Fair or snobbery? Divisive bid to merge south Preston into Thornbury

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A campaign to make the southern tip of Preston part of Thornbury has been dubbed “snobbish” and a blatant attempt to increase property prices, by critics.

A Change.org petition aiming to make Preston South part of Thornbury, created by Andrew Smith, has now received more than 30 signatures.

Preston South borders Thornbury, with Dundas Street acting as the divider. Bell Street, a busy main road, is two kilometres north of Thornbury and officially a part of Preston. The petition calls on Darebin Council to move the border north to Bell Street, making the pocket of houses and shops between Dundas Street and Bell Street part of the more affluent Thornbury.

“It’s time for Preston South to become part of Thornbury,” the petition says.

The petition says that this current border “makes no sense”, and Bell Street would act as “more of a natural border”.

“Many Preston South residents identify more with Thornbury – they shop, dine out and spend more time in Thornbury than they do Preston,” the petition says.

Leigh Ewbank, who lives in Preston South, right on the border with Thornbury, says that though he also identifies more with living in Thornbury, he won’t be supporting the petition.

“In terms of my sense of place I definitely feel more part of Thornbury where I live, but it’s not just as simple as changing what’s considered Thornbury,” Ewbank says.

While agreeing with the general sentiment of the campaign, Ewbank says the impact the move would have on property prices in the area would see rent significantly increasing, with potentially damaging impacts.

“While I’m sympathetic to the feeling that we live in Thornbury, we have to be mindful of the unintended consequence of seeing rent go up for people,” he says. “You’ve got musicians and artists and people from different sections of the community needing a place to live, and if the rent goes up then people will be pushed out of the area.”

Property prices are significantly higher in the more affluent Thornbury. While the median house price in Preston is $888,000, its neighbour sits at $1,127,500, according to Domain Group data.

The petition does acknowledge that house prices in Preston south would likely be increased if the area was included in Thornbury.

“Real estate agents frequently advertise ‘below Bell Street’ for this area, confirming that this area is distinct and that Bell Street is a more natural boundary,” it reads.

And a supporter of the petition was a bit less subtle.

“I own an investment home in this location. So anything that increase the house price and the rent I charge my tenants is a win-win for me,” the supporter says.

Ed Butler, who has lived in Thornbury near the Preston border for seven years, says the push is less about community and more about suburb “snobbery”.

“The need to differentiate themselves reeks of a weird snobbery that they are somehow better than Preston, which is a really great, vibrant place,” Butler says. “There’s no electoral zoning, educational, transport or other functional reason to make the change, it’s just that Thornbury has gone from a daggy town to somewhere that aspirational types want to be connected with.”

“It’s a classic case of someone moving into an area that is affordable due to its past undesirability, only to immediately start actively trying to alter it. This is people being snobby about a great place and I don’t want people who think they’re too good for Preston in Thornbury anyway.”

But locals campaigning to change suburb lines isn’t unprecedented, with a growing number of successful grassroots campaigns in Victoria. In 2010 a small pocket of expensive houses in Balwyn, only a square kilometere in size, broke away from the suburb and became Deepdene. The neighbourhood is now the equal second most expensive suburb in Victoria behind Toorak.

In 2014, the Banyule Council changed parts of Heidelberg Heights to Ivanhoe following a push by local homeowners. The council also changed the border to make more than 20 homes previously in Heidelberg in the more affluent Eaglemont.

Real estate experts estimated that this simple change would increase the price of these homes by about 10 per cent.

Rosebud West has also changed its name to Capel Sound to avoid the “stigma” of its old name. The controversial change came after Rosebud West was dubbed one of the state’s ‘struggle towns’, and locals wanted to distance themselves from the suburb.

While the push to make Preston south a part of Thornbury currently only has 33 signatures, Darebin Council confirmed it considers all petitions that it is presented with, and declined to comment any further.

“I hope they have more pressing issues to deal with than vanity petitions who move to a place only to insist that they really want to live somewhere else,” Butler says.

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