When is demolition of a heritage dwelling appropriate?

Moreland City Council has refused recently a planning permit application to demolish a dilapidated Edwardian dwelling within a heritage overlay in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne.  In this case, the application was refused despite the Council planning officer recommending that a planning permit be issued on the basis that its replacement with two townhouses provides an appropriate response to the heritage precinct. 

In its justification of the refusal, it was stated by Moreland City Council that it is a case of ‘demolition through neglect’ and Council is mindful of setting a precedent in which a heritage property could be neglected in order to provide justification for demolition.  The dwelling in question has supposedly been derelict for over twenty years with the land owner having purchased the land with the dwelling already being in a state of structural disrepair. 

Although not specifically related to this case as we are unaware of the full background, it does raise again the issue of ‘deliberate neglect’ versus ‘wear and tear / fit for purpose buildings.  It is often concerning that with the extensive use of heritage overlays over often significant portions of building stock, that ‘age’ alone can be given too much importance rather than net community benefit.  By all means, seek to identify and retain significant heritage buildings but do not take this to the extreme of seeking to save all old buildings because they are old or represent a particular period in time – especially where there are numerous better examples. 

Collie has been involved in projects recently where ‘heritage’ dwellings have naturally fallen in to a state of disrepair despite being occupied, with structural engineering reports confirming that the dwelling is unsafe and does not justify the cost of re-building. 

We acknowledge that local planning policies in certain municipalities provide some guidance on when it is appropriate to demolish a heritage building however, perhaps a stronger statewide approach to this issue is required?