'Rare' Telstra lattice tower beats heritage listing

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'Rare' Telstra lattice tower beats heritage listing
An historic image of the tower. (Source: Whitehorse City Council)

Future of 50m-high ‘Meccano set’ in the balance.

Telstra must wait until the end of July to learn if it can demolish a 1960s lattice telecommunications tower in Melbourne’s suburbs after a council bid to heritage-list the “rare” structure was rejected.

The carrier filed a development application with Whitehorse City Council last year to demolish the almost 50m-high tower and replace it with a modern, less visually-obtrusive monopole.

However, the plan hit a snag when a ‘post 1945 heritage study’ by the council “identified the site as having heritage significance and recommend[ed] it for inclusion in a heritage overlay”.

The significance came from the tower’s “association with the expansion of the broadcasting and telecommunications infrastructure in the late 1950’s”, according to council documents.

“The tower is one of the few surviving examples of tall transmitting masts from that era in the metropolitan area,” the council said.

“The tower is rare in a regional (metropolitan) context and also potentially in the broader statewide context.

“[It] is a virtually unaltered example of contemporary utility architecture of the period.”

A Telstra spokesperson told iTnews the DA was put on hold while the heritage application was assessed.

Whitehorse said it received 334 submissions on the proposal. All but four opposed a heritage listing, invariably describing the tower as “a poor example of 20th century design”, and “visually dominating, intrusive and out of character with the surrounding area”.

Telstra also slammed the proposal, arguing it did “not accept that the site has any aesthetic, architectural, historic or cultural merit”.

The level of animosity directed at the heritage proposal saw it dumped at a council meeting on May 18, in a 9-0 vote.

The Age reported that residents whose homes sit almost directly under the giant tower were “elated”. One described its architectural aesthetic as “like a big Meccano set.”

Telstra is now awaiting a decision on the original DA before the future of the lattice tower is sealed.

“As the heritage proposal has now been rejected, council will make a determination on the DA at the council meeting scheduled for July 28,” Telstra’s spokesperson told iTnews.

“The site will remain in use as a telecommunications facility, but will be upgraded with current technologies.”

Striking architecture in suburbia

The lattice tower was erected by the Postmaster-General’s Department between 1961 and 1963, according to a heritage study of the site.

It was originally built to replace an aerial mast at the City West telephone exchange in Little Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

“By 1960, the proliferation of new high-rise buildings in Melbourne (following the abolition of CBD height limits in 1958) was such that the City West tower could no longer transmit effectively,” the study said.

“One microwave radio route was already entirely blocked, and others were threatened.

“The solution was to provide a relay station on a suitably elevated location in the suburbs. At that time, the highest point in the metropolitan area was the crest of Delaney’s Hill in Surrey Hills, more than 400 feet (120 metres) above sea level.”

Residents at the time did not oppose the siting of the infrastructure but were not very keen on its appearance – and that did not change over time.

However, it did not stop the heritage study from claiming it “aesthetically… as a landmark”, citing in particular “a feature wall of Lilydale stonework that was specifically requested by the residents”.

It concluded the tower “remains a striking element in the suburban landscape”.

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