News / Planning

Saxon Street development to go ahead despite objections

Neighbourhood House has until January to decide whether to be part of the project

While this building in Saxon Street, which currently houses the Blak Dot Gallery, will be demolished, a version of the mural will be recreated on a wall of the development.

Mark Phillips
Thursday, November 11, 2021

MORELAND Council will proceed with the $22.7 million transformation of the Saxon Street precinct into a community and arts hub with or without the support of the Brunswick Neighbourhood House.

Councillors on Wednesday night voted seven to four to endorse the final design concept for the project despite an attempt by the Neighbourhood House to delay a decision to allow further negotiations about its role within the precinct.

Under the resolution adopted by the council, the BNH now has until January 2 to sign up to the project or it will proceed without it as a tenant.

At the heart of the disagreement is the proposed relocation of an occasional child care centre managed by the BNH to the Brunswick Baths.

The BNH wants to integrate the child care centre within its other activities in a heritage building on the site – something that is not possible in the master plans for the project.

It has taken a decade for Moreland Council to reach this stage in the project after it bought the site alongside the Brunswick Baths in 2010.

The concept designs envisage demolition of most of a former Catholic school in Phoenix Street and of another building that currently houses the Blak Dot Gallery.

A new L-shaped five storey building would be constructed in the south-eastern corner of the site to provide space for galleries, work spaces and a café.

In total, there would be 2700 sq m of net lettable floorspace and 2000 sq m of public open space area within the precinct, which would reopen in late-2024.

The plan would allow the BNH to move out of its building in Garden Street, which is too small and no longer fit for purpose for occasional child care.

But the BNH remains unhappy with the way its activities would be split across three locations within the precinct. It also wants clarity about the future of its other building in De Carle Street.

Speaking to Brunswick Voice before the council meeting, BNH manager Nelly Cabala said the organisation would lose its identity and autonomy under the plans.

In a last ditch bid to prevent the plans being approved this week, the BNH launched an online petition demanding further consultation which by Wednesday evening had more than 800 signatures.

“I feel like we’re stabbing Brunswick Neighbourhood House in the back.”
Councillor Sue Bolton

“There is no way I want to see the heritage building being used for child care, and it would completely destroy our vision for Saxon Street.”
Councillor Annalivia Carli Hannan

At the meeting on Wednesday night, Councillor Sue Bolton sought to amend the plans to incorporate the child care centre into the ground floor of the heritage building, currently known as Sherwood House.

She said the current designs would be “locking the Brunswick Neighbourhood House into an impossible position” because the baths were unsuitable for an expanded child care service and would require significant changes to comply with government regulations.

“I just think this is really quite outrageous,” she said. “I feel like we’re stabbing Brunswick Neighbourhood House in the back, really. I don’t see any solution for them in what’s been proposed at the moment.”

Councillor James Conlan said under the current design, many of the services provided by the Neighbourhood House would not be viable.

But the Mayor, Councillor Annalivia Carli Hannan, urged her colleagues to think of the bigger picture and warned that any further delays would mean the time line for the project would blow out beyond the term of the current council.

She said the child care centre was only a small part of the overall site concept and could be accommodated elsewhere.

“There is no way I want to see the heritage building being used for child care, and it would completely destroy our vision for Saxon Street,” she said.

“Sherwood House is not a suitable location. We’re not locking Brunswick Neighbourhood House into anything, we’re just proceeding forward with Saxon Street with the vision we have to create a community hub and an affordable art precinct, and something that can be used by all residents of Moreland.”

Councillor Lambros Tapinos said the council had been consulting with the BNH for more than half-a-decade and the child care issue was not a justification for a further delay of another year.

A planning permit application for the project will be lodged by April next year and construction would start in early 2023.

Related story:

Neighbourhood House objects to plans for Saxon Street precinct