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Latest VCAT decision threatens Windsor Hotel tower

Date

Aisha Dow

An artist's impression of the Windsor Hotel renovation.

An artist's impression of the Windsor Hotel renovation. Photo: Supplied

The highly controversial redevelopment of the Windsor Hotel could be killed off by Planning Minister Matthew Guy unless construction of the $300 million project begins within five months.

The owners had applied to have their 2010 permit to demolish part of the historic hotel and build a 26-storey tower extended until late 2016, possibly delaying the start of the redevelopment by another year or more.

But their bid for a permit extension was foiled by the minister's new laws drastically limiting the height of new buildings proposed for the Bourke Hill heritage precinct.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal deputy president Helen Gibson said the new laws would mean the Windsor Hotel redevelopment would not be approved today if a fresh application were made.

That is because new laws enforce a mandatory height limit of 23 metres for the site, well short of the 93-metre tower allowed by the current permit.

"On balance, the factors in favour of extending the permit … do not outweigh the fact the planning policy and the planning controls have changed," Ms Gibson concluded.

Owner Halim Group will now have to start construction by January 10 next year or its permit will expire.

The National Trust's Paul Roser said the decision showed that Mr Guy's interim height controls "had teeth".

"The minister's decision to implement the mandatory height controls has already had a big impact on the Palace Theatre redevelopment; now it's going to have a big impact on the Windsor," he said.

Although "disappointed" by the decision, Halim Group has vowed the revamp will still go ahead.

The hotel is also seeking legal advice, with a Supreme Court appeal a possible legal avenue.

In a submission to VCAT, Halim Group development manager Glenn Coupar had argued a "forced" commencement before the early January deadline would "compromise the efficiency, cost effectiveness and potential quality of the overall development". The company blamed delays on the need to apply for a further heritage permit.

The Windsor Hotel has now stopped taking bookings from November 3 this year. In an email to staff, Halim Group's chief executive, David Perry, said the company would make a full statement to staff on Monday "with the expressed hope that we will be trading the majority of our business well into 2015".

The permit for the partial demolition on the Windsor was first issued by Labor planning minister Justin Madden in 2010. Liberal minister Matthew Guy had tried to knock back a permit extension in 2012, but that decision was overturned by VCAT.

This time, however, the planning overseer backed the minister.

"I am very pleased that VCAT has reinforced my decision not to grant a permit extension for the Windsor Hotel proposal," Mr Guy said on Thursday. "It remains a great stain on our heritage that this grand building was given a near demolition permit by the previous Labor government."

Since it was first proposed in 2009, the project has been dogged by planning and political controversy. In 2010 a major scandal erupted when a leaked email from Justin Madden's office detailed state government plans to run a sham community consultation process, in a bid to kill off the development.

The National Trust unsuccessfully fought the redevelopment all the way to the Supreme Court.

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