Heat on historic buildings’ owners to tidy up city’s gateway corners

Ian Bushnell 16 October 2019 18
The Sydney building

The Sydney and Melbourne buildings have deteriorated in recent years. Photo: File.

With light rail bringing a new focus to Northbourne Avenue, the City Renewal Authority has the heritage-listed but run-down Sydney and Melbourne buildings in its sights, waving the legislative stick to encourage some of the many individual owners to upgrade their premises.

It has written to city stakeholders and the owners proposing legislation that would enable the Sydney and Melbourne buildings to be declared Buildings of Significance, which would give the City Renewal Authority the power to detail the repairs required, do the work if owners don’t comply and bill them for it.

The legislation, which would overcome the challenges of the buildings’ unique and complex ownership structure, may also extend to other buildings in the City Renewal Precinct.

The letter says that under the proposed legislation the City Renewal Authority would be able to prepare a revitalisation plan for a Building of Significance. The plan would clearly state what external repairs or improvements need to be made by the building owner within a prescribed timeframe.

“If the buildings’ owner/s do not adhere to the plan within a prescribed timeframe the City Renewal Authority would be able to carry out the required repairs/improvements at the owner/s’ expense,” it says.

The Authority is asking stakeholders and building owners for input into how revitalisation plans could be prepared and implemented, and the criteria for selecting other Buildings of Significance.

Intimating that it’s now time for property owners to do their bit, the Authority says the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings have benefited from significant government investment around them, including new shared waste enclosures to open up the laneways as public spaces, significant improvements to the Northbourne Avenue verges and the placement of a light rail station on their doorstep.

An ACT Government spokesperson said the Sydney and Melbourne buildings had been singled out because they were important historical, architectural and cultural landmarks situated in a highly prominent position on Northbourne Avenue.

The Sydney and Melbourne buildings frame the gateway to Northbourne Avenue and City Hill, but have deteriorated in recent years, not helped by a major fire in the Sydney building in 2014.

The Melbourne building in the 1930s

Looking through the colonnades of the Melbourne Building towards the Sydney Building around 1930. Photo: National Archives of Australia from Mildenhall collection.

From the 1920s, the buildings have had a multiple ownership system that has made it difficult to achieve a uniform approach to the maintenance and appearance of the buildings, with 102 separate titles (Crown Leases), three unit plans and no common areas.

“While the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings present as two buildings, they are rows of individual buildings with individual Crown leases and no common property management committee. As a result, the maintenance of the leased public areas of the buildings (façade, colonnades, verandas and shopfronts) is not centrally managed, resulting in inconsistent property management and presentation,” a government spokesperson said.

“This potential new legislation would seek to overcome the buildings’ complex ownership challenges, allowing the government, through the City Renewal Authority, to play an important co-ordination role in creating a consistent treatment across their exteriors.”

A lack of teeth in the Heritage Act and weak enforcement over the years have also led to the patchy nature of the buildings.

Now the ACT Government is exploring options, including legislation, so that the city’s ”most iconic and important buildings, including the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, are presented to a standard that met community expectations”.

“There are many building owners who are diligent and committed to maintaining their public areas. However, this is not the case for all owners, with some properties in very poor condition. This is a concern as this poor presentation has the potential to diminish the quality of Civic and Canberra’s reputation as the national capital,” the spokesperson said.

The ACT Government is also looking at beefing up the Heritage ACT.

While a range of enforcement actions are available to respond to offences against the Act, the government is pursuing stronger and more flexible penalties against people who damage heritage places and objects in Canberra, including orders to repair damage and fines of $1000 for an individual and $5000 for a corporation.

The Authority has held information sessions, is conducting workshops, talking one-on-one with affected owners and has issued a survey.

The government spokesperson said any legislation would be determined after consultation with stakeholders, but the message to owners appears to be clear: tidy up your premises, or the Government will do it for you and you’ll pay for it anyway.

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18 Responses to Heat on historic buildings’ owners to tidy up city’s gateway corners
Pandy Pandy 7:26 am 17 Oct 19

Corporations should be fined $100000. Individuals $25000

Sue Ellen Sue Ellen 9:35 pm 16 Oct 19

Excellent! About time something was done. It's clear many of the owners have little concern for preserving these heritage buildings. The legislation, backed up by better heritage powers, is exactly what is needed. Bravo to whoever is in charge of this work. Great to see sensible action being taken.

Neica Hall Neica Hall 8:20 pm 16 Oct 19

A coat of paint and a clean up of both the Sydney and Melbourne building they are looking very tacky.

    Sue Ellen Sue Ellen 9:38 pm 16 Oct 19

    If you look closely at some parts, it's more than just a coat of paint, there are cracks and serious decay. I'm afraid paint as a solution is a few decades too late.

    Neica Hall Neica Hall 9:49 pm 16 Oct 19

    Sue Ellen yes they just very run down. Have you very been upstairs to the offices above the shops? I have been upstairs in the Melbourne building and it is just a dump. Very run down and dirty. It will cost millions and millions to renovate these buildings.

    Sue Ellen Sue Ellen 10:03 pm 16 Oct 19

    Neica Hall I haven't but I can imagine. I'm predicting the owners of the worst parts wont come to the party, they'll say they can't afford it and we (taxpayers) will be left to foot the bill.

russianafroman russianafroman 8:03 pm 16 Oct 19

The taxpayer does not deserve to pay for these damages. The problem we see here is commercial tenants failing to respect the buildings they’re responsible for. The faster this legislation gets through, the better. This is a big win for Canberra and a kick in the balls for greedy tenants and landlords.

Steve Dundee Steve Dundee 7:40 pm 16 Oct 19

Really good news !!! Shame the buildings were able to be privately owned in the first place

    May Mac May Mac 12:07 am 17 Oct 19

    They were privately built. If that could be achieved I don't know why they can't be maintained to a uniform standard.

Jack Hearps Jack Hearps 6:58 pm 16 Oct 19

The big issue is responsibility for building upkeep. In many council areas certain owners dont do their share of upgrades etc in effect getting council to expend funds on many aspects ... this is unacceptable ... prime spots require prime presentation at all times. Fines for poor performance and public shameing of owners.

    Sue Ellen Sue Ellen 10:06 pm 16 Oct 19

    Love the public shaming idea. A photo, front of the Canberra Times, of the recalcitrant owners pointing to their run down part of the building.

Denise Smith Denise Smith 6:54 pm 16 Oct 19

I hope Barr never touches those buildings.

Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 6:52 pm 16 Oct 19

I love those buildings.

Karen Gerrard Karen Gerrard 6:48 pm 16 Oct 19

Or what...knock down and build another block of flats. Oh that’s right, Andrew Barr is in charge...nothing is sacred.

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 7:43 pm 16 Oct 19

    Karen, try reading the article before commenting. It’s specifically the government trying to retain and restore the buildings.

    Jane Harvey Jane Harvey 9:24 pm 16 Oct 19

    Karen Gerrard They're "heritage listed" so will never be knocked down.

Matt Casey Matt Casey 6:43 pm 16 Oct 19

Good idea

Steve McGrory Steve McGrory 6:07 pm 16 Oct 19

This is a ACT gov responsibility hands down.

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