News / Planning

New demolition threat for historic Brickworks building

Developer claims Engine House building has little heritage value and is a safety risk

Ruth Giles (front), Michelle Reeves (left) and Elisabeth Jackson outside the Brick Press Shed and Steam Engine House buildings at the Hoffman Brickworks.

Mark Phillips
Thursday, December 23, 2021

ONE of the few remaining original buildings on the Hoffman Brickworks estate in Brunswick could soon be demolished following a fresh application by the site developer.

It is not the first time developer Sungrove Corporation Pty Ltd has sought to demolish the heritage-listed Steam Engine House, but this application has been bolstered by a recent emergency order to allow the adjacent Brick Press Shed to be torn down for safety reasons.

Sungrove has now asked Heritage Victoria to grant it a permit to demolish the Steam Engine House brick building for similar reasons to those which led to the order for the corrugated iron Brick Press Shed.

If the company is successful with the new application, it would remove two of the few intact historical buildings still left on the site which was the industrial powerhouse of Brunswick’s formative years.

The developer claims that just as the Brick Press Shed was deemed unsafe and needed to be demolished, the Engine House is also a hazard that cannot remain standing. The Engine House was severely damaged last year when its roof collapsed, and its walls are now propped to provide structural stability. Both buildings are near the corner of Dawson Street and Brickworks Drive.

The move has outraged the Save the Brickworks group that is dedicated to conserving the history of the site. Moreland Council is also opposing the demolition.

Demolition of the Brick Press Shed began at the start of December following the emergency order issued by Moreland Council in November because of site contamination and the deterioration of the building.

Work has now been suspended for the holiday season, with most of the external walls and the roof now gone. Some machinery parts have been removed for eventual reinstatement in an interpretive building.

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

Sungrove, through heritage consultants Anthemion Consultancies, says the Engine House has similar structural and contamination issues to the Brick Press Shed and would be impossible to retain once the other building is fully demolished.

“The building is now a roofless shell with part of the tops of the perimeter walls having been taken down in the make-safe works after the collapse [of the roof in June 2020],” the application says.

“Apart from a few disconnected standard electrical fuse boards, which are not of great age and of limited or no interest, there is nothing in this building which would shed any light on its original purpose and that has been the case throughout living memory.”

Sungrove has in the past indicated it wants to build a new multi-storey residential and commercial building on the footprint of the two demolished buildings. It would re-use the bricks from the Engine House for the new building, paving and “garden walls”.

In a submission lodged with Heritage Victoria this week, Save the Brickworks argues that the building does have historical significance and with additional repair works it could be saved.

The group’s seven grounds for refusal of a permit to demolish the building include its irreversible impact on heritage significance, loss of authenticity, lack of investment into conservation and the lack of an agreed replacement building.

“Buildings 5 [Brick Press Shed] and 6 [Engine House] should have been appropriately maintained and conserved over the last 20-plus years,” the submission says.

“We do not believe that the owner should be permitted to demolish Building 6 and be rewarded with a ‘greenfields’ site because it has failed its obligations. Save the Brickworks objects to the activity of demolition for demolition’s sake.”

Ruth Giles from Save the Brickworks looks over the demolition of the Brick Press Shed.

Former City of Brunswick Mayor, local historian and Save the Brickworks member Elisabeth Jackson said Sungrove had not complied with heritage permit requirements issued when it first began developing the brickworks site in the 1990s.

“The permit issued required them to do heritage conservation works before they developed the rest of the site,” she said.

“That’s meant that they’ve been able to let these remaining heritage features, which were supposed to be retained and turned into a museum, to decay while they’ve developed the rest of the site and made money from it.

“It’s demolition by neglect.”

Michelle Reeves, who lives on the Brickworks estate, said the neglect of the two buildings over the years had made them a safety risk, with sheets of corrugated iron and other debris sometimes blown around in heavy winds.

“It’s just bizarre that they’ve been able to sit it out for so long and they’ve put the community at risk,” she said. “There’s not a lot of love for the developers.”

Moreland Council has lodged a submission to Heritage Victoria opposing the demolition of the Engine House.

It says it may be “pragmatic” for Sungrove to tear the building down but to do so would be pre-emptive without a full assessment of any soil contamination issues and a permit for a replacement building. Nor are there any immediate structural reasons to demolish the remaining brick walls.

A report by the council’s heritage adviser says the significance of the Engine House as one of the last buildings on the site associated with its brickmaking history has been increased by the demolition of the Brick Pressing Shed, especially because it forms a defining ‘cornerstone’ on Dawson Street.

Save the Brickworks will be holding a “wake” for the Brick Press Shed on January 16 in Gilpin Park.

This story was updated on December 24 with details of the Moreland Council submission.

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