COUNCIL ACROBATICS BUT LONDON HOTEL MAY STILL FALL

In Redevelopment by Clyde Mooney

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An old but ‘not heritage enough’ pub in Port Melbourne faces an uncertain future, as authorities quibble over whether or not to protect it from redevelopment.

The London Hotel was built in 1861, and has had many embellishments to produce the art-deco styled building overlooking Port Phillip Bay at Port Melbourne.

It recently came to light that the freehold owner, a development company owned by Gary Busuttil, planned to demolish the pub to construct residential apartments.

Busuttil had completed all relevant due diligence before purchasing the building in 2013 for $4.07 million, including numerous consults with Council, Heritage Victoria and the National Trust.

As recently as last week, Port Phillip Council planning officers gave the nod to the project, deeming that the evolved structure was not worth saving.

But outrage by the Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society has rallied locals with a campaign to save the pub, and convinced Council to overturn its outlook.

Last Tuesday (24 May) Port Phillip Mayor, Bernadene Voss, took a Notice to the Ordinary Meeting of Council.

Despite stating the contrary just a week earlier, Voss petitioned Planning Minister Richard Wynne to place an interim protection order on the property to protect it, pending a more in-depth review of its eligibility of heritage status. Wynne subsequently declined, on the simple basis that Council had just conceded the hotel was not of heritage significance.

The Age quoted local MP Martin Foley accusing Council of a “last-minute backflip” in an attempt to gain favour with locals by passing the call on to State Government.

The National Trust similarly changed its tune, with acting conservation manager Anna Foley acknowledging Council’s reassessment.

“Locals have been drinking and dining at the London for over 150 years, and that’s a tradition worth saving. Heritage isn’t just about architectural merit, it’s about local stories too.”

A spokesman for Gary Busuttil says denial of the development would destroy the company, but regardless, Council will now conduct a more detailed heritage assessment focusing on its historic and social significance, with view to the application of a heritage overlay.

London Hotel, Port Melbourne. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria

London Hotel, Port Melbourne. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria