Flower and Garden Show issued new licence for Carlton Gardens, but heritage concerns remain


By Kaylah-Joelle Baker and Sean Car

City of Melbourne councillors have given the all clear for the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) to continue to be held in Carlton Gardens despite continued concerns from heritage groups over the event’s “damaging impact” on the World Heritage-listed site.

At the time of publishing, councillors were expected to issue a three-year licence (2024-26) to the event’s operator Flower and Garden Show Limited with an option for a further three-year extension (2027-29) by mutual agreement at its September 27 council meeting.

The item had originally been scheduled for consideration at the council’s August 30 meeting but was withdrawn from the agenda at the last minute by its CEO Justin Hanney after it was found the council had not discussed the licence renewal with heritage groups as promised.

At that meeting, Mr Hanney said that a submission from the Friends of Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens had “indicated that I’d made a commitment” in April 2019 regarding their engagement in the process, and the item was subsequently withdrawn for “procedural fairness”.

“In looking into this matter further it’s now clear that engaging in a meeting prior to the council making any further decisions hasn’t been undertaken, and it should,” Mr Hanney said.

A follow-up meeting took place on September 14 between City of Melbourne and FREBCG, Protectors of Public Lands Victoria Inc., Royal Historical Society and the National Trust of Victoria, during which those groups requested that the proposed licence renewal to be delayed.


While the subsequent report from council management tabled at its September 27 meeting stated these groups felt it was “premature to issue a new licence”, it noted prior stakeholder consultation had been supportive of holding events in the gardens as part of the Carlton Gardens Master Plan.


“Acknowledging there are a variety of community views on this matter, it is also noted that the Heritage Master Plan recognises the principle of using Carlton Gardens South for appropriate larger events,” the report stated.

But Protectors of Public Lands Victoria Inc., president Fiona Bell told Inner City News that heritage groups had argued that the decision be delayed until the outcome of the current World Heritage Management Plan Review for the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens was completed.

“The Royal Exhibition Building and the hard surfaces are a lovely place to showcase the garden show as it is a fabulous World Heritage building, but we are very unhappy about having the Carlton Gardens being closed off and damaged,” Ms Bell said. “[MIFGS] say they are all about not doing much damage, but we think they should be doing no damage at all because the gardens are World Heritage and so precious and undervalued.”

“We want a win-win situation because we want MIFGS to still be able to hold [the event] and show everything off, but at another location to save the Carlton Gardens from being spoiled and damaged.”

Heritage groups had also called on the matter to be referred to the Federal Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, which requires anything causing damage to heritage sites to be brought to the Minister’s attention.

Among the specific examples provided by Ms Bell was that MIFGS, and its set-up and take-down, was in violation of tree protection rules due to damage caused to surface roots and the grounds by concrete blocks, long spikes, heavy machinery and no matting where appropriate.

But in approving the event’s licence extension “in light of exemplary performance over 26 years” council management noted that terms could be amended subject to any requirements arising from the World Heritage Management Plan.

“As the World Heritage Management Plan review process is still underway and unlikely to be complete before mid 2023, it should be noted that if there are any requirements arising from the review process which are not consistent with the licence clauses, the licence will be amended,” the council report stated.

“The five-day event has taken place in the Royal Exhibition Building and Carlton Gardens South since the late 1990s. A major highlight of Melbourne’s events program, it is a gated, ticketed event that attracts up to 270 exhibitors and vendors and 100,000 visitors.”


“A heritage permit for the event and a pre- and post-occupancy event report are also required by Heritage Victoria. Although an event of the size of MIFGS has the potential to have a high impact on Carlton Gardens South, a review of test results and reports since 2005 shows that clear guidance, strict management and consistent onsite monitoring has served the site and exhibitors well, with no apparent cumulative impact on the heritage values of Carlton Gardens.”


MIFGS did not respond to a request for comment before going to press. •


Caption: Images taken at Carlton Gardens before, during, and after MIFGS, and submitted by heritage groups to the council.

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