oc | Thursday 1st October

Surviving Stonnington Heritage

2 Ash Grove Malvern East

’s own residents are being heavily impacted by ’s “one-off, one-out (random)” Heritage Strategy.

It’s the “one-off, one-out” that is the key.

It’s the implementation of strategy, not the overall policy, that is hurting the Stonnington Community.

Welcome to the third of three articles on a Heritage War happening in your neighbourhood.

Your real enemy is your council’s Heritage Strategy; not outside developers, neighbours, foreigners and probably not your council officers.

What can you do about it? There are real life solutions to surviving “your” Heritage, surviving “your” council.


Right now in 2017, if you are looking to buy into or sell out of Melbourne’s Inner East, you have an additional major financial and psychological risk – Council’s Heritage – due to the unknown, inconsistent and the changing nature, that is Stonnington Council’s “one-off, one-out” Heritage Strategy.

“One-off, one-out” Heritage is not only a problem for the rich. Many average Mums and Dads, who are going through “correct” Heritage channels are now involved in council nightmares with no end in sight. Councils are saying one thing in writing one day and another thing a few weeks, months, years later.

The author of this article totally believes in Heritage protection – when applied consistently, according to community standards, across the board. All the homes pictured here have been bought by the author and are still standing. We at James Buyer Advocates are not paid by, nor work for, developers and in fact, there is no developer connection to anything in this piece.


The “One-Off, One-Out (random)” Problem

Four weeks ago Stonnington Council destroyed an innocent family’s dream, after a night before the auction Heritage order was placed on the front doormat of their home, with no warning. This occurred after the Stonnington Council had said repeatedly to prospective buyers and to the seller (IN WRITING) there were no Heritage Issues. That family has still not sold and now faces significant financial hardship, due to another purchase, with the loss of millions of dollars. See Game Changer for more details

Six weeks ago in an auction was pulled at the last minute after significant marketing expense, when a NO HERITAGE statement from council at the start of the campaign was reversed a few days out. That property remains unsold.

Last week: One of the letters we received (excerpts)

“Mal thank you for your Heritage articles…….. we bought in Hawthorn……..we consulted with council’s Heritage consultant (IN WRITING)……the council saw nothing of value in our building and were of the opinion full demolition could take place……..This was our error in believing the council’s written word………(property bought – council change of mind March 2017 and letter finishes with)……….meanwhile I am in rented accommodation with my family, wondering when I will be able to get on with my life”

These are just three of the myriad of skirmishes being fought on many fronts by council, all hidden from the public, with buyers and sellers held to ransom financially and psychologically. Those same buyers and sellers know, that the harder they fight for their rights, the tighter the Council pulls the Heritage noose around their necks.


Why is this Happening?

1. Because beautiful , such as 16 St Georges Road Toorak, were being pulled down by foreigners, developers and some local homeowners, without council being able to stop them. Many in the community felt that was wrong (ourselves included).

2. In response, being tight on resources and under community pressure, Stonnington Council panicked and hurriedly engaged us all in one of the most poorly thought out strategies, Heritage has ever seen. They choose to combat their overall Heritage Control gaps with “one-off, one-out (random) Heritage Orders” instead of strengthening or completing an across the board, consistent solution.

You’ve heard of General Custer, Gallipoli and the Vietnam War… The Heritage strategy employed by the Stonnington Council is so flawed, it makes the aforementioned look like tactical victories.

3. As a result, Stonnington Council have begun to drive all of us into a Heritage abyss so deep, that it is hard to see any reversing out of it. And while spiralling ever downwards many, and I am talking a lot, of their own residents’ lives have been severely and unfairly disrupted – they are becoming the innocent casualties of war; one that doesn’t need to be happening.

What is this leading to?

  • The flawed Heritage strategy must surely be placing their own council officers under increasing stress. This has to become a health and safety issue, as the inconsistencies force all sides to fight more emotionally, more aggressively.
  • More developers will sit back, like Zulu warriors on the top of the hill, looking down at these mum and dad skirmishes, looking down at the distracted, confused and frustrated council officers – to see where they can pick off their prizes.
  • An immense “Heritage” problem for Mums and Dads, widespread and like an iceberg, hidden mostly below the surface – all causing great financial and psychological distress to their own residents.
  • A class action against Stonnington Council, if there is no immediate and profound change.
  • The entire Heritage Concept is weakening every day, until eventually it will lie in tatters.

Specifically, what is the Stonnington Heritage Strategy that is causing all the problems?

