Sophia Mundi Steiner School's new building at Abbotsford Convent
In early December 2011, the Minister for Planning granted the Sophia Mundi Steiner School a permit to construct a classroom building at the Abbotsford Convent site.
The four–classroom, single–storey building will be constructed on an existing playground to the north of St Mary’s building. Covered walkways will be created between the new building and the Mercator and St Mary’s buildings.
A new playground will be created on the site of an unused swimming pool, south of the convent’s main buildings.
The Sophia Mundi primary school has operated from the convent site since 2006, and the new building will be used as a secondary school. The school needed to find a new location for its secondary campus after its leased property in Nicholson Street, Abbotsford, was sold in 2010.
Here is the permit and plans approved by the Minister for Planning:
In September 2011, Council advised the Minister for Planning that it was opposed to the school's proposal for several reasons including that it would "take away public access and rights to public land at a precious inner urban heritage site that was fought for by the community for over 10 years in order to maintain it in public hands".
For the school's proposal to go ahead, permission needed to be given by both Heritage Victoria and the Minister for Planning. Permission was required from Heritage Victoria because the Abbotsford Convent is included on the Victorian Heritage Register.
Heritage Victoria approved a permit for the works in September. Here is the Heritage Victoria Permit (850.85kB). Prior to Heritage Victoria making its decision, Council had advised the heritage body that it believed the works would diminish the heritage significance of the convent site. Here is a media release about Council's submission to Heritage Victoria.
Permission was sought from the Minister for Planning because funding for the new building is being provided under the Federal Government’s Building the Education Revolution (BER) program. Under that program, the Minister’s permission is required if works are to be undertaken on land affected by an overlay. Several overlays apply to the Abbotsford Convent land where works would occur.
Projects funded under the BER program are exempt from requiring a Council planning permit.
In September 2011, Council sought clarification from the State Government Department of Planning and Community Development about whether the entire project was funded by Building Education Revolution (BER) funds. In particular, Council requested that "the Department of Planning and Community Development confirm that if the proposed playground area on the pool site is not funded by Building Education Revolution (BER) funds and is outside the Master Plan, then Council is the responsible authority for this". Council is yet to receive a response from the Department of Planning and Community Development about this matter.
In an earlier application in January 2011, the school applied for permission from Heritage Victoria to build a classroom building on an open space area of the convent site known as “the goat paddock”.
Council objected to that proposal (alongside the National Trust of Victoria and more than 2400 other objectors), saying the building would have negatively impacted on the convent’s rural setting and the open views that exist between the Convent, the Collingwood Children’s Farm and the nearby bike path.
In late May 2011, Heritage Victoria announced that it had rejected that proposal due to concerns it would detrimentally impact on the aesthetic significance of the former convent site and its rural setting on the Yarra River.
To read Heritage Victoria's reasons for refusing the permit, refer to the decision relating to the Former Convent of the Good Shepherd at the top of this Heritage Victoria webpage. Here is a media release from Council welcoming that Heritage Victoria decision.
Following Heritage Victoria's decision, the school submitted the revised proposal which has now been approved by Heritage Victoria and the Minister for Planning.
Manager - Statutory Planning
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