Young Opinion / Government needs to lead on heritage lanes

The Sydney and Melbourne Buildings in Civic … building started in 1926. Photo from the Mildenhall Collection

PROBABLY every Canberran has had an experience with our heritage “centre point”, the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings.

John-Paul Romano

Whether stumbling out of a nightclub or just walking past, I’m sure everyone’s noticed the buildings’ elegance as well as their  apparent flaws.

Construction began on the buildings in 1926 and wasn’t completed until 20 years later in 1946. So, what are the problems? There are three central issues.

Firstly, the buildings are separately titled and owned by multiple individuals. Without a body corporate this separation makes the maintenance of the external and common areas more troublesome and highly inconsistent (this is shown by the use of different shades of paint as well as varying levels of work to floor tiles, lights and facades).

The second issue is the service laneways, generally, crowded with trade vehicles, oily, smelly and full of waste from the nearby businesses, not to mention the fact that they are dark and visually unappealing.

Thirdly, many units in these buildings are empty and shops with no lights or activity are not a pretty sight for those visiting our great city.
So what’s to be done with this heritage gem?

I believe the government, through the City Renewal Authority, must take control of all external maintenance which will allow a consistent and heritage-friendly caretaker of the facades, pavements, roofs and laneways.

While the City Renewal Authority has already suggested some changes to Verity and Odgers Lanes, I believe a more radical approach is needed; internal buildings should be knocked down, and vibrant, bright and open laneways should be constructed; businesses should face into the laneways and the large trees should be pruned appropriately. Some in the community even suggest closing the laneways to vehicular traffic.

To reduce smell and litter, the government has proposed to store all garbage hoppers, in each building, within a single enclosure. While logical, I don’t believe this is the best solution. Recently, while travelling through Europe, I noticed an ingenious solution to above-ground hoppers that hasn’t caught on here yet; “underground garbage lifts” (as seen here).

As Australia’s most innovative and progressive city, this should be our solution, to ensure that there are no gloomy areas and to save precious space within the laneways.
But how do you encourage tenants to rent a generally older unit when there are similarly priced newer units close by?

I believe that celebrating the heritage values of our “centre point” will offer the most significant potential and opportunities to prospective lessees.

By making slight planning changes, these once vibrant and currently downcast areas of our CBD may have a much brighter future.

John-Paul Romano (@johnpauldromano) is an 18-year-old Canberra entrepreneur and founder of The PURE Network (


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