Developers and residents’ action groups often engage in battle right across Melbourne’s suburbs, but one previously controversial development, at the former Tip Top Bakery site at Brunswick East, has had an unusually happy ending for all sides.
On Saturday the developer Little Projects will host a community celebration at the site in Weston Street, Brunswick East, supported and attended by residents who formerly opposed the development.
It will mark the end of a 15-year battle by Brunswick East residents to save the historic buildings on the former Northern Bakeries site and ensure any new residential development is sympathetic to the area’s character.
Now that the master-planned community of 411 apartments and townhouses as well as retail spaces has been completed, the community has gained heritage preservation of the iconic site, new pedestrian access from Weston Street to Edward Street, a much-needed childcare centre and a public car park.
The Tip Top site has a chequered history. Residents watched in despair as the art deco heritage buildings designed by renowned 1930s Melbourne architect Harry Norris continued to deteriorate while previous owners appeared to be land-banking the prime 1.2-hectare site from the late 1990s.
Little Projects acquired the site in 2010 with plans to turn it into an apartment-and-townhouse development over six buildings, the tallest 10 storeys. The proposal drew more than 100 objections from the community.
Local residents’ action groups combined to form the 700-member Brunswick Residents Network and fought the height of the development, which was eventually reduced by VCAT to eight levels.
“The truth is the community really needed the development to be built as there had been nothing done for 15 years and the heritage buildings were close to being lost – it was a cursed site,” said community planning advocate Joanna Stanley, who co-founded the Brunswick Residents Network.
“We are grateful that the 1939 building will be there in 100 years’ time and heritage is what [the developer] really deserves a pat on the back for,” she said. “But from the beginning, I don’t believe we would have what is there now if the community hadn’t been so vocal.”
Little Projects built a 40-space public car park after residents voiced concerns about parking in the busy area close to Lygon Street.
After consulting with Moreland City Council about the community’s needs, the developer built a 92-place childcare centre on the rooftop of one of the residential buildings. It is now fully operational.
“We listened to the community voice at the time and we’ve carried it all out,” said Little Projects managing director Michael Fox. “I think the community generally didn’t want this development at the start but they knew something had to happen with quite a significant site. And from what I can gather they all absolutely love it now.”
Last week the design, by RotheLowman architects, won the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Victorian award for urban renewal. It also won the Australian Property Institute’s heritage property award earlier this year.
Ms Stanley said some of the residents’ traffic concerns for Edward Street had not been addressed but they were happy with the final result. “It would have been the cherry on the cake if they’d delivered the traffic-calming measures, but overall it’s a great outcome and we do embrace it now.”
The key for a successful project embraced by the community was being transparent from the outset and talking to all parties about their concerns, Mr Fox said.
“I think early engagement is better than surprise so that people know what you are doing and you can get them involved,” he said.
Tomorrow’s “Live A Little” community celebration will include bread-making classes as a salute to the site’s history; architectural tours; food and drink from local eateries including Pope Joan, The Melt Shop, Bar Idda and Teta Mona; and bands and children’s activities. The event is at 183 Weston Street, Brunswick East, from 10am to 4pm.
View the full event program here