest it from private developers.
The area in question is over 1000 square metres (which would equate to the size of about 5 average blocks in Abbotsford!). This would disappear from public ownership and could not be fully restored for public use.
The proposed new building of four classrooms will be the first since the public has had the site and is contradictory to the Vision of the Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF) ‘to conserve and enhance the heritage assets of the Convent in their historical context whilst ensuring maximum access and amenity to all precinct users’. The intent of the Master plan is for the rectification and restoration of the Convent buildings and gardens to conserve and enhance the heritage value and significance of the entire site.
The building will:
- Fracture and fragment an open public area into smaller pockets;
- Detract from the heritage and fabric of the Convent and in particular the views of the St Mary’s building from the bike path and the context of the site in relationship to farm and river; and
- Detract from its unique quality and significance as a heritage site and public open space in close proximity to the Yarra river.
Handover of public land should be seen as deplorable.
Such places are increasingly rare, especially in inner urban areas, where the demands of increased population make pockets of tranquility even more precious. Once lost, such public open spaces can never be restored.
The Heritage Act 1995 states one of its main purposes is ‘to provide for the protection and conservation of places and objects of cultural heritage significance’. As such, it is your responsibility to protect this site and the public’s interest with regards to the site.
I urge you reject this application.