Illegal wreckers flatten 159-year-old Melbourne pub
The brazen and unlawful demolition of an Australian pub built in 1857 has heritage experts demanding tougher penalties for rogue developers.
The Corkman Irish Pub, previously known as the Carlton Inn, was built 159 years ago, and until Sunday, stood proud on its Melbourne street corner.
Residents near the Leicester and Pelham St location on Saturday night rang the council to complain about demolition noise from the pub, which the previous week had been partially burnt by fire.
By the time council inspectors arrived, the building had been largely demolished.
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The Melbourne City Council still issued a stop-work order to prevent further demolition but a demolition crew returned on Sunday to finish off the job.
There was no demolition permit allowing the pub's destruction, nor was there a planning permit for a building to replace it.
"This is a very, very serious matter – that building was protected by a heritage overlay," Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle said.
Hoarding had also been erected without permission on the footpath, he said.
A recent heritage assessment of the building said it was one of the area's earliest existing buildings.
This appears to have mattered little to Stefce Kutlesovski and Raman Shaqiri, whose company 160 Leicester paid A$4.76 million (NZD$5.05m) for the pub last August.
Photos taken on Saturday show a company called Shaq Demolition and Excavation knocking down the pub.
Shaqiri was one of the owners of the now de-registered demolition company.
A man answering a mobile phone number for Shaq Demolition on Monday would not answer questions about the pub, and then hung up.
A heritage report for the property described the pub as having been "of aesthetic significance as a good example of the Victorian period".
The council is now investigating the demolition and would, a spokeswoman said, "take appropriate enforcement action".
It is unclear exactly what fines the building's owners will now face, although a serious planning breach like it can attract fines of up to A$200,000.
Fines for illegal demolition can total up to A$180,000.
Heritage consultant Rohan Storey said there needed to be "hefty fines" issued against developers and property owners who carried out illegal demolition with no justification.
"Hefty should mean of an amount that would make them think twice, and make it unprofitable," Mr Storey said.
He said the building's owners should be ordered to rebuild the pub if that was possible.
Tristan Davies, president of activist group Melbourne Heritage Action, said the council needed to "send a clear message that they are not going to accept this sort of thing".
On top of substantial fines, the site's owner "should be directed to rebuild the facade", Mr Davies said.
Pollster Gary Morgan, who is running for Mayor in council elections finishing this week, said the owners had "knowingly" broken the law.
"If I was elected mayor, I would put those people in jail. If they didn't get a conviction the first time, I would try a second time," he said.
Councillor Rohan Leppert said no building or planning permit had been issued for the site.
"So the owner has clearly authorised demolition of a 159-year-old heritage-protected building in violation of planning and building law. It's completely unacceptable."
A petition demanding the owners rebuild the venue, launched by a group of Melbourne University law students who drank there regularly, now has almost 1000 signatures.
One of the students, Tim Staindl, said a working group had been set up to "see what can be done".
"There has been quite a lot of interest in students taking part in any further steps," said the 25-year-old law student.
One student has already posted an eloquent piece lamenting the loss of the pub, while the change.org petition demands the site's owners "pay for the full restoration of the building" and that development of the site be stopped for now.
Recent cases of the unlawful demolition of houses resulted in owners being fined A$52,000 or ordered to rebuild a property.
The Block Australia winners Dea and Darren Jolly knocked down a heritage-listed house with only partial permission last year and were threatened with fines of up to A$180,000.
- The Age