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Crime Continues to Pay at Manningham Council - part 1

 

Manningham Council broke their own laws. And now, they are breaking their own procedures -- procedures that they insist we follow.

Also Manningham Council is trying to sweep the consequences of their actions and all responsibility for their lawless acts under the carpet.

In this article I will try to explain the background of what happened and then summarize the main issues and also the faults in Manningham council's attempts to defend their own lawbreaking.

 

So What happened?

Back in 1991 the council paid a consulting company, Context Pty Ltd, to identify buildings in Manningham that had heritage significance. The report they produced identified the council offices as being of heritage significance. They claimed the council offices were a good example of a Miesian Pavilion. (We will get onto that shortly). As a result the council placed a heritage overlay on the council offices in an effort to protect the heritage value of the building. (see page 222, minutes 28 Aug 2018, point 2.25.)

The problem is that in 1999 the council radically renovated the council offices and removed or covered up much of what was seen in 1991 as having heritage significance.

What is embarrassing is that the council, in 1999, never recalled that they had placed a heritage overlay on the offices they were about to radically alter. They just went ahead and did what they wanted without consulting the heritage overlays.

Later on, someone pointed out to the council that there was a heritage overlay on the council offices and the council should not have approved the project without first considering this overlay.

This is something that the council demands we residents must never do. If a resident were to alter a building that had a heritage overlay to the point where all heritage significance had been removed or covered up, the council would have them before VCAT and insist that heavy punitive fines be paid.

What is worse, we now learn that this is not the only time Manningham Council has done this. They have done the exact same thing more than once.

The council asked John Patrick Pty Ltd to identify trees of significance in the city in 2006. Two trees near the council offices were identified as being of heritage significance. Around 2010 the council had these two trees removed to build the MC2. Again, the council never checked or even recalled that they placed a heritage overlay on these two trees to protect them.

So now the council now finds itself in a difficult place. They ignored, or forgot about, their own heritage overlays and just went ahead did what they wanted. And not just once, but twice.

So what is Manningham Council going to do?

 

How would the council behave if the roles were reversed?

Manningham Council places a lot of importance on their heritage and environmental overlays. They see it as important to protect those parts of Manningham that have heritage or environmental significance.

If you or I were to change a building or remove trees that had a heritage or environmental overlay, without even consulting the council or considering the overlay, Manningham council would come down on us very hard.

And if we were to ruin the heritage significance of a building, that is remove nearly every aspect of it that was seen as having heritage significance and to never even consider getting the approval of council, they would come down on us even harder.

If we were to do the exact same thing that the council did, Manningham council would have us before VCAT quickly. Manningham Council would lecture us before VCAT about how important and necessary the overlays are and insist we pay a large punitive fine.

And this is not just speculation. All we need to do is look at how Manningham council has treated people in the past who have done exactly what the council did.

I have written an article on this website about a migrant family who bought a property at Warrandyte that had an environmental overlay on it. Without getting council approval (and probably not even knowing they had to get council approval) they brought in some soil, dug a ditch and planted some trees.

Please read that article on this website. It is called "Out of Control Environmentalism" (21/11/2013). Please see how fanatical and punitive Manningham Council was to this family.

Please look at the long list of 'orders' VCAT placed upon the offenders. I will list just some of these 'orders' here:

  • the soil had to be returned to the ditch they dug in the exact same sequence and layers in which it was removed. So the earth returned needed to match the undisturbed soil around it. And this was to be supervised to ensure they did exactly as required.

  • Various environmental impact statements and management plans had to be prepared at the family's expense.

  • They had to enter into an agreement with the council to ensure they adhered to their environmental management plans.

  • Should they sell the property, the environmental management plans were to be carried on by the new owners. This would have been an issue for any potential buyers.

And this is only a few of the orders. Please see the article. There are page after page of these 'Orders'. Note how nearly all restoration work was to be supervised by an independent consultant paid for by the owners.

When you consider how the council treated this family because they overlooked an environmental overlay, I think you will agree that the council was quite punitive, fanatical and even somewhat vindictive in their response.

And now Manningham Council have done the exact same thing as this family – exactly.

And they didn't do it just once, they did it twice.

First the council ignored a heritage overlay they had on the council offices. Then the council ignored a herigate overlay they had on two trees they removed.

What are they going to do?

 

The problem of procedure.

Manningham Council appears not to want to admit any fault in either of these matters. They are currently doing everything they can to escape all responsibility and blame.

To address their problem, Manningham Council brought in heritage consultants Lovell Chen. They have asked them to review the heritage overlay on the council offices. And they, no doubt, expected these consultants to come back with a report saying there was never any justification to place the heritage overlay on the council offices.

And, off course, the consultants did not disappoint them. The council got exactly what they wanted.

