More than 600 local residents and traders rallied at the Preston Market in Melbourne’s north east on May 6 to tell Minister for Planning Richard Wynne to “call in” a development application for multi-storey apartments and a generic shopping centre that risks destroying their much-loved community hub.
The unexpectedly large turnout spilled out onto the road, prompting police to tell organiser Lori-anne Sharp, of the Save Preston Market group, to “pick a bigger site next time you call a protest”.
Preston Market opened in 1970 and over the years many waves of migrant butchers, fishmongers, fruit and vegetable vendors, delicatessens and purveyors of discount homewares and curios have created a unique and bustling source of cheap, fresh, healthy food, coffee and good company for generations of working class people in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The love for this market runs deep, especially among the many elderly and retired migrants who shop and socialise every market day.
Developers plan to build three 14-story residential towers. Residents fear such high density development would result in significant reduction in car parking and increased pressure on local roads and public transport, threatening the long-term future of the market.
Darebin Council — Greens-dominated since last year’s council elections — backed the community and rejected the development application in February. But Preston Market Developments, a joint venture between the Medich Corporation and site owner Salta Properties, have appealed the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) for hearing next month. VCAT is not obliged to consider community opposition and has a track record of backing developers against residents.
Over the years traders have paid comparatively low rents for their modest stalls at Preston Market and Salta Properties stands to make a motza by replacing them with high density apartments and retail chain outlets.
Since Salta bought the site for $37.65 million in 2004 traders say their rents have increased and many have been forced onto month-to-month leases as their existing long leases expired. Some traders have already been forced out and others say they will have to close soon if rents continue to rise.
Salta claims their proposal won’t harm the market because their towers cover only part of the site. The Save Preston Market campaign disagrees, saying retail chains will destroy small traders and upset the delicate ecology of what is a living, breathing community.
Wynne has power under the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act to call-in appeals where he considers that “the proceeding raises a major issue of policy” and “the determination of the proceeding may have a substantial effect on the achievement or development of planning objectives”.
Market supporters argue that maintaining access to cheap, fresh food and a convivial gathering place for people of all ages and cultures, developed over nearly 50 years, should be considered a vital planning objective.
Local state MP Robin Scott spoke at the rally on Saturday and was soundly jeered for his failure to explicitly support the call in demand. He said he would convey the message from the protest to his colleagues.
Steve Jolley, socialist councillor from the City of Yarra, warned that Salta Properties have a track record of ignoring the views and interests of local communities and labelled VCAT a “developer’s court”.
Information about the campaign is available on the Save Our Preston Market Facebook page. A petition calling on Richard Wynne to call in the development application is here: https://www.change.org/t/preston-market-en-au