After years of legal disputes, massive fines and threat of prison, the owners of the site of the former and much-disputed Corkman Irish Pub at Carlton will build a replica of the historic watering hole they illegally demolished.
Late 2014 a lease expired on the 1857 Victorian pub and the business closed. It was then purchased for $4.76 million by local developers Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski.
It stood dormant for two years until around 6am on 8 October, 2016, when a fire was spotted in the building. Emergency services arrived, but the building was significantly damaged although structurally intact.
That same month, local residents alerted council that the corner pub was being demolished. Authorities arrived too late to save it. Shaqiri and Kutlesovski had no permit to fell the hotel, but shortly after the demolition submitted plans for a 12-storey student housing project.
The old pub’s destruction prompted massive public outrage, and Richard Wynne, planning minister at the time, ordered it be rebuilt. The Andrews government subsequently passed tougher penalties for illegal demolition, but they could not be made to apply retrospectively.
A protracted legal battle has ensued, and the owners were granted the option to get a new plan approved by the new planning minister, or rebuild the façade, which was under the protection of a heritage overlay.
However, the pair, who came to be known as the ‘Corkman cowboys’, were unable to secure approval for their plans for a three-level hospitality venue, so took the current Planning Minister, Sonya Kilkenny, and Melbourne City Council, to the state planning tribunal.
In 2019, the County Court judge ruling on the illegal demolition fined them $1.1 million, and cited “little, if any, evidence of genuine remorse” from the defendants regarding their act.
They were ordered by the state government to construct a small park on the site, but after repeatedly disregarding the orders were jailed for 28 days. There is now a park on the site.
Now, after continued failed negotiations with the plaintiffs, and facing a threat of more jail time, the Cowboys have relinquished their plans for the new hospitality venue and will reportedly comply with an order from VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) in 2021 to build a replica.
It’s understood Shaqiri and Kutlesovski have given assurances that they will comply with the order, which stipulates the Corkman be rebuilt on the site, using new materials. A draft legal agreement was created through Kilkenny, Council and two former patrons and Melbourne University law students, who have been party to the matter.
According to the document the external parts of the hotel are to be replaced “as nearly as practicable to the condition they were immediately before their unlawful demolition”.
But the VCAT order did not mandate that a restored site must be a pub, and it’s said the replica building will not, with the owners apparently having approached the Salvation Army about using it as a food bank or community centre, which the charity has welcomed.
Similar illegal demolitions have occurred many times in the UK, most recently Britain’s so-called ‘wonkiest’ pub, the Cooked House in Himley, but unlike Australia this is sometimes reversed. In 2015 the wrecking ball unjustly found London’s Carlton Tavern, but Council ordered it rebuilt and it reopened in 2021.
The fate of the former historic pub in Melbourne’s Carlton is currently in the hands of deputy lord mayor Nicholas Reece, who has declined to comment on the ongoing legal proceedings.