Yarra Flats Master Plan

Draft Plan and Impressionist Lab Gallery
On Sunday, 29th April Friends of Banyule representatives attended an open day at Yarra Flats Park, organised by Melbourne Water and Parks Victoria to initiate public feedback on a concept plan for the park. Also in attendance were representatives of consulting firm Lateral Projects, engaged by Council and Heidelberg School Art Foundation (HSAF), to conduct a feasibility study and public consultation for proposed Australian Impressionists/Heidelberg School Laboratory/Gallery. The proposed gallery would be located within the park in the north east corner, adjacent Bankia St & the Boulevard.
Proposal stage
The proposal is still at the concept/feasibility phase and no design for the gallery has been settled. However, a number of key features are proposed. These include:
  • The gallery and education centre is aimed to celebrate the art of the Heidelberg School.It is not intended to house a permanent collection, rather paintings on a rotating basis from the collection of the City of Banyule, as well as potentially, on loan from the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV);
  • It is intended to have a relatively small footprint (approx 1600 - 2000 square meters), comprising a gallery with a cafe, raised (approx' 2.6m) above ground (& claimed, above 1/100 year flood level) plus, a number of  "studio/ educational  pods", around the central building. Total height would be around 7 - 9m (approx' height of a two storey building) and it is claimed, not above the height of surrounding trees. The aim as stated, is that the gallery should intereact with the environment where the Heidelberg School painters worked;

Yarra Flats

Alternative locations

  • The consultants examined the potential use of Banyule House which, between 1975 - 1995, was owned by the the NGV and used as a gallery for art of the Heidelberg School. As you would be aware, Banyule House was sold back into private hands during the Kennet government era and current owners are intending to subdivide the land and construct three two storey town houses in its grounds. Banyule House was considered unsuitable by the consultants because it is claimed, it has "no public access" or is not sufficiently "close to public transport or a main road to ensure its sustainability". On this point, if the plan for subdivision is not approved by council (previously rejcted on heritage grounds, subsequently allowed by Heritage Vic.), when comming back for a planning application, then land to the south of the Homestead, previously used as a car park, would still be avilable for that purpose. Proper management and public relations of a gallery in this original site (in a land mark National Trust listed building after which the municpality is named), would ensure viablity of the enterprise. It is our view that if the Homestead were brought back into public hands and refurbshed for the purpose, even after paying for required renovation, would stiil be more cost effective than building a new gallery from scratch. The site is ideal, would be a more secure location than the park, would not encroach on park land and, on its elevated site overlooking Banyule Flats, be well above potenial flood levels;
  • Colocation at Heide Gallery was also not considered appropriate as Heide is the home of the Modernists - Nolan Tucker etc and the birth the Modernist movement in the second half of the twentieth century, a signficantly different but equally important art movement in Australia. It is fair to argue that a gallery in the Banyule area celebrating the Heidelberg School would help promote the area generally, and as an arts desination as the home of two of the most significant art movements in Australia.

Car parking

  • The Gallery would include an approx' 300 space car park to the south. There are presently 160 existing car park spaces according to Parks Victoria. Three smaller landsaped car parks with approx' 100 spaces each, are proposed. Parks Vic say the net increase is approx 150. A traffic management plan will be developed (in conjunction with residents) it is stated.
  • It is intended that funds for the Gallery will be provided by local state and federal governments and, private donation, including HSAF and public subscription. Estimated costs at this stage are in the order of approximately $19m. It is also stated that funds (approx' $ 1.5m ) will be set aside by Parks Vic and Melbourne Water for refurbishment of the park.

Yarra Flats Park

Zone = Public Conservation and Resources Zone

  • The land is in a Public Conservation and Resources Zone, subject to an Environmental Significance and Inundation Overlay. Relevant planning approvals would need to be obtained. It is claimed that the flood /inundation overlay could be met by an "engineering solution" viz; the building to be raised on stilts 2.6 m above ground. It would be interesting to obtain a second opinion on this as the 1934 flood levels would place the building in danger of inundation. Severe flood events are now more frequent.

Other related projects

  • There are three projects altogether proposed for Yarra Flats Park. Melbourne Water and Parks Vic are persuing two projects in conjunction with this proposal, including a wetlands/stormwater treatment facility as well as a tree based Eco Facility. It is claimed that the Impressionist Lab/Gallery will help attract funds for these two projects. It is also stated that the Yarra Flats Master Plan will include revegetation to assist in maintaing the area as a wild life corridor.
  • As an alternative outside the park, it is stated that the adjacent building on the corner of The Boulevard and Banksia St, would not be suitable for conversion to a Gallery. No costings however are provided as a comparison.

Time lines are intended to commence construction in 2014/2015. Given the capital cost of approx' $19m and it seems, no funding set aside for recurring costs, ie; operating and running costs including wages/ on costs etc for specialist staff, this might be difficult to achieve in reality. Presumably these costs would be paid for out of state or federal funds as it would place a strain on Counci's limited resources. Given the current economic climate of cost cutting and budget surplusses, I would suggest the proposed timelines are somewhat optimistic.

Friends of Banyule are not opposed to the plan but the proposed location. We agree with the concept of promoting the area as the home of the Heidelberg School. As stated previously in our submission to Heritage Victoria, to Council and letters to the Planning Minister and Premier, Friends of Banyule believe that the appropriate location for a Gallery celebrating the Art of the Heidelberg School/ Australian Impressionists is Banyule House. It was previously used specifically for this purpose. It does not encroach on public parkland, it would bring back into public hands, one of the most significant surviving pre gold rush homesteads in Victoria and one intimately connected with Banyule's and the State's early settlement. Importantly, in the location where the Heidelberg School Art Movement was born.

To view the concept plan follow the link to the Parks Victoria Website: Yarra Flats Master Plan

Follow this link to read an article about the Yarra Flats Master Plan recently published in the Banyule and Nillumbik Weekly.


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