Preston Market traders await landlord’s response to heritage protection

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Traders at Preston Market are waiting on tenterhooks to see if their landlord will keep the market alive after the state government announced new planning controls on Monday, the latest episode in a years-long furore over the proposed residential redevelopment of the site.

Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny followed through on Monday with a promise first flagged in April to implement new heritage protections over the market sheds, preventing their demolition and by extension scuppering 2019 plans by the owners to raze some of the sheds in favour of an open-air market and apartment towers of up to 19 storeys and 2200 apartments.

Con Lambros, spokesman for the Save the Preston Market Action Group, at the market on Monday.Credit: Chris Hopkins

An amendment to the planning scheme for the site, which is adjacent to Preston train station, includes a heritage overlay over the sheds while allowing smaller apartment buildings, with about 1200 apartments proposed across the site and above the sheds.

The new planning controls allow a variety of apartment towers either side of the train line – the highest being 14 storeys on the eastern side of the line and 13 storeys on the western side.

Although it represents a substantial departure from owners Salta and Medich Family Corporation’s initial proposal for the 53-year-old market, the new overlays include height limits that are discretionary – leaving the door open for the developer to argue a case to go higher in any new application for the site.

Community activist group Save the Preston Market Action Group welcomed the news on Monday, saying the planning controls to keep all sheds intact were “a really positive step”. But it said it was unclear how protecting the sheds and allowing a 10-storey building above them would work in reality.

“The devil is in the detail,” said the group’s spokesman, Con Lambros. “So we need some consultation about what that looks like – how do you build above them?”

Trader Chris Legge, who runs Contraband Coffee Traders at the market and represents trader group We Are Preston Market, said the planning control announcement brought more questions than answers.

“The planning overlay is a fair way removed from what Salta wanted to do and so that sort of leaves us in a situation of uncertainty because Salta are now going to have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

An artist’s impression of the renewed Preston Market under the owners’ plan. The plan will now need to be redrawn if the owners want to go ahead with redevelopment.

Traders were told in May that their leases would not be renewed from January 2024, after Kilkenny announced she would move to protect the sheds in April. The date has since been pushed back to March.

Under the owners’ scuppered plan, most of the market would have progressively moved east to a new open-air site, but stalls with local heritage protection would remain. They argue that all traders would have to close for two years under the government’s proposal, which requires the stalls to stay where they are.

“Traders are sitting on our hands uncertain about our futures,” said Legge. “[This] throws up the very real possibility that if it’s not financially viable for Salta they may choose to close the market [permanently] anyway.”

The new planning controls cannot mandate that the private owners keep the market operating, and the owners said on Monday that it would take time to work out what redevelopment was economically viable with the new controls.

The owners have previously been adamant that the economic sustainability of the site was dependent on being able to demolish parts of the sheds and building 2200 apartments.

The fruit and vegetable stalls at the market.Credit: Wayne Taylor

“Despite multiple requests for a meeting with the minister and the department to brief them on the structural issues and trading continuity of the existing market, the requests were denied,” a statement read.

“We have now requested a briefing from the Department of Transport and Planning on the new controls so we can update the traders on what this means for their ongoing certainty.”

Compulsory acquisition of the market by the local council or state government has been floated by parties including first-term local Labor MP Nathan Lambert, Save the Preston Market Action Group and independent Darebin councillor Gaetano Greco.

Greco stood as a candidate for Preston in the state election and campaigned to protect the market. He cut Labor’s margin in the once-safe seat of Preston by 19.2 per cent.

Kilkenny said the Preston Market “has been identified as an ideal location to provide more housing choice for Victorians close to family and friends, jobs, community infrastructure and public transport.

“We said we would protect Preston Market’s heritage while increasing housing choice and that’s exactly what we’re doing by introducing these new planning controls.”

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