News / Planning

Demolition of historic building to begin within days

• Heritage Victoria says decision to issue a permit is “deeply regrettable”
• Campaigners warn important part of Brunswick’s early industrial history will be lost forever

Community activists Ruth Giles (left), Michelle Reeves (middle) and Elisabeth Jackson outside the Steam Engine House building at the corner of Brickworks Drive and Dawson Street.

Mark Phillips
Friday, January 28, 2022

HERITAGE activists have lost their long battle to save one of the last remaining original buildings on the Hoffman Brickworks site in Brunswick, with demolition of the former Steam Engine House expected to begin within days.

Heritage Victoria on Tuesday announced that it had reluctantly issued a permit to allow developers Sungrove Corporation Pty Ltd to knock down the brick building, which has frontage on Dawson Street, citing soil contamination and the severe deterioration of its walls as reasons why it could not remain standing.

The “deeply regrettable” decision comes as the final demolition of the adjacent Brick Press Shed was completed this week. Both buildings date to the 1880s, when the brickworks was the industrial heart of the new suburb of Brunswick.

Ruth Giles, a local resident and co-convenor of the Save the Brickworks group, said the decision was “appalling”.

“The whole thing is devastating,” she said. “There were just so many stories integrated into that building and place.

“They were still making bricks on the site using the old process as recently as 1993. It’s part of the industrial heritage that shaped this area and now we will have very little left to show for it.”

An aerial view of the Brickworks with the two heritage buildings highlighted in colour. Image via Google Maps

Sungrove has made numerous attempts to demolish the building over the years since it first began developing the brickworks site in the mid-1990s. Over that time, both the engine house and the brick press shed have deteriorated structurally.

The roof of the engine house collapsed in 2020, and its walls have had to be propped up. The soil under both buildings is believed to be contaminated by oils, petrochemicals and other hazardous materials.

Both Save the Brickworks and Moreland Council opposed the most recent application by Sungrove which was lodged last month. The council said it was premature to demolish the building without a full assessment of any soil contamination issues and a permit for a replacement building. Nor were there any immediate structural reasons to demolish the remaining brick walls, it said.

But Heritage Victoria said in a statement provided to objectors that it had come to “reluctant acceptance” that the building must be demolished.

It said demolition of the former engine house was the only viable option to provide access to up to four metres of soil under the building to investigate and remove contamination from the site.

It also expressed concerns about the “structural viability” of the building without a roof or floor.

“Heritage Victoria acknowledges that the demolition of the former engine house will have a substantial and negative impact on the place, resulting from the loss of that building and also from the cumulative loss of heritage buildings on that site since the closure of the brickworks,” the statement said.

“Further, demolition of a heritage building is a poor heritage outcome which is ony approved by Heritage Victoria in rare circumstances.”

Ms Giles said other options should have been considered before proceeding to demolition.

Related story:

New demolition threat for historic Brickworks building

The developers have not yet applied for a permit to building on the land, but have previously indicated it wants to erect a new multi-storey residential and commercial building on the footprint of the two demolished buildings.

A condition of the demolition permit is that the bricks of the former engine house must be salvaged, cleaned up and stored for incorporation into any future building on the site.

Heritage Victoria said it had “a strong expectation” that any new building will include “a substantial, engaging and well-developed” interpretation to outline the history of the site and which is “readily accessible” to the local community and wider public. It also requires the new structure to be either a direct replica of the original or “a contemporary interpretation with reference to the original”.

But Ms Giles said based on the developer’s past record, she was sceptical that these requirements would be met. She expected further conflict between residents and the developer over the size of what is proposed to be built on theland.

Demolition of the adjacent brick press shed has been finalised this week. The developers have also erected scaffolding in preparation for repair works to one of the site’s towering brick chimneys.

Related story:

Historic brickworks building is demolished