Artefact Church Square grew from volunteer work in the garden at Christ Church on Acland St, St Kilda. Its alternative proposal for redevelopment of the Bishop’s Residence to conserve Church Square, responds to a heritage permit application made public in June 2018, that planned to sever the back third of the Christ Church Complex from the front, to divide the block into two. The severed section included the grassed area behind Christ Church that would have become a carpark to service a commercial childcare adaptation of the former Bishop’s Residence, with an eye-height fence built around the entire severed perimeter. Presently, the grassed area is open space that neighbours freely and frequently walk through.

After Heritage Victoria (HV) submissions closed in July, neighbours – concerned HV would grant the permit – called a Fishbowl Community Forum. The forum resolved to accept the inevitability of the commercial childcare subject, though, to a re-negotiation of the carpark when the developer sought a City of Port Phillip building permit. Volunteers grouped to fight the developer at the local council level and later named themselves Church Square Friends.

At least one person nevertheless walked away from the forum dissatisfied. Why sacrifice not-for-profit childcare that has served the community for over thirty years and has empty places (due to a childcare glut), for commercial childcare? Why accept a reduced carpark that would still remove trees and demolish the church’s sculptural presence?

When gardening at Christ Church, it is hard to ignore the church’s sculptural presence given the number of times we walk around it — wrought in the age of another time, made resplendent in earthly walls of crag-cut stone. To rare effect, the church’s architecture sets in opposition a horizontal stone mass outside, against a vertical blast of space inside: a cross of earth and air. To turn the grassed area behind the church into a gated carpark — no matter how reduced or re-negotiated — is to squander the church’s sculptural presence.

This, the inanity of ‘for-profit’ next to ‘not-for-profit’ childcare that has empty places, and the head gardener’s kind yet persistent reminders prompted a final HV submission against the permit application. It included two main points so far unmade:

a) The Church Square Complex includes not only the ecclesiastic buildings but, also, the actual block called ‘Church Square’;

b) Of all the elements that comprise the Christ Church Complex, it is the Church Square, itself – not the 160 year old church – that is of highest heritage significance as the last known remaining Church Square in Victoria.

This HV submission is now Artefact Church Square’s alternative redevelopment. It aims to conserve this last remaining Church Square as a museum artefact, by turning it into a culturally thriving social centre that maintains its open space and actively invites others into a communal sense of belonging.

An amended HV submission included a rough layout for an arts library with a revenue plan to show how it would attend to the cash-strapped church’s urgent need of $4.5 million dollars of repair, since HV has a statutory obligation to observe an owner’s economic concerns in its final ruling.

On 01 October 2018, HV’s Executive Director ruled against the childcare and carpark development. The permit refusal’s second reason states:

It has been determined that a less intrusive proposal could provide an appropriate use for the former Bishop’s Residence, and a revenue for conservation works to the Church without the unacceptable detriment outlined in (1) above.

Since this ruling, the previous developer has appealed HV’s permit refusal, and a review of the refusal has been set for 16-17 May, 2019, at a Heritage Council Hearing. The cost to the developer for the Hearing’s fee, alone, is $21,972.70. This is in addition to the $10,811.47 already spent on application for a heritage permit.

This time, a revenue pledge by Artefact Church Square is not enough to stop the for-profit childcare-carpark development. While, in the first instance, the pledge proves in itself that the Executive Director did not act outside statutory obligations; in the second instance, however, at the Hearing, this is a moot point if it can be proven there was no financial promise in Artefact’s alternative at the time. 

To prove the alternative’s financial promise, then, the promise has to become a financial commitment, now. No other alternative can do this. Since Artefact’s was the only pledge at the time it, consequently, becomes the only one through which the Executive Director’s judgement can be questioned.

To uphold the permit refusal of 01 October 2018, your support for the alternative redevelopment is crucial. Artefact’s petition seeks a financial commitment from the government. Please sign it to help secure the green space behind Christ Church and, by doing so, save Church Square in its entirety as a whole, as an artefact.

Heritage Victoria’s 01 October 2018 decision
Gail Hastings’ (aka Artefact’s) 11/09/2018 submission to Heritage Victoria
Gail Hastings’ (aka Artefact’s) updated submission
Artefact’s Alternative Draft Plan

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From Artefact’s submission to Heritage Victoria: An analysis of the Architects’ plans for the area directly behind the Church shows a distance of around 147 cm from the Church to the proposed car park fence.
From Artefact’s submission to Heritage Victoria that shows how close the planned carpark will be to the back of the church.