London Hotel to be demolished

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Statement by Port Phillip Mayor Bernadene Voss

Port Phillip Council welcomes the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s decision to uphold our refusal to issue a planning permit for an eight storey development on the London Hotel site in Port Melbourne.

The Tribunal found that a high density, mixed use development could provide positive outcomes including housing growth and diversity and activation of the public realm between Station Pier and Bay Street. “However, the building’s impacts on the public and private realms are not acceptable. Although changes could be made to reduce amenity impacts on neighbours to an acceptable level, the extent of overshadowing of the foreshore reserve is such that we do not consider a net community benefit is achieved.”

While the VCAT decision means a development cannot yet proceed on the site, a building permit for demolition issued by a private building surveyor still allows for demolition of the London Hotel to start before 25 June 2017.

Council is eager to hold discussions with the site owner to discuss alternate designs which are more in line with the community’s vision of what is suitable for this prominent and historically significant waterfront site.

In a separate decision, Council is disappointed that its request for interim heritage controls for the London Hotel, and authorisation to exhibit permanent controls, have been refused by the Planning Minister.

Council had submitted an independent cultural heritage assessment report which supports protection of the London Hotel against demolition. This assessment responds to the Minister’s refusal of Council’s earlier request for interim heritage controls, based on the absence of a supporting report. Council had advised the Minister when making the initial request, that it had commenced work on the heritage assessment.

The heritage report, which involved comprehensive research and community engagement, found the London Hotel is a place of local heritage significance, possessing both historic and social significance to the City of Port Phillip. The assessment was undertaken by consultants with significant experience in undertaking social heritage assessments.

The Minister’s letter refusing Council’s request for heritage controls cites the ‘lack of a sufficient comparative analysis’ to demonstrate social significance, and that the request required ‘greater certainty and strategic justification’.

Council’s heritage consultant has responded that “threshold markers for social significance are a little different from those of other criteria and comparative analysis is not generally used as an indicator. Length of association, demonstrated extent and degree of community association are used consistently”. They believe that the threshold of social significance at the local level was able to be well established.

Previous heritage studies of the Port Melbourne area had not identified the London Hotel as being of heritage significance, with references made to significant changes to the building from its original Victorian form. Social significance of the London Hotel, a criteria for heritage significance under the Burra Charter, was not previously assessed in detail by these studies.

In light of the evidence in the recent heritage assessment, and the depth of community feeling on this issue, we are now considering all our options, including seeking legal advice.

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