People power, puppets and puns at rally to support troubled Preston Market

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Superhero Market Man – secret identity Jude Bourne, aged 4– is keeping a watchful eye on the future of his beloved Preston Market.

Sporting a green cape and a shirt emblazoned with an “M”, he was in the crowd that gathered to support the 53-year-old market in Melbourne’s north on Saturday. There has been a years-long furore over a proposed residential redevelopment of the site.

Protesters Kersti Skinner and four-year-old Jude, aka Market Man, at a demonstration at Preston Market on Saturday.Credit: Nicole Precel

Puppeteers clasping giant figurines, a marching band and children holding banners with “fight pho the market”, “donut close the market” and “there cannoli be one” circles the perimeter of the market, demanding it continue and pushing for a public acquisition of the site.

Market Man’s sidekick – his mum, Kate Duncan – said Preston Market was part of the fabric of their lives, and she wanted her son to be able to enjoy it when he was older.

“Preston Market is such an important part of our community. It’s the reason why we moved to Preston,” Duncan, 39, said.

“Every weekend we come here with Jude we see other people in the community we wouldn’t otherwise connect with. It’s part of who we are, why we are here.”

Puppeteers clasping giant figurines were among the protesters rallying to save the historic market.Credit: Penny Stephens

Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny on Monday implemented new heritage protections over the market sheds, preventing their demolition and scuppering 2019 plans by the owners to raze some sheds to build an open-air market and 2200 apartments in towers up to 19 storeys.

But the new controls cannot mandate that the private owners keep operating the market and Kilkenny has said it would allow mid-rise development at the site – up to 14 storeys and 1200 apartments. And the new overlays are discretionary, leaving the door open for owners Salta Properties and Medich Family Corporation to argue a case to go higher in any new application.

Under the now defunct plan, developers said, most of the market would have progressively moved east to the new open-air site, while stalls with local heritage protection would remain. The owners argue that the market urgently needs to be replaced and say all traders will have to close for two years under the government’s proposal, which requires the stalls to stay where they are.

The future of the market has become a key community issue. It has been linked to Labor’s margin in the once-safe seat of Preston being slashed by almost 20 per cent at the state election in November.

Thousands of protesters turned out demanding Preston Market continue and pushing for a public acquisition of the site.Credit: Penny Stephens

George Kanjere, from Save the Preston Market action group, said while supporters were buoyed by the state government’s heritage move, he was waiting to see how the developers interpreted the overlay changes.

Darebin Mayor Julie Williams, speaking privately and not on behalf of the council, said the “devil would be in the detail” of what the heritage listing would achieve.

We Are Preston Market spokesperson Chris Legge said the biggest issue for traders was the uncertainty – and the clock was ticking.

Traders are waiting for October 1, when they hope they will be given new leases until May, rather than notices to vacate for redevelopment or renovation works.

“It’s going to have to be a drastic change to anything they’ve looked at in the past,” Legge said of the development plans. “The process is going to take a lot of time, having to go back to the drawing board.

“From a traders’ perspective it means more sitting and waiting and uncertainty.”

A Salta spokesperson said their focus was on working with the traders.

“Any prolonged shutdown of the market just hurts the traders and places significant risk to their businesses,” he said. “We continue to review the minister for planning’s decision, with continuity of trade as our primary objective.”

Amelia, 4, and Violet Spence, 6, show their support at the Save Preston Market Day.Credit: Nicole Precel

Kanjere said that if the developers did plan to close the market, the state government should investigate public acquisition – something the group and some members of the community had pushed for.

“If it’s in the hands of a private developer who’s prepared to just close it if they don’t achieve their narrow development goals, then that’s really unacceptable for the wider community,” he said. “The market ought to be in public hands”

But Legge said traders had been told public acquisition was highly unlikely.

“As much as it is a romantic idealism of public acquisition of the market that would be welcomed by community and traders, with equally open arms, now is not the time for pipe dreams, now is the time for realistic implementable action,” he said.

Organisers said there were more than 2000 people at the rally on Saturday, while the market owner put the number at 500.

Legge said that while he appreciated the support, he questioned holding the rally on a Saturday, the busiest day for traders and customers who needed to find parks.

But stallholder Michelle Shen said she was encouraged by the support the community had shown.

She said she was equally nervous and hopeful of a positive outcome.

“We put in a lot of effort here. We work very hard. I know a lot of people have shops for generations,” she said.

“A lot of people, they come to the market every week. Where will they go? Going to the supermarket is not the same.

“We need the market. We depend on the market, we depend on people who come to the market.”

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– With Rachael Dexter

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