Let’s use the Council’s letter to one of their own residents, 24 hours before an auction to highlight the gaping holes in their Heritage Strategy.


1) One-off and random

2) Outside Individual Heritage Criteria – not a Clear and Consistent Policy.

3) Not currently included …. in council’s Heritage strategy (that is code for admitting holes, not complete across all of Stonnington…….)

Here is an everyday translation (with a bit of poetic license) of the above letter.

A shadowy figure engaged by the Stonnington Council happens to be walking down your street, not every street, just yours and today he tells you. “Hey buddy, your suit, the one you want to wear, is not to my personal taste and therefore you need to keep wearing an old and tatty one instead.”  

You enquire about suits that others in the street are wearing, many of them similar to the one you want.

The shadowy figure, looks at you, says nothing and walks away.

Unclear, you run after him and not wanting to ruffle feathers, you enquire what suit should you wear; he responds with “can’t tell you, but not that one” …….

……..weeks later you find the only suit you can wear, is a renovated old and tatty one, which looks sort of OK, but costs ten times the man’s suit across the road and five times the one you wanted to wear………

………months later your neighbour got rid of his old and tatty suit without any comment and is now wearing the new one you wanted to wear……… and nobody has seen or heard from the shadowy figure, since the day you ran into him in your street.

……… six months later, upset and lighter in the pocket and seeing some people in suits you wanted to wear and others not, you begin the mistrust and then despise the councils suit policy. 


The council has chosen to plug holes in the Heritage dyke with a “one-off, one-out” Heritage strategy; instead of strengthening the entire Heritage dam wall.

They’ve actually have a good Heritage wall, however in the future the wall will burst.

As it continues to weaken, even more holes will appear AND those plugging the holes will fatigue – and then comes the spiralling into the abyss.

It’s the Stonnington General(s) who laid down the Stonnington Heritage Implementation Strategy, who are your real villains in this war.

There is little wrong with the actual Heritage Concept and it has wide community support.

When the class action arrives on the doorsteps of the Stonnington Council, as it surely will, (if Council does not rethink their strategy of “one-off, one-out” Heritage); then those that put this together, will need liability insurance and in fact more to the point, hopefully will have found different employment.

In 2017 it’s the Stonnington General(s) who are in fact destroying Heritage, more so than any developer’s bulldozer, neighbour complaint or foreigner’s aspiration; as it’s the strategy implementation, not the Heritage concept or policy, that is hurting (financially and psychologically) a lot of their own innocent residents (community) and council employees.

It doesn’t have to be like this, but it is!

sorrett 2

Who’s right is Stonnington Heritage?

Is Heritage an individual right – meaning; can you keep or bulldoze what you own at your discretion?

Is Heritage a smaller community right – eg Boroondara Council has decided not to apply Heritage reviews to – because of strong community opposition – so has seemingly the community veto power on Heritage. Read the substantial and balanced article by Allison Worrall The Age 16/9/17

Is Heritage a wider community right? Meaning state or federal government should be providing the lead, guidelines etc.

How should Stonnington implement Heritage?

One-off piecemeal, opinionated views or a clearly defined, across the board consistent strategy?

As soon as I start to tell you my views on the fact that I like 1960’s homes better than Clinker bricks, the problems start…….

As soon as an outside Heritage architect tells the Stonnington Council, that in his or her opinion, a house is of special significance, because it was designed by a guy, who was influenced by another guy (who was famous) and should be placed under Heritage Control – when in fact to a normal person the home looks unexciting, is not even a Victorian, Edwardian, let alone a classic – has no garaging, is poorly placed on the block, basically ugly from the street (apologies) AND is in a street with a number of classic Edwardians and Victorians, and a home of one of our nation’s founding fathers (all of whom have NO heritage controls – this architect’s chosen one is the only one) – the problems start…….

When the council sends you a written letter saying no Heritage – you buy –  and then another a week later saying there is Heritage……the problems start….

We think Stonnington Council is the right authority – it does not need State Government intervention. It needs Council to get their Heritage Strategy consistent and REPLACE their current one-off Heritage application, with a Heritage Transition period while they map out, an across the board, precinct by precinct Heritage policy, with an easy to understand points rating system, that is accessible for buyers and sellers AND implemented by trained council officers.

That is, they complete and tweak Heritage Policy to be consistent across all of Stonnington and they cease immediately their one-off Heritage actions.

Oh and yes, get a Heritage architect on the precinct by precinct panels, but also women, indigenous, young and……. a cross section of the actual precinct the controls are going to affect.

