Changes on the Garden City Estate

The Garden City Estate in Port Melbourne is covered by a set of guidelines designed to shape what can be done with the houses. The estate is seen as worth conserving because,

The Bank House Estate was a unique experiment in mass housing, quite unlike anything else in Australia. Initiated by the State government through the State Savings Bank, it was Victoria’s first attempt to provide low-cost housing on a single estate. […] (page 4)

It was not just a significant development for social reasons, they are also seen to have planning significance.

The estate was designed according to the Garden City town planning philosophy popular in England earlier this century. The housing style within the estate and the general layout of the estate were extremely innovative for their time and were very different from the typical housing developments of the 1920s and 1930s. (page 4)

The houses are semi-attached, but relatively small compared to their large blocks and what many people would expect a house for a family to contain. Even a VCAT Member outlined increasing the size of the homes was important for attracting family households to the area (see Vakrinos & Anor v Port Phillip CC & Anor [2010] VCAT 1716’ in October 2011).

Page 17 of the Garden City Estate Guidelines covers perhaps the most contentious topic, extensions. The version of the updated guidelines which went to council in October 2010 was missing page 17, although the page was clearly considered in the review as text added to page 17 referring to the diagrams on page 18 was included in the table of changes prepared for council.

Page 17, along with the rest of section 8, appears to be relatively unambiguous. Both single and two-story extensions may be permitted under a range of conditions, including for both that they ‘match the house’s original form, materials and character (with a cement render or similar textured finish, and a flat or pitched roof with terracotta tiles) (Chapter 2 Garden City Guidelines 2010: 17). This point is further enforced in the illustrative diagrams that make up ‘Figure 4: Acceptable alterations and additions’ (Chapter 2 Garden City Guidelines 2010: 18-19). For example, there are two versions of the diagram of a house with a single story extension built on the side of the building. One has a hipped (partly slanted) roof of the same shape as the house, and the other does not. The text says that, ‘parapet walls at corners are not highly intrusive but are notably less sympathetic than hipped tiled roofs’ (Chapter 2 Garden City Guidelines 2010: 19). In other words, both a hipped and a flat roof may be permitted, but I would conclude the hipped version, as more sympathetic, is a better fit with the house’s original character. As matching character is seen as being a consideration for approval, I would see that the hipped roof was the preferred option.

Yet perhaps the section is more ambiguous than I thought on first glance. A number of people I have spoke with who own Garden City Estate properties are upset that ‘glass and concrete boxes’ are council’s preferred form for extensions and are going in at a significant rate. While I am sure some people like the ‘contemporary’ style extensions, others do not want them on their own homes or the homes of others. What seems to frustrate the people who want sympathetic extensions most is that the guidelines seem to say they can have them, but the experts say they cannot.

That there are differing opinions between some of the residents and the ‘experts’ who make planning decisions is not surprising. However, it seems note worthy that even very highly educated and system savvy non-experts do not read the guidelines in the same way as the ‘experts’. While some residents who favour sympathetic extensions are hoping to see a larger scale review of the guidelines, I am not sure such a review would lead to the outcomes they want to see. 

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