News / Planning

Old liquorice factory site cleared for development

Council agrees to support project after last minute changes to plans

An artist’s impression of the development on Victoria Street, with the historic brick chimney in the background.

Mark Phillips

ONE of the most recognisable vacant industrial sites in Brunswick has been cleared for redevelopment after Merri-bek Council indicated it would not oppose the project. 

In a surprise move, the council reversed its earlier opposition after the developer put forward revised plans shortly before the September 27 meeting of the Planning and Related Matters committee.

The 7309 square metre site adjacent to Brunswick railway station has been derelict for several years since most of the buildings on it were demolished, leaving a heritage-protected tall brick chimney in its centre, which is currently hidden behind scaffolding. 

Property developer Assemble Futures will proceed with plans to construct four high rise buildings containing 284 apartments and 5125 square metres of office and retail space after the PARM committee decided to support the application in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. 

The council dropped its opposition to the project on land bordered by Victoria, Wilkinson and Rosser streets after the developers agreed to make changes at a compulsory conference held by VCAT two days before the PARM committee meeting. 

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The site was once occupied by the Australian Liquorice Company – a joint venture between Hoadley and MacRobertson confectionary firms – which built its factory at 342-348 Victoria Street in 1922. It continued operating until 1985, and the chimney and associated firebox are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. Two Victorian-era terrace houses which have local heritage significance are also part of the site. 

Prior to its industrial use, the land had also been used as a boxing stadium, a carnival site and a Salvation Army mission. 

It was sold in July 2017 for $25.5 million to the Banco property group. The following year, a small adjacent parcel of land at 368-370 Victoria Street also changed hands for $1.5 million. 

A planning permit was issued by VCAT in July 2018 for 158 apartments and about 10,400 square metres of commercial space. This was extended in July last year, requiring construction to begin by July in 2024. 

In March this year, Assemble announced it had acquired the site for an undisclosed price with financial backing by AustralianSuper. It then submitted amended plans for the site to VCAT in June. The new plans would increase the housing stock by 80%, while reducing amount of commercial space by 60%. 

Assemble plans a “build to rent to buy” model, with 60% of the dwellings initially to be rented as affordable housing that the tenants will then have a later option to purchase.  

Location of the development

Click on the image to see it full size.

The liquorice factory site will be Assemble Future’s second project in Brunswick with construction well-advanced at 4 Ballarat Street, which will have 171 dwellings. 

But at the compulsory conference on September 25, Assemble offered to make some changes to the design of the buildings and to add an extra 1000 square metres to the commercial space, along with clarifying the amount of affordable housing which would be available. 

This achieved an acceptable compromise both to satisfy the objectors and to secure council support for the project. 

Kris Daff, managing director of Assemble Futures, welcomed the “sensible middle ground” that had been reached in VCAT negotiations for the council to support the project, which aimed to provide affordable housing for working people. 

“This proposal is pretty simple – it’s just about putting roofs over people’s heads,” he said. “We’re looking forward to getting on and starting this one early next year.” 

Councillors voted 8-1 to support the project, with the dissenting vote from Cr James Conlan who sought to defer a decision to allow more time to consider the changes made just two days earlier. 

“This whole process has ben very rushed,” he said. 

But Mayor Angelica Panopoulos said the negotiated outcome was an improvement on what had originally been proposed and should be supported by the council.  

Jonathan O’Brien, lead organiser of the Yes In My Back Yard Melbourne organisation, said to oppose the project would have sent the wrong signal during a housing crisis. 

“Part of the reason this project was being rejected was because it provided too much housing in a housing crisis,” he said. 

“It was being rejected because it didn’t meet commercial floor space targets. But the targets that were set [in 2018] were in a very different economic context. The reality is commercial floor space is not in demand [now], housing is demand.” 

Brunswick Community History Group president Elisabeth Jackson said she was pleased to see progress being made after the site had been derelict for many years, and that the chimney and firebox would be retained.

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