The Camberwell Railway Station has been at the centre of an ongoing heritage debate since the State Government’s railway infrastructure authority – VicTrack - announced plans in 2004 to sell the airspace over the site. Under the plan, a major redevelopment of the station would see the construction of a 5-storey building over a portion of the platform and the surrounding gardens and rail yard.
Platforms 2 and 3 at Camberwell Station. The original station buildings, overpass and red brick retaining walls can be seen.
Amid fears that the Federation-style building would be demolished or its amenety destroyed, local residents formed the Boroondara Residents’ Action Group (BRAG) to fight the proposal. Along with the City of Boroondara and the National Trust, residents sought to have Camberwell Station added to the state’s heritage register. In late 2006, the Heritage Council of Victoria rejected the application for heritage listing, arguing that the station was not of “state significance”. However, they recognised that the station was locally important and recommended inclusion in the City of Boroondara’s Planning Scheme.
The Camberwell Station complex is significant. It was constructed in 1919 of red brick in the “federation style” and is located in a cutting. The station is accessed by a street-level ticket office, from which a long ramp decends onto the platforms below. The station buildings feature a number of notable elements such as brick arches and cast-iron columns supporting a cantilever roof. Adjacent to the station is a rail yard and a carpark.
A panoramic view of Camberwell station, taken from Bourke Road. On the left is platform 3 and platforms 1 and 2 are located in the centre with the station buildings in the distance. To the right can be seen the rail yards and carpark.
In 2006, the City of Boroondara wanted to include the rail yard and carpark in the Planning Scheme. In response to the ongoing dispute, the State Government appointed an Independent Panel to review the matter, which handed down its report this week. The panel rejected the inclusion of a heritage overlay for the rail yards and carpark, but did support the protection of the station buildings and platforms.
Their argument was this: The original fabric of the station and platform buildings is well-preserved, and therefore warrants protection. However, the rail yard was significantly altered in the 1990′s such that there was virtually no heritage preservation whatsoever. It therefore could not be protected by a heritage overlay.
A city-bound train prepares to leave Camberwell station.
The fact that the station was protected in the first instance was a stroke of good fortune. Despite its high state of preservation, Camberwell’s design is not considered unique. Other very similar stations (referred to as the “Malvern Group” for their architectual similarity) are Armadale, Hawksburn, Malvern and Toorak. It is for these reasons that Camberwell could only be classed as locally significant.
For all their good intentions, the City of Boroondara and BRAG cynically presumed that they could use a heritage overlay on the yard as a buffer between the station and any future development, without considering the values of the yard as a heritage place. Now that the panel has rejected the application, BRAG is fearful of “inappropriate development”.
Platforms 1 and 2 at Camberwell station.
Personally, I consider that the Independent Panel got it right. The station should be protected. Aside from its local cultural significance, the station buildings have considerable aesthetic appeal. I would have been quite upset had the station been altered, and can only hope that a restoration is being planned. Furthermore, I am relieved that none of the platform will be built-over.
But I disagree with the City of Boroondara and BRAG about the heritage value of the yards. Presuming that an aesthetically-appealing building of suitable design is constructed over the yard that doesn’t exceed existing height limits nor overshadow the station platform, then I don’t believe there’s much to be concerned about. The fabric of the station (and the experience of using it) will essentially remain unchanged, including the view from Bourke Road.
Perhaps this will finally mark the end of the high-profile ‘Camberwell Station debate’ for now? Of course, the design of any proposed building will be controversial. But as I see it, that is a separate matter.
The station itself (and its landscaped gardens) have been protected, and that was the primary issue of concern. Now commuters and locals can rest assued that Camberwell station as we know and love it, will continue to be appreciated for years to come. And that is surely what matters the most?