The consultants argue that the council offices, as they stood in 1991, never really justified having a heritage overlay placed on it and so never justified protecting for heritage reasons.

But there is a big problem with this.

Note that the consultants are brought in AFTER THE EVENT to justify what the council had already done.

The Warrandyte Heritage Society is quite right in saying: "The Heritage Council process has not been followed." (page 167, minutes 24 April 2018).

They are quite right.

Procedures established by the council, which they expect everyone else to follow, require that any heritage issues be addressed BEFORE work commences.

In fact, Manningham Council insists we follow this procedure if we own a building with a heritage overlay.

Think for a moment about how the council would respond if we first changed a heritage building and removed almost ALL features of heritage significance AND ONLY THEN brought in a heritage consultant to argue that we did not ruin anything of real worth and that the building should never have had a heritage overlay in the first place. How do you think the council would respond?

Again, that is not hard to answer. In short, the council would be enraged! They simply would not accept the arguments of any 'experts' we were to employ AFTER THE EVENT to justify our actions and say that the council was wrong in placing the overlay on your property in the first place. I am sure that, to Manningham Council, the fact that we brought in heritage consultants -- after the event -- to justify our actions would be proof of our guilt!

Soon we would be taken before VCAT and you would be heavily fined as an example to all of what happens to such people in Manningham -- as has happened to Manninghham residents in the past.

But note the big difference now.

When Manningham Council breaks their own laws, there appears an entirely different set of rules and procedures in place and an entirely different consideration of justifications post-event.

 

Manningham Council sets a very bad example.

The Warrandyte Heritage society also says that the council's action "Sends wrong message to the owners of heritage listed properties." (page 171 minutes 24 April 2018 point 3.9).

And it most certainly does!

Manningham Council makes a great deal about their role as protectors of the environment and heritage assets in the City of Manningham.

They tell us this is a very important job. The work is hard and important. And they have good reason to enforce the many heritage and environmental overlays they have put in place.

This is the council 'narrative' they tell us.

But inside Manningham Council it appears an entirely different assessment exists. It appears that what they say to us and what they think amongst themselves are two very different things.

When they wanted to make changes to the council offices they did not even bother checking for overlays. And when they wanted to build the MC2 they again did not even bother to check for overlays. In both cases they just went ahead and did what they wanted. Environmental and heritage overlays did not even appear in their considerations and do not appear to be of great importance to them.

If you believe the council 'narrative' about how important the overlays are, you would think the council would have internal procedures to follow during the approval of any building permit. You would think that if any councilor, resident or builder approaches Manningham Council seeking approval for their building plans, the council would have, as part of the process, a check made for heritage and environmental overlays in the area.

However, when it comes to something the council wants to do, suddenly all that goes out the window. To the council, the overlays simply are not important or necessary enough to check. And no-one in the council even thought it necessary to check.

So just really how important are these heritage and environmental overlays?

It appears when it comes to their own projects, the council can easily forget everything about the overlays. And not just once, but twice! -- (I suggest that we are seeing a pattern here).

I find it odd, that Manningham Council has one narrative they so passionately tell us, however it seems an entirely different narrative appears to be held within the council.

And I think it is good to see the council in action like this. I have long held the view that many of our heritage overlays are rediculous and have said as much. And there is good reason to think this is the case.

I wrote an article on this website called "Heritage Overlays" written back in October 2013. And there you will see that Manningham Council puts heritage overlays on the most rediculous things.

For example:

HO204 is an old house overgrown with trees and weeds that no one is looking after and is just a fire and safety problem.

HO10 is a broken down old barbed wire fence that has fallen down and no one is clearing the grass near it. It is just an accident waiting to happen. Please see the photographs I took of it.

HO123 is an overlay that protects a treated pine fence. That's right – a treated pine fence. (Possibly the treated pine suppliers out in Bayswater North lobbied the council to have this overlay put in place!). To everyone else it is a neglected ruin and another accident waiting to happen.

The council also puts heritage overlays on the INSIDE of houses.

The Council also put overlays on display homes first built in an area. The only claim to fame these homes have is, as far as I can tell, the fact these were the first homes in an area. Other than that they have little, if any, significance.

I could go on and on about the nonsense the council thrusts upon ordinary good people.

By looking at these Heritage Overlays and the run down condition many of them are in, it is easy to believe that the council is not really protecting anything of real value but are just creating administrative and management work for themselves.

Am I being unfair to them?

Well, the question is simply this. Why does the council make such a song and dance about the importance of the heritage and environmental overlays to us but then repeatedly ignore them when they want to do something?

 

So what was special about the old Council Offices as they stood in 1991?

Getting back to the council offices.

The Heritage Study in 1991 said that the council offices then were "Of state significance as the most complex and arguably the finest expression of a Miesian Pavillion in the state." (Minutes 24 April 2018, page 213 point 3.0.)

