Maldon’s makeover was a promise decades in the making, but many residents now fear it will be the death of the town’s heritage.
In May last year, the Victorian government allocated $4.5 million to give the town’s main street a makeover.
The project’s aim was to drive the historic gold rush town into the future, repairing its aging buildings while setting it up to be the go-to location for TV executives when scouting for 1800s period film shoots.
As part of the plan, power lines were sent underground, shop fronts earmarked for facelifts, while traffic and pedestrian access was to be improved to help drive tourism after the coronavirus pandemic.
But now, just a little more than a year on from the fanfare, there’s already division.
Death of heritage
Residents say they are furious two planter boxes, measuring 2.5-metres wide and four metres into the roadway, were erected by the council on the town’s Main Street.
Mount Alexander Shire Council placed two of four prototypes to manage traffic and make pedestrians more visible in the main thoroughfare.
Architect and urban designer Brad Hooper, who lives and works on Maldon’s Main Street, said council ignored advice from experts when it erected the planters.
“We don’t agree with that [planter boxes as traffic management] in a lot of ways because, firstly, no one has demonstrated to us what the traffic management issue is,” Mr Hooper, who is also a member of the National Trust Heritage Advocacy Group and the Maldon Revitalisation Project Sub-Committee, said.
Some residents placed a fake headstone on one of the planter boxes to mark the death of heritage in town on May 21.
Mr Hooper said free advice had been given to the council from expert residents including urban planners, architects, heritage architects, event planners and organisers, historians and emergency service workers about the project.
“But what’s come out of that is we’ve seen alternative options put forward and we don’t appear to be listened to, and on that, I think there has been a communication breakdown from council’s side and from the consultants,” he said.
ABC listener Beth told ABC Central Victoria she thought the council had run out of graves at the local cemetery.
‘Dangerous for a lot of people’
Tarrengower Ward councillor Stephen Gardner said the planter boxes were functional but accepted some of the feedback had not been positive.
“I get lots of feedback, positive and negative, so just as much as people who are against the planter boxes, I have just as many people for it – people with mobility issues, elderly residents who need support to get across the road,” Cr Gardner said.
“I know elderly residents [and] people who live at the village, live at the hospital who don’t like coming into the town because it is dangerous.
“It’s not a fait accompli and we will sit down with our heritage working groups and sub-committees and will modify the design if we have to.”
He said other people were worried about taking away car spots or getting their car scratched.
The council has asked residents to pick two of the prototypes to use along the street, but Mr Hooper said residents should choose neither.
He said the prototypes would also threaten events, such as the town’s famed Easter Fair parade.
“The contradiction in this project is that the council and state government have spent a lot of money under-grounding the power lines,” Mr Hooper said.
“But we’re now proposing to put in a whole bunch of contemporary infrastructure which in no way adds to the heritage values.”
In September last year, Mount Alexander Shire Council put in place new protections that stated new developments in Maldon would have to adhere to strict guidelines to protect the town’s heritage.
Extensions or repairs to structures built before 1925 would have to conform to the building’s original appearance during the 1860 to 1925 period.
The Maldon Streetscape Revitalisation Project was then started and the council wanted residents to help put together the heritage assessment for public spaces.