Call for 'hefty fines' after illegal wreckers flatten 159-year-old Carlton pub
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Call for 'hefty fines' after illegal wreckers flatten 159-year-old Carlton pub

Heritage experts have demanded tougher penalties for developers who brazenly knock down historic buildings, after the unlawful demolition on the weekend of a Carlton pub that was built in 1857.

The Corkman Irish Pub, previously known as the Carlton Inn, was built 159 years ago and, until Sunday, stood at the corner of Leicester and Pelham streets.

Residents on Saturday night rang Melbourne City 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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Credit:Simon Schluter

The 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," said Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

Hoarding had also been erected without permission on the footpath, he said.

The Carlton pub was almost 100 years old when this photo was taken in 1957.

The Carlton pub was almost 100 years old when this photo was taken in 1957. Credit:State Library of Victoria

Planning Minister Richard Wynne said it was unacceptable the owners had knocked the pub down. He has referred the demolition to the Victorian Building Authority for investigation. He also said the state government would investigate whether existing penalties were tough enough to deter owners from knocking down heritage buildings.

Opposition planning spokesman David Davis said if current fines were not sufficient punishment, other options such as a ban on future permits or forcing the owner to rebuild the facade should be examined.

The Carlton site last week.

The Carlton site last week. Credit:Simon Schluter

A petition demanding the owners rebuild the venue, launched by Melbourne University law students on Monday, now has almost 1000 signatures.

A recent heritage assessment of the building, which sat opposite University Square gardens and Melbourne University's law school, said it was one of the area's earliest existing buildings.

The Corkman Irish pub in Carlton, built in 1857, as it was last October.

The Corkman Irish pub in Carlton, built in 1857, as it was last October. Credit:James Bowering

This appears to have mattered little to Stefce Kutlesovski and Raman Shaqiri, whose company 160 Leicester Pty Ltd paid $4.76 million for the pub last August.

Photos taken on Saturday show a company called Shaq Demolition and Excavation knocking down the pub.

The pub in Carlton under demolition on Saturday.

The pub in Carlton under demolition on Saturday. Credit:Lyn George

Mr 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".

Melbourne City Council is now investigating the demolition and would, a council 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 $200,000. Fines for illegal demolition can total up to $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 Melbourne City 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 – which has happened a few times in other parts of Melbourne, like Port Melbourne", Mr Davies said.

Pollster Gary Morgan, who is running for Lord 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.

Greens 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."

The Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton is demolished on Saturday.

The Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton is demolished on Saturday. Credit:Lyn George

The demolition of the pub has outraged a group of Melbourne University law students who drank there regularly.

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 $52,000 or ordered to rebuild a property. The Block 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 $180,000.

Clay Lucas is city editor for The Age. Clay has worked at The Age since 2005, covering state politics, urban affairs, transport, local government and workplace relations for The Age and Sunday Age.