By Luke Voogt

A community group has won a four-year fight to protect the history of Newtown, following a council decision on Tuesday night.
Newtown Action Group’s Vicki Baensch welcomed Geelong council’s decision to apply a heritage overlay to parts of the suburb.
“It’s fantastic council are not only supporting a pocket of Newtown but the heritage and character of Geelong,” she said.
“It’s nice to know a community group can get involved and have an impact on the process.”
Geelong Council adopted a planning amendment at its latest meeting, which applied a heritage overlay to the Newtown West and Upper Skeene Street precincts, and other areas of the suburb.
Newtown Action Group first campaigned for heritage protection in 2014 when changes in State Government planning schemes led to a rezoning of part of the suburb.
“(The City’s planning department was) perhaps not considering the reality of what was going on,” Ms Baensch said.
“There are some beautiful old homes that have been knocked down and some very modern homes that are not sympathetic to the character of that area.”
The group raised money and successfully campaigned to prevent zoning changes allowing four-storey housing.
“We appointed heritage architects to assess the area because we realised there was no heritage overlay,” Ms Baensch said.
Council’s recent introduction of a heritage overlay provided clear guidance to property owners looking to renovate, she said.
“The other main benefit of the heritage review is it goes a long way to eliminating poor outcomes.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’re not against new developments, but people buy into the area because they like its character.
“You see some fantastic renovations where the front of the property is old and the back of the property is modern – you can have the best of both worlds.”
Council adopted the decision following the Newtown West Heritage Review in 2016 and an independent panel in August.
The Victorian Planning Minister appointed the panel, which received 16 submissions in relation to the heritage plans.
The majority of submissions supported the overlay, although some questioned the inclusion of Great Western Hotel and the Upper Skene Street Precinct.
“There were also some residents concerned about extra steps in renovations and alterations,” Ms Baensch said.
The City will submit the Amendment C365 to the Minister for Planning for approval.
“They told me that could take up to a few months,“ Ms Baensch said.

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