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- The Royal Hotel, which dates back to 1889, is one of a string of Melbourne pubs which have become a battle ground between developers and residents.
- The owners of the pub abruptly called last drinks in 2017 and submitted plans to redevelop the pub in 2019 into a five-storey apartment complex.
- The plans received more than 270 objections with residents upset at the loss of their local pub and concerned by the proposed demolition of significant parts of the heritage building.
A long-running battle over the redevelopment of a historic pub in Melbourne’s inner north has ended with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal rejecting plans to turn the pub into apartments.
The owners of the Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill abruptly called last drinks in 2017 and submitted plans to redevelop the pub in 2019 into a five-storey apartment complex, galvanising local residents to begin a five-year fight.
Plans to redevelop The Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill have been rejected at VCAT. Credit: Joe Armao
The plans received more than 270 objections with residents upset at the loss of their local pub and concerned by the proposed demolition of significant parts of the heritage building.
The Royal Hotel, built in 1889, is one of a string of Melbourne pubs which have become a battleground between developers and residents following the illegal demolition of the Corkman in Carlton.
Last year unions and residents joined forces to fight to save the John Curtin Hotel in Carlton, and a campaign to retain The Tote in Collingwood as a pub and live music venue is ongoing.
VCAT rejected the owners’ redevelopment proposal for the Royal Hotel last week on the basis that it would not result in a net community benefit.
“I don’t think its NIMBY [Not In My Backyard], nobody has objected to the brand new doctor’s surgery opposite the pub.”
“We acknowledge that the proposal is consistent with the identified policies which seek to increase residential densities in well-serviced locations such as this,” VCAT found. “On balance, however, we find that these benefits do not outweigh the detriment to the significance of the heritage place (and to this individually significant heritage building), that will be a consequence of the proposal.”
Clifton Hill resident David Levin, who campaigned against the redevelopment, said locals were “quite outraged” by the plans as the pub had played an important role in the community.
“It was where the local school teachers met every Friday, it’s where people had their parties and celebrations and so on, like sporting clubs,” he said. “For 120 years it’s been the focal centre of this little area.”
Plans submitted to VCAT for the proposed redevelopment of the Royal Hotel in Clifton Hill into apartments. Credit: VCAT
Levin said locals were not opposed to development, but were concerned about heritage destruction.
“I don’t think its NIMBY [Not In My Backyard], nobody has objected to the brand new doctor’s surgery opposite the pub,” he said. “All people were saying was, you shouldn’t destroy the essential historic fabric of the area and try to build five storeys plus on the roof.”
Levin said although the redevelopment had been rejected, it was unclear whether the Royal Hotel would ever return to operating as a pub.
“I’d love to think that it would become a pub,” he said. “I think it could be a very successful pub and it would be well-supported. There’s very little to compete with it, nothing in the immediate area.”
However, in a local Facebook group devoted to discussing ideas about the redevelopment of the Royal Hotel, some residents backed the apartment plan.
“The good news is that the community is winning more than we are losing so far.”
“Five storeys isn’t bad considering a lot of other proposals,” one resident wrote. “The more and more expensive it is to live around here, the more amenable I feel towards apartment developments. Clifton Hill is becoming too much of an enclave for the wealthy.”
City of Melbourne deputy lord mayor Nicholas Reece said the case was “a huge win” for the community campaign to save Melbourne’s heritage pubs.
“These pubs are part of the fabric of Melbourne, they are one of the things that make the inner city so special,” he said. “But they are under development pressure like never before as developers look to buy corner sites and convert them to a ‘higher value use’.”
Reece said the community campaign to save the Royal Hotel was similar to those to protect The John Curtin and The Tote.
“The good news is that the community is winning more than we are losing so far,” he said. “But the pressure to redevelop these sites is only growing, and we are going to see more pubs at risk.”
Reece said Victoria needed better planning protections for heritage pubs.
“They need to be recognised for their historical social value, not just for their architectural significance,” he said. “We also need local councils across Melbourne to do more to gain heritage recognition for their local pubs like we have been doing in City of Melbourne.”
The owners of the Royal Hotel did not respond to a request for comment made through their solicitors.
The City of Yarra declined to comment.
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