So what is a Miesian Pavilion?

A Miesian Pavillion is the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a german architect who was one of the most influential in the twentieth century (I am quoting from the Lovell Chen report to the council.)

A Miesian pavilion is a very simple, modern building. Essentially a rectangular box with thin supporting columns, glass and steel walls and a roof that appears to float above the glass exterior. Good examples can be quite elegant and pleasing. There are examples of them in the report of Lovell Chen (page 215, 223ff, Minutes 24 April 2018). It appears that simplicity and a purity of design distinguish the better examples of this architectural style.

So how did the original council offices first built in 1956 become a Miesian pavilion?

It is important to know a brief history of the Manningham Council offices.

The offices were built in 1956. Then, starting in 1964, these offices went through a series of renovations and additions which were all influenced by the design style of Mies van der Rohe.

For instance:

Renovations to the council chambers that started in 1964 appear to have been "influenced by the designs of Mies van der Rohe". (Minutes 24 April 2018, page 220, point 5.0).

Also we are told that "the 1970s and 1980s additions draw on some of the characteristics of earlier Miesian building in Victoria through it's use of glass and applied steel universal columns and massing." (minutes 28 August 2018, page 243.)

So the original council offices underwent a series of renovations and additions that drew on the design ideas of one man, Mies van der Rohe.

 

Then in 1991, Manningham Council commissioned a Heritage Study to identify buildings of heritage significance in Manningham. This study identified the council offices as follows:

"Of state significance as the most complex and arguably the finest expression of a Miesian Pavillion in the state." (page 213 point 3.0 minutes 24 April 2018.)

As a result of this study, a heritage overlay was placed on the council offices.

However, in 1999 the council commissioned further additions to the council offices that essentially removed, overbuilt or destroyed nearly all the heritage qualities identified in 1991.

 

Why bring in heritage consultant Lovell Chen?

Manningham Council brought in these consultants to do a 'first principles' review of the heritage significance of the council offices, as they stood in 1991.

As I said above, the council expected these consultants to report that there was never any real historical significance of the council offices and so get them off the hook for what they had done.

Concerning the council offices, Lovell Chen make the following arguments:

  • They found errors in the report of the 1991 Heritage Study.

  • They question whether the council offices was ever a good example of a Miesian pavilion.

  • They argue that the council offices were not a building of STATE significance.

  • They suggest that the architects who did build it, did not have a track record of building significant Miesian pavilions in Victoria.

 

Let's look at these arguments one at a time.

But before we start, we need to look carefully at what the 1991 Heritage Study said. They concluded this about the council offices:

"History.

A Miesian pavilion cantilevers suspended between two grey/green masonry, semi-cylindrical, stair blocks. A wing steps away at ground level, as the site slopes at left. It is clad wityh black finished steel plate clad, with exposed Universal Section mullions, with large panel dark glass windows.

The left-hand wing is Municpal Chambers. They have a 45 degree clear glass entrance canopy. The level below this (in effect, the basement) using the sloping site, fronts a courtyard. The west elevations have elaborate metal sun louvres on a tubular steel frame. There is an Anthony Prior 1986 scultpure 'I am a man like you'.

Designed by Gerd [sic.] & Renate Block architects in c. 1970. Gerd Block was shortly after appointed Professor of Architecture at Christchurch University, New Zealand.

This building can be compared to Crown Hall MIT & National Gallery Berlin by Mies van der Rohe; South Yarra Public Library, Yunken Freeman; Siemans, Church Street Richmont and Germany Embassy Canberra by Gerd & Renate Block.

Statement of Significance.

Of State significance as the most complex and arguably the finest expression of a Miesian pavilion in the state." (See minutes 28 August 2018, page 241, 242.)

Note how the 1991 Heritage Study makes an argument in three parts. First it uses a description of the building to put it forward the idea that the council offices in 1991 were a good example of a Miesian pavilion. Then it uses the fact that one of the architects was promoted to a prestigious teaching position to suggest that he was highly qualified and noted for his work. Finally it compares the council offices to other notable Miesian pavilion buildings suggesting it is of significance and worthy of protection.

Now, let's examine Lovell Chen's arguments one by one.


The Errors in the 1991 Heritage Study.

The 1991 Heritage Study by Context Pty Ltd concluded that the design architects for the first renovation in 1964 was Gerd & Renate Block. This turns out to be incorrect. The actual architects were Lines MacFarlane & Marshall who not only did the renovations in 1964 but all renovations up to and including those in 1991.

First we must say this was a very easy error to make. The 1991 Heritage Study consulted a book that was incorrect and gave them incorrect information.

