Billionaire fails in bid to partially demolish historic goods shed

Key points

  • Heritage Victoria has refused an application by Walker Corporation to redevelop and partially demolish the No.2 Goods Shed in the Docklands.
  • The shed was built in 1889 and is listed in the Victorian Heritage Register as the largest and most architecturally elaborate 19th century railway goods building in Victoria.
  • The Royal Historical Society of Victoria estimates the proposal would have resulted in 41 per cent of the shed being demolished.

A billionaire’s bid to redevelop and partially demolish a historic Docklands goods shed has been rejected by Heritage Victoria.

The No.2 Goods Shed was built in 1889 and is listed in the Victorian Heritage Register as the largest and most architecturally elaborate 19th century railway goods building in the state.

Charles Sowerwine, chair of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, outside the No.2 Goods Shed.Credit:Jason South

The brick shed was originally 385 metres long, but part of the building was demolished in the early 2000s for Collins Street to be extended.

Developer Walker Corporation lodged an application in April last year to build two towers on top of the goods shed, preserving part of the building inside the glass.

The $750 million twin office tower project would have flanked both sides of Collins Street.

Walker Corporation is the nation’s largest private property development company, owned by billionaire rich lister Lang Walker.

Heritage Victoria refused Walker Corporation’s application on January 5 on the basis that the development would have caused substantial visual and physical harm to the shed’s cultural and heritage significance.

“It would permanently, irreversibly and further diminish the understanding of the place as Victoria’s longest and most substantial goods shed,” Heritage Victoria found.

“The scale and bulk of the proposed new towers would overwhelm and dominate the No.2 Goods Shed and obscure views to the north and south sections from Collins Street.”

Heritage Victoria found the goods shed was significant because its massive scale and grand style demonstrated the importance of railways on the economic development and population growth of Victoria in the late 19th century.

“The reasons provided to justify demolition of these elements are not based on a sound heritage approach, but on the commercial development of the place,” it said.

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria and the National Trust both opposed the proposed redevelopment.

The society’s heritage committee chair, Charles Sowerwine, said up to 41 per cent of the goods shed would have been demolished under the proposal.

He welcomed Heritage Victoria’s decision to preserve “a marvellous gem” and an important part of Melbourne’s industrial and cultural history.

An artist’s impression of Walker Corporation’s proposed $750 million development above the No.2 Goods Shed.

“The proposal would have meant loss of most of what makes the building so valuable: almost half of the building and all of the outer bays would go; the central bay would be built over and would become a dark and gloomy place under these massive towers,” Sowerwine said.

“The reconstructed central bay, without its lateral bays, would have been a travesty of the original, with parts of the lantern poking up into the foyer.”

Sowerwine said it was rare for Heritage Victoria to reject a development application when most were approved, some with conditions attached.

“In the vast majority of cases, developers get most of what they want,” he said.

Goods Shed No.2 was the longest single building in Australia at the time it was built in 1889. It has since been bisected and extensively refurbished.Credit:Melbourne Libraries

National Trust of Victoria advocacy manager Madeline Moore said the decision was a win for Melbourne’s heritage.

“Conservation and maintenance of heritage buildings does not justify unsympathetic developments,” she said.

Lang Walker, owner of Walker Corporation.

“Even though owners may claim that the conservation of the property will be supported by these developments, if it requires demolition and the destruction of certain significant elements, we really need to be careful.”

The future of the goods shed is still unclear as Walker Corporation could appeal to the Heritage Council, and if this occurs, the decision could go before Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny.

Walker Corporation and the planning minister declined to comment.

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