We actually support Balwyn’s right to say no………it’s their community.

What about new, what about non Anglo architecture………..?


Until Good Heritage Strategy arrives at Stonnington how do I survive? (PS Good Heritage Policy is already there!) 

How can I best traverse the tricky snakes and ladders of Heritage, without falling into the deep do-do, that is a Heritage Conflict? How as an individual buyer or seller can I minimise the psychological and financial stress currently happening in Stonnington, Boroondara and ……….?

1. Don’t think Heritage is a non-issue. Make a plan before you start anything – once the first shot is fired, it’s almost always too late to change course. Don’t think your home or your targeted home is not special, just because you think it doesn’t have a Heritage Overlay on it.

2. Understand the depth to which things can go: Once you get into a serious dispute with the council, you are not only headed to the courts – at a very significant financial cost – but it is going to take over your life. The councils are very unforgiving adversaries and like any war – there are no winners. They are not emotionally invested in your issues, nor short of time or funds – in fact your very dispute gives some of them, a reason for existence. This is a very harsh comment and deliberately so – as best advice is DO NOT GET INTO A DISPUTE.

3. Some Council officers offer great Heritage advice? We can state that some of the best help our clients have ever received on Heritage homes, have been from council Heritage officers – we respect their role and the difficulties in their job. We totally recommend you consider accessing them. However, get on the wrong side of the Council on a Heritage issue at your peril AND unfortunately, you currently CANNOT TRUST the WRITTEN WORD, let alone the spoken word of Stonnington Council. See our Game Changer article for written proof.

4. Get the right People Advisors: There are competent architects/agents/advocates and there are disaster advisors. There are people who can get the job done and there are people that will lead you into a swamp, one that you may find difficult and very expensive to get out of.

Choose very, very carefully and just because the word Heritage appears as an adjective in front of a title or in a resume – DO NOT leap into that bed, without a lot more behind the scenes credential checking. If you are buying or selling an older home you would be wise to seek out selling agents, buyer advocates and heritage architects familiar with the territory and referred to you, by those you trust.

5. Secrecy/Confidentiality a.k.a. keep a low profile: If there is one thing I have learnt over the years in buying heritage homes – it is secrecy. In the bigger homes, the more people that know of an impending transaction, the more problematical it becomes.

6. Options: Buying a home with a potential difficult future? Get an option in your contract!

7. Better to do and apologise later, rather than ask permission in the first place: With regards to council it is almost the only way to go, on the small beer stuff. Of course your issue then lies in the future at resale – neighbours – it needs to be well thought through and the risks understood. And please before the usual flood of emails come – no I am not talking about major building works or demolitions without permission. But once you get into the sight line of a zealous council officer………mmmm…… you get the drift!

8. Current Values: Heritage homes that are not fully renovated are currently worth LESS than unrenovated newer homes; as the they sit on in 2017 is worth 10% to 20% less and the costs to refurbish are higher.

9. Future values: There are Heritage homes that I would buy for investment (yep there are some good value propositions) and there are Heritage homes, I would not buy for investment.

10. Reno values: A period home in need of some serious work at a cheaper price rarely represents a discount – know the real reno costs!  For example, Heritage Architects cost $20,000 to $100,000 on top of normal fees. Holding costs while in dispute – $250,000? and………….lawyers…….

11. Grow foliage.


Heritage homes are great family homes – we love them and many are better family homes than , for many buyers. It’s such a shame to see Stonnington Council policy applications of Heritage damaging their beauty.

Heritage is solvable with the 3C’s.

Completion (of all Stonnington precincts)

Consistency (of assessment and application for everyone) and

Clarity (simple, clearly accessible rules)…..

………but that appears a long way off; so in the meantime, be smart, avoid joining the wounded when entering the Stonnington war zone.

Stonnington’s one-off Heritage strategy has to change or it will destroy what it was designed to protect – its residents, its community and its Heritage.



Every home pictured in this article, we have purchased for James Buyer Advocates clients – all are still standing – no pictures relate to any homes mentioned in the story.

We have bought hundreds of period homes in Boroondara, Stonnington, and , on and off market, over the last 15 years or so.

We do not act for, nor are we funded by developers or interest groups.

Our company is not involved in currently, nor has had any planning application dispute with Stonnington Council in the past.

We love Heritage Homes (my family lives in one)

This is more than business for us, and yes we can see that Heritage is also part of other Council agendas, but we are personally troubled by Stonnington Council and the unfair impact, a deeply flawed Heritage strategy is having on so many of their own residents.

Mal James

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