Heritage buildings in disrepair: Ballarat City Council considers new laws

News that Ballarat City Council will investigate creating new laws forcing owners of empty properties to keep buildings in good repair will be welcomed by many in the community.

Ballarat is a historic city, with a long list of heritage buildings from Golden Point to Lake Wendouree and the many suburbs in between.

A cursory look though past articles in The Courier shows many occasions where residents and council had to fight with developers to have empty buildings either maintained or refurbished.

The long running saga of the Unicorn Hotel is one example of many false starts.

There were changes to planning proposals and broken promises for a decade before a solution was finally reached and the building was able to become a retail space.

It was finally reopened in 2013, but not without much heartache and community angst due to it being a “derelict eyesore” before it was redeveloped.

Council’s proposed changes to local laws will include punishment for developers who allow empty and unoccupied properties to fall into disrepair.

It will send a clear message to developers that buy up properties with historical or heritage value on them – they are obligated to firstly maintain it so it does not become an eyesore on the Ballarat streetscape, and they are obligated to ensure its heritage value is not lost.

Although hard to prove, there is often talk in the community of some developers buying properties and letting them become so dilapidated that the only option remaining is to knock them over and start again.

The potential new laws will remove that suspicion.

At the moment the former Ballarat Orphanage site is drawing the attention – and anger – of the Ballarat community.

Councillors have reported the issue is often raised at its ordinary meetings by members of the public.

There is no doubt council must ensure its many planning and regulatory requirements for new developments are as smooth and as quick as possible.

But those checks exist to protect the amenity, heritage and cultural value of the region. The current situation is one that is unique to city’s like Ballarat, with their long list of heritage buildings, so council should be prepared to demand they are maintained – no matter their use.