The State Government also conducted a study in 2010 to identify buildings of state significance. This study in 2010 (page 245 minutes 28 August 2018) also incorrectly identified the architects as being Gerd & Renate Block.

So we can see it was an easy mistake to make.

We should also note that for Lovell Chen to find who the actual architects were, they needed to pour through council minutes and other documents to find sometimes somewhat obscure references to the architects. (See page 216 4.2.1, page 226 7.4, 24 April 2018)

 

Lovell Chen's incorrect focus on Architectural Significance.

Having found the error, Lovell Chen then reason as follows:

"... evidence was that the original assessment of significance and justification for protection under the Heritage Overlay was based on incorrect information and claims for architectural significance" (Minutes 28 August 2018, page 242)

For Lovell Chen to be able to reason like this, they need to place a lot of importance on the architects and in particular upon Gerd & Renate Block. Gerd & Renate Block were noted for their Miesian pavilion designs in Victoria and had a history of such buildings. Lines MacFarlane and Marshall were not.

To Lovell Chen, the architects who designed a building, play an important part when assessing the building for heritage significance. This line of thought is prominent in Lovell Chen's reasoning. They are of the view that the track record and background of the architectural firm is an important consideration when assigning heritage significance to a building. And they could be right.

However, as you read the council minutes, you may notice that what Lovell Chen is actually looking at "architectural" significance and not "heritage" significance. They seem to believe that if a building has architectural significance then it should also have heritage significance. And they may be right here also. However the issue at hand is heritage significance not architectural significance. Heritage significance has more to do with the history of a building and it's role in the history of Manningham. This is the reason for most of the heritage overlays put in place by the council. Many of the buildings protected by council heritage overlays have little or no architectural significance. For example, Manningham council placed a Heritage Overlay over a fence post which had been hewn by axe from bush timber. I would think it hard to argue that this fence post has architectural significance or merit.

Lovell Chen repeatedly focusses and speaks of Architectural Significance.

For example. See the assessment of Miesian pavilion buildings in Victoria – which are later used to argue against the architectural significance of the 1991 Council Offices. (pages 223 to 229. 24 April 2018) And also see how Lovell Chen assesses the council offices in terms of 'architectural merit' (page 229 8.0 24 April 2018).

See also page 214, 24 April 2018 4.1 where Lovell Chen assess architectural significance when comparing Mieisan pavilion buildings in Victoria. And also see page 229 8.0 24 April 2018 where Lovell Chen assesses architectural 'merit'.

Let us continue down this line of thought of Lovell Chen.

For Lovell Chen, Gerd & Renate Block were significant proponents in Victoria of the design style of Mies van der Rohe. "The links to the Blocks is not correct hence the association to architects who practised in the Miesian tradition does not support heritage protection" (page 246 28 August 2018)

Lines MacFarlane & Marshall did not practice in this tradition and Lovell Chen claim their particular design style reflects what they refer to as 'brutalism'. (Page 242, 243 Minutes 28 August 2018).

I regard this line of reasoning is incorrect for a number of reasons.

 

Lovell Chen are focusing on the wrong things.

The 1991 Heritage Study did not come to their conclusion because of the architects. Look at their reasoning in their conclusion quoted above. The first and primary reason for seeing the council offices as being of historical significance was the finished form of the building itself. Note how they first describe the building and on the basis of their description, see it as being of heritage significance.

It is true that a second reason they give is the architects Gerd & Renate Block. But this is a secondary argument where they suggest the architects were significant because they were recognised by an overseas academic institution. Nowhere, that I can find, does the 1991 study rely on the architects being recognised proponents of the Miesian pavilion style of building.

It was the finished form of the building itself that was their main reason for assigning heritage significance. So the fact that the architects were incorrectly identified, does not really take away from their argument of significance.

 

Lovell Chen avoids addressing the actual finished form of the Council Offices as it stood in 1991.

So what was the finished form of the council offices in 1991? What did it look like that convinced the Heritage Study in 1991?

The Lovell Chen report only gives us their opinion of the architectural value of the council offices as they stood in 1991. We are not given any pictures in their report demonstrating the strengths of why the 1991 council offices were considered a good example of a Miesian pavilion. There are pictures of the council offices as they stood at other points in time. But we have no pictures showing it's strengths in 1991.

So we are left in a position where we are unable to see how well the 1991 offices represented a consistent and well formed Miesian pavilion building.

To be fair, balanced, accurate and complete in their assessment, Lovell Chen should have provided such photographs. Also Lovell Chen should have made an argument based on such perspectives and view points of the 1991 council that demonstrated it's strengths as a Miesian pavilion building. However, none of this was done.

What we have from Lovell Chen is their own opinions on the architectural value of the 1991 council offices. But we are unable to see the building for ourselves, at it's strengths, to form our own opinion on the matter.

In my view, that is not right.

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