Younghusband revisited

Younghusband revisited
Simon Harvey

In 2018, together with Kensington Association treasurer Tony Ceddia, I attended a community gathering on the ground floor of the Younghusband building hosted by the Impact Investment Group (IIG). Wine and cheese were served, and as members of the Kensington Association executive, we were made to feel very welcome.

There was a feeling of optimism and some excitement about what was being planned for the site. IIG had purchased the Younghusband building in December 2016 with a commitment to the principles of sustainability, connection, collaboration and belonging.

Its plan was to rejuvenate the site over five years by creating spaces for a rich mix of businesses, creators, makers, and doers – what they called “a beautiful industrial village”.

That time, that optimism, that vision … it all feels like a dream now. We all know that the world was invaded by the COVID pandemic; finances collapsed, developers cut their losses, and bold visions became dreams. The vision conceived by IIG was no exception; it managed to redesign and sell on to a new consortium. As reported by Brendan Rees in the April edition of North West City News, the consortium comprises the Irongate Group, together with Canadian real estate firm Ivanhoé Cambridge, and construction group Built. This consortium has recently applied for a permit to amend the redesign. They have issued an open invitation to “a community information session” to provide information on their plans, with the opportunity to ask questions: Monday, July 18, 7pm to 8.30 PM – Main Room, Kensington Town Hall

There is no doubt that Kensingtonians place a great value on heritage precincts; the Younghusband building is a standout example. The question is (and has always been), how can such an iconic building be suitably repurposed? I would encourage any residents and business owners to attend this meeting. The new owners need to be interrogated on their plans; this is not any old “warehouse conversion”!

As evidenced from press releases by the consortium, there is no doubt the partners recognise the iconic nature of building. For example, the construction group Built has a very impressive record in repurposing heritage buildings. Built CEO Brett Mason said, “our capability as a development and construction group will allow us to … give these heritage buildings new life respectful of their rich history”. A consortium press release in March stated that “Kensington is one of Melbourne’s last remaining ‘villages by the city’” and “with a new train station [Arden] and recent investment from some of the world’s leading private and public investors, the area will be home to the full “work, live, play” experience that characterises some of the world’s greatest neighbourhoods”.

Inspiring words. Clearly the consortium recognises the juxtaposition of the Younghusband building between the centre of the Arden Structure Plan and Kensington village. One consortium leader is quoted as saying, “We look forward to integrating this beautiful heritage asset into the wider Kensington community and creating an amenity for all local residents.”

The question for the community is whether or not the development plans live up to this rhetoric. Do the plans have the potential to give the buildings “a new life respectful of their rich history?” How successful will the plans be in “creating an amenity for all local residents?” How will the plans enable the area to become “home to the full ‘work, live, play’ experience that characterises some of the world’s greatest neighbourhoods?”

On page 49 of the application to amend the proposal we find the following table pictured above …

This is a snapshot of some of proposed changes for the use of land for (what was) Stage 1 of the original proposal. My reading is that the proposal is for the Younghusband building to become another office block. If this is the case, the rhetoric from the consortium and the potential of their plans are poles apart. I hope I’m wrong! •


Caption: Table 1 provides a comparison of the approved and proposed land uses for the stage 1 development.

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