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At last! Progress on 310 St Kilda Rd as Morrison Government announces review

At last! Progress on 310 St Kilda Rd as Morrison Government announces review
Sean Car

The long-running saga that is the situation surrounding the dormant former Repatriation Clinic at 310 St Kilda Rd could be drawing closer to an end, with the federal government announcing a review into the historic building.

A statement released by the Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price last month confirmed that the Morrison Government had “started planning for the renovation and ongoing use by Defence of an historic Art Deco building in the Victoria Barracks”.

The Department of Defence, the owner of the building, has engaged Melbourne architects Lovell Chen to conduct a feasibility study into the refurbishment and re-use of the former Repatriation Outpatients Clinic, which has been vacant for more than 20 years.

The feasibility study will identify opportunities for the renovation and ongoing use of the building, while taking into account a planned redevelopment of the wider Victoria Barracks precinct.

Minister Price said this would include accommodation for both Defence and Defence-related community groups, such as veterans’ organisations.

“The Morrison Government is committed to ensuring the future use of 310 St Kilda Rd preserves the building’s heritage and architecture,” Minister Price said.

 

We are seeking to balance the growing needs of Defence, while noting the building’s close links to Australia’s military history and our veteran community.

 

“This study will guide Defence’s restoration and repurposing of the building, and potential accommodations for Defence-related community groups, including veterans’ organisations.”

The announcement of the review brings years of uncertainty surrounding the building’s future to an end, with the Department of Defence having attempted to offload the site to both the Victorian Government and the City of Melbourne for a peppercorn sum.

Having declared the property “surplus to requirements”, it had been on the verge of putting the building on the open market after discussions with the state government fell through in 2019.

The Australian National Veterans Arts Museum (ANVAM), a not-for-profit community group dedicated to the rehabilitation of veterans, has long sought to become trustee of the site and establish a gallery, arts studios and mental health support services.

The City of Melbourne threw ANVAM’s dream a lifeline after entering discussions with Defence in 2019. However, negotiations between the two levels of government failed due to the building’s poor condition, with remediation works estimated at around $21 million.

The state of disrepair was revealed in a Senate Estimates hearing on October 27 last year after Victorian Liberal Senator David Van grilled Defence’s estate and infrastructure team leaders over its lack of investment in the building’s maintenance.

During the hearing, Defence representatives made the stunning admission that “other than those external areas to ensure that it’s safe”, it hadn’t spent any money on maintaining the building in 26 years, resulting in the City of Melbourne’s decision not to proceed with a sale.

“If it’s going to be used for a public purpose, you’re asking another level of government to take on a liability that they didn’t cause? That your group has let this building go,” Senator Van said at the hearing.

“Both in the precinct and in Melbourne, opposite the Shrine, it was built for veterans, it’s been allowed to fall into disrepair to the point where it can’t be sold to another level of government, which leaves a public sale.”

“What would the public perception of Defence be if it was allowed to be turned into a block of apartments overlooking Victoria Barracks?”

“I brought them [the City of Melbourne] to that table to help keep it in public ownership and the amount of messing around from your office to Melbourne City Council, has caused them to walk away from this now.”

“I can’t say how upset I am by this news that they voted it down last night because of the disrepair you’ve let it go into, because what you’ve attached to it as conditions.”

The building, which adjoins Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Rd in Southbank, was completed in 1937 and contains heritage elements of Commonwealth significance.  

It was constructed to provide outpatient support to World War I veterans and continued providing services to veterans for decades. The site was used by Defence up until 1995.

ANVAM chairman Mark Johnston said the announcement of a review represented an “amazing win we have had to save this place from developers, plus the hope that our efforts over the past nine years have not been in vain.” •

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