In what appears to be a significant backdown by the Victorian Planning Minister Mr Richard Wynne, his Department and the City of Melbourne, an extraordinary deal has been struck with the Corkman pub’s developers, Mr Ramen Shaqiri and Mr Stefce Kutlesouvski.
The partners will no longer be forced to rebuild the entire hotel to its original condition using the original materials.
Instead they must commence their planned development with a height allowance of 12 storeys prior to 2022.
They must also clear the current site of rubble and detritus by the 30th of November 2019 and create an ‘informal outdoor recreation area’ as an interim solution prior to the commencement of construction – serious?
The proviso is that this ’12 storey development’ must be set back from the street on the parts of the site where the original pub stood. Keep in mind this is a 460sq m site!
Corkman cowboys cut deal with minister and city council on pub site
The developers who unlawfully demolished Carlton’s Corkman Irish Pub in 2016 have reached a deal with the Andrews government to clear the site and temporarily turn it into a park by the end of November.
But the pair stand to profit from knocking down the 158-year-old pub without permission, because under the settlement reached with Planning Minister Richard Wynne and Melbourne City Council, they now have three years to re-develop the site – with a tower up to 12 levels high.
Some of the wrecked pub’s remains have sat untouched for almost three years, piled roughly beneath tarpaulins installed under duress by the developers soon after they demolished it without warning on an October weekend.
A hearing before the state planning tribunal was due to start on June 3, with Mr Wynne seeking an order to rebuild the two-level pub, which had stood on the corner of Leicester and Pelham streets in Carlton since 1858.
Before the hearing began though, Mr Wynne and the city council reached an agreement with the developers who knocked it down, Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski.
The agreement means that Shaqiri and Kutlesovski have agreed to clear the site and, by 30 November, build an “informal outdoor recreation” area on it.
The pair then have until 2022 to redevelop the site in a form approved by the planning minister.
The planning rules Mr Wynne has set for the site – after he was forced to back down from earlier more aggressive rules on the 460-square-metre piece of land – allow a tower of up to 12 levels to now be built. Under those rules, any new building must be set back from the street on the parts of the site where the now-demolished historic pub once stood.
But the rules would allow a highly profitable development to still be built on the site. Mr Wynne was forced to back down on his earlier, much tougher rules for the site because the planning system cannot be used to punish rogue developers and owners.
If the pair do not begin re-developing the site by mid-2022, they will be forced to rebuild the external parts of a two-level pub “as nearly as practicable to the condition they were immediately before their unlawful demolition”.
Shaqiri and Kutlesovski, who bought the pub for $4.8 million in 2015, pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court this year to knocking it down illegally.
They have been fined $1.3 million by the courts, along with an earlier $600,000 penalty via an Environment Protection Authority prosecution for failing to deal with asbestos from their illegal demolition. They are appealing the severity of the latter fine.
The pub’s demolition led the Andrews government to bring in much tougher penalties on developers and builders who illegally demolish buildings without proper planning approvals. But those tougher laws do not apply to the Corkman pair.
Mr Wynne said the government had taken action to ensure the site was “given back to the community” and continued to be a space the public could enjoy.
“These cowboy developers have already been subject to record fines,” he said. “This order requires them to make good on the site and sets strict controls on any future developments.”
The chair of Melbourne City Council’s heritage portfolio, Rohan Leppert, said the order meant the site would be cleaned up and made available for the public.
“We are looking forward to seeing action on the site and will be watching progress closely,” Cr Leppert said.
Neither Shaqiri nor Kutlesovski could be reached for comment.
Two law students, who were studying at Melbourne University when the demolition occurred, launched the original planning tribunal action against Shaqiri and Kutlesovski. (The university’s law school overlooks the pub site.) On Wednesday, Duncan Wallace and Tim Matthews Staindl said they were disappointed the planning minister and the city council had reached a deal with the men.
Both have since graduated, but had vowed to see through the case because they were so appalled by the way in which the pub, which they drank at regularly, was destroyed.
The pair said the settlement opened the door for Shaqiri and Kutlesovski to profit from having demolished the pub.
“Developers across Victoria will be breathing a sigh of relief with this outcome,” they said, in a written statement.
“A hearing in this case could have served as a useful legal precedent for future heritage cases and sent a message that, in Victoria, cowboy developers cannot profit from their illegal activity.”
They cited a case in London where the courts ordered the full rebuild of a pub demolished in near identical circumstances. “This was an opportunity to follow that example,” the pair said.
The National Trust’s chief executive Simon Ambrose said it was disappointing that the future of the site was still uncertain. “If this is the best we can do under our current laws, we need to change them,” he said.
It would appear that the compromise is that they reconstruct the façade of the hotel – if they do not commence construction by 2022. There is some doubt as to their ability to do so given an expenditure to date of at least $6.1 million not including legal costs or outgoings. The apartment market is anything but buoyant so there may well be some method behind this apparent madness.
From our position, this is an unsavoury back down. The initial position taken by the City of Melbourne and Planning Minister Mr Richard Wynne was entirely correct. This compromise appears to be purely legal manoeuvring by the developer’s very competent QC Barristers Mr Stuart Morris and Mr Nick Papas and to a large extent, it would appear to be successful on their behalf.
It is not a successful outcome for Victoria’s Heritage and its protection from unscrupulous developers. As the ‘law students’ quoted in the article noted, this is a terrible message to developers.
The result, the punitive measures and the precedent set must be clear and unambiguous – Heritage is precious. It must be preserved at all costs.