Protracted fight to save Preston Market gathers momentum

Local Member of Parliament, Nathan Lambert, is feeling the pressure from a mobilised community. A snap action in February blockaded his office in the heart of Preston. Photo credit: Debbie Brennan
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A showdown is looming in Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs. On one side is billionaire developer Sam Tarascio and his company, Salta. On the other side is the multicultural, working class community of Preston and surrounds. At stake is the Preston Market, a much loved institution that is the heart of the community. Small stall holders trade at the market, providing everyday goods and fresh produce at affordable prices.

Preston Market opened in 1970. This welcome alternative to the major supermarkets immediately drew a crowd. While its popularity has grown ever since, its future is now under threat. Tarascio has a plan to shrink the footprint of the Market by 80% to construct luxury high-rise appartments with an adjacent small retail precinct. This development would transform the Market, a bustling hub with an eclectic mix of stalls under a heritage listed roof, into yet another sanitised shopping centre.

Voice of the community. The Save the Preston Market campaign is leading a broad and energised fightback. Campaigners will be satisfied with nothing less than the entire preservation of the existing Preston Market. Central to the campaign is the demand that the Victorian government publicly acquire the market and give it to the community to run. The Dandenong, South Melbourne and Victoria Markets are all publicly own and managed by the local community under the auspicious of their local councils. There are also precedents aplenty for public acquisition, and the Andrews government must act now!

It was standing room only at the Save the Preston Market Public meeting. Photo credit: Alison Thorne

On May 12, 400 people crowded into a town hall meeting to discuss the looming threat to the market. Many more were turned away when the hall reached capacity. The meeting unanimously backed the public acquisition demand. It also called for 100% retention of the existing Market, for exorbitant rents to be reduced and for the reinstatement long-term leases. The crowd cheered with approval when one speaker raised the power of unions to save the Market, pointing to historical wins achieved whenever green bans were imposed.

Amongst the attendees was Nathan Lambert, the Labor Party state member for Preston. Lambert is certainly feeling the heat from the local community, having won his seat by the narrowest of margins. His challenger, Gaetano Greco, backed by the Save the Preston Market campaign and receiving the preferences from the socialist candidate, almost won the previously safe Labor seat. At the meeting, Lambert was presented with a humungous pile of petitions signed by more than 12,000 people supporting the public acquisition call. With the community so determined to save the Market, Lambert pledged to present the petition to the Victorian Parliament.

Threat of closure. The stakes are high. As community organising has intensified, Tarascio has flexed his power as the landlord. As a result, the Market today has many empty stalls with traders squeezed out. Some have been evicted. Others have given up, broken by the escalating rents and the uncertainty of being forced onto month-to-month leases. At the end of May, Tarascio announced he will shut the market down in January 2024 unless the government lets him bulldoze the building and replace it with his shopping mall. The micro businesses that trade at the Market are being held hostage.

Faced with the risk of imminent closure, there is no time to waste. The campaign is gathering momentum. The LaTrobe University Branch of the National Tertiary Education Union voted to back the campaign. On 22 June, a mass delegation visited the office of Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny. Six socialist councillors from Darebin, Maribynong, Merri-bek and Yarra issued a statement calling for Premier Dan Andrews to act decisively, bring the market into public ownership and save Melbourne’s inner north. On 12 August, the campaign will stage its most ambitious protest yet, when the community will come together and show community strength and solidarity by holding hands around the entire market! The demand is for public acquisition to ensure that 100% of Preston Market and all its traders can stay. Join us in this struggle!

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