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Inner urban conservation and development - An independent panel report on a proposal for Smith Street, Collingwood, under Melbourne 2030. Edited by Miles Lewis, August 2004. Order your copy

Protesters get tunnel vision as a dispute becomes a test case

23 Jun 2004

By Ben Schneiders

ONE of the most contentious inner-city development disputes of recent years could come down to a debate over a disused tunnel.

Developer Banco's proposal to demolish half a Smith Street block is facing a serious challenge on heritage grounds.

The proposed multi-tower development, which prompted a record number of objections to Yarra Council, will include 245 apartments and a supermarket.

A report commissioned by the developer says there is nothing of heritage value at the site, which runs from 132 to 172 Smith Street, but opponents disagree.

The Collingwood Action Group (CAG) has engaged academics and experts, including University of Melbourne architecture professor Miles Lewis.

Professor Lewis says a retail tunnel runs under Smith Street at the edge of the proposed development.

"The tunnel ... which used to link Foy and Gibson shops on either side, that's the most important element (in the development), that's really unique in Australia."

Professor Lewis says it was the first underground tunnel used for retailing in Australia.

"It was an interesting early experiment," he said. "Later on Myer had a tunnel under Little Bourke Street, then there was a public subway by Degraves Street."

Professor Lewis said further investigations should be made before demolition.

He said a number of the buildings slated for demolition had hoardings covering old facades.

"We believe there's a lot there to be seen that just isn't visible," he said.

Professor Lewis said the development was "now recognised by everybody as a test case for Melbourne 2030".

CAG spokesman Dominik Kucera said the group was still gathering information about other possible heritage issues, while Heritage Victoria would also make a submission to council.

He said two of the likely "gems" were a 1920s Coles building at 172 Smith Street and the remnants of the nearby Max Hotel. He expect the case to go to VCAT.

Banco director Mario Lo Guidice did not return calls before TMT went to press.

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