A market, for many, is their trusted source of fresh fruit and vegetables, local produce, and
a familiar sense of culture and community.
For some, their local market is home.
This is certainly the case for the community of Preston in Melbourne, Victoria, where the local 53-year-old market has long been recognised as the heartbeat of the surrounding suburb.
The Save the Preston Market Action Group, a community-based organisation, has long fought to prevent the redevelopment of Preston’s cherished ‘people’s market’ as threats of closure continue.
The group met on Saturday, December 16 ahead of Christmas to reflect on what has been a year filled with progress for their campaign.
Action group member Kathy handed out badges, while fellow member Jenny rolled out the group’s main banner to prepare everyone for a photo.
Australian landscape architect and television presenter Costa Georgiadis also stopped by to encourage the group to “keep going” with their campaign.
The warm and inviting ambience of Preston Market sprinkled all over the gathering as talks of next steps in preserving what the group describe as the “pillar of Preston” took centre stage.
Concerns around the Preston Market’s closure began in 2021, when the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA) had declared that a $1 billion fast-tracked project would ensure that 80 per cent of the market would be bulldozed for 20-storey high rise towers, consisting of 2,200 apartments.
This proposal was also put forward by Preston Market owners, Salta Properties and Medich Corporation.
The Save the Preston Market Action Group, which at the time had few members, responded by releasing a community petition started by Darebin Councillor Lina Messina. The petition aimed to stop redevelopment, garnering over 15,000 signatures.
After much debate from the action group and public concerns, the VPA adjusted the initial plan, stating in March 2022 that building heights would reduce from 20-storeys to 14.
Later, in October 2022, the revised draft Amendment was sent to the VPA Standing Advisory Committee, with the Victorian Minister for Planning, Sonia Kilkenny MP, only releasing findings in March 2023.
This response and the revised amendments by the VPA were still not enough to stop further activism from the action group as the 80 per cent demolition plan was not yet off the table.
Community and Governance
The action group conducted its first public meeting in May 2023 at the Preston Town Hall, with local MP Nathan Lambert in attendance, as well as Darebin Councillors Lina Messina, Gaetano Greco and Julie Williams.
Hundreds gathered to witness the magnitude of community support for the action group’s campaign, while cases for public acquisition of the market were presented.
Cr Greco, a well-regarded supporter of preserving the authenticity of the market, closed his statements (via video link) with a reminder to those gathered in the hall.
“The most important thing to remember is… it’s about keeping community life,” Cr Greco said.
Members of the group then met with Planning Minister Kilkenny and Mr Lambert in July, to make their case further known on a state government level.
Co-owner of Preston Market’s ‘Athina’s Deli,’ Dimitris (Jim) Katsaros, who has been running his business for almost 13 years, said that whatever happens could all depend on the next election.
“If the government changes, the whole picture changes,” Mr Katsaros said. “There will be developments whatever the case, it’s just a matter of saving the community feel.”
Hands Around Preston Market
Multiple rallies followed the group’s meeting in July, yielding constructive results, with new planning controls released in August involving ‘Development Plan Overlays’ and heritage protection proposed by the Planning Minister.
The action group took this as a sign of progress and organised the ‘Hands Around Preston Market’ event in August. Hundreds of people linked hands around the market’s borders in an attempt to display their continued loyalty to its protection.
Multiple news crews also attended to witness the grit and unyielding faith of many Preston market traders and hundreds of supporters.
Since then, the group has continued their efforts to attain the most important goal of their campaign – public acquisition, or, a compromise with owners.
On Monday, November 14, Preston Market Developments issued a statement to all tenants advising them that business stall leases would be extended for five years.
“The lease extensions will provide our current traders, and the community, with security, while the masterplan for the redevelopment of the Preston Market precinct is finalised,” the company management said in the statement.
Commenting on the promising news, Save the Preston Market Action Group leader, George Kanjere said even though the 5-year leases are a step in the right direction, there is still more work to do.
“We have to keep public consultation at the forefront. We’re still waiting for owners’ response to the new plans,” George said.
Member and spokesperson for the action group, Con Lambros also expressed his commitment to staying cautiously optimistic for now.
“We have to be careful. We don’t even know the details of these leases yet… battles have been won but the war isn’t over,” Con stressed.
Traders are yet to see the physical copy of the lease, with more information set to be revealed in January.
Despite the continued wait, George said the action group’s hard work has all been worth it.
“They have all done a fantastic job… we’ve come so far in terms of progress… we’ve created a whole other community,” he said.
To join the fight in keeping the “community feel” at Preston Market you can sign the petition here. Follow the campaign progress via the Save The Market Action Group website and on socials.