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Rates penalty push heightens over 'scabby' sites

Date

Jason Dowling

Ugly ... The Savoy Tavern at the corner of Bourke and Spencer streets.

Ugly ... The Savoy Tavern at the corner of Bourke and Spencer streets. Photo: John Donegan

Pressure is growing within Melbourne City Council for a new rates system to penalise land owners sitting on ugly, undeveloped CBD sites for decades— particularly the former Savoy Tavern on the corner of Bourke and Spencer streets.

The council last night diverted $400,000 in funding meant for a clean-up of the moribund tavern site and creation of a new park and playground on the corner, after owner Mark Rowsthorn blocked the plan.

The council was prepared to pay for the demolition of the hotel, which closed 17-years ago, and the creation of the new playground until Mr Rowsthorn was ready to develop the prized location.

Firing line...Other blights on the Melbourne landscape.

Firing line...Other blights on the Melbourne landscape.

The building has been described as "a scab" on the city by Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and is Melbourne's unwelcoming architectural greeting card to the thousands of visitors arriving annually through Southern Cross Station and those forced to walk past it on their journey to the football.

Tourism and Major Events Minister Louise Asher indicated the Baillieu government would not force a clean up of the site.

"The Savoy Tavern site, whilst not particularly aesthetically pleasing in its current state, is privately owned. Should the site be developed, the government would work with the proponent to identify a positive outcome to improve that important precinct in the CBD," she said.

The head of the Melbourne City Council's planning committee, Ken Ong, said council officers were working on a differential rating system to help clean up the city's "bomb sites" — including the tavern.

"Sites that are just being banked and sitting around doing nothing, we should look at the possibility of putting a different kind of rates regime on them and the officers have been looking at how we can do it," he said.

"Savoy looks like something that shouldn't be in the city.... it is a place just left derelict," he said.

Greens councillor Cathy Oke said she supported differential rates for owners not developing derelict sites, including the Savoy Tavern.

She said she was disappointed the land owner did not share the council's vision for such an important location.

"It is unfortunate when such a key location is effectively out of our control," she said.

Cr Oke said she would also like to see higher rates for owners that allow heritage buildings become derelict.

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