Minister overruled on Forum site

Keep Hosier RealHosier Lane residents and supporters celebrated a victory last month after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) ruled that former planning minister Matthew Guy did not have the authority to award a permit to a neighbouring development.

Mr Guy awarded David Mariner’s Forum Theatre Holdings permission to demolish the old Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) building in Russell St and build a 32-storey tower.

The MTC building backs onto Hosier Lane and objectors say the continuity of the renowned precinct would be destroyed by the development.

The VCAT case was not argued on the merits of the development, but rather, whether or not the planning minister had the authority to issue the planning permit.

Under law, the City of Melbourne determines planning applications of less than 25,000 sqm.

The Mariner development had only a floor space of about 19,620 sqm but was boosted to 26,007 sqm by the inclusion of concurrent renovations proposed for the abutting Forum Theatre.

In her judgement, VCAT deputy president Helen Gibson said: “My conclusion is that the permit application was an application for two developments or projects.”

“I find that the application in relation to the new hotel building is an application in relation to a project with a gross floor area of 19,620 sqm, which is less than 25,000 sqm.  Accordingly, I find that the responsible authority for this development is the City of Melbourne.”

She recommended the application come back to the City of Melbourne for determination.

The council last year requested Mr Guy refuse the permit.  It said the application was contrary to the heritage and urban design policies and planning controls of the Melbourne Planning Scheme.

At that time, however, the council accepted that Mr Guy had jurisdiction to determine the matter.

An officers’ report to the May 14, 2014 Future Melbourne Committee said: “The Minister for Planning is the responsible authority for determining the planning application.”

The VCAT application was brought by Carol and Alan Schwartz, Cbus Property & PT Limited, Hosier Inc and the City of Melbourne.

Residents group Hosier Inc welcomed the decision, saying:  “We believe that sustainable, well thought out development that enhances our community is needed and we welcome the opportunity to work together with the property owners and the City of Melbourne to ensure a positive outcome for any future proposal.”

“We believe that any future proposal for this significant site should be appropriate to the location and should properly consider the existing cultural, commercial and social activities of the surrounding precinct.”

Youth Projects CEO Melanie Raymond said the decision was a new opportunity to save Hosier Lane “forever”.

“The impact at street level needs to be fully considered,” she said. She said Hosier Lane was too valuable to Melbourne as a tourist attraction to put at risk.

Federal Melbourne MHR Adam Bandt said: “This is a big win for art, community and tourism.”

A Hosier Inc statement said: “It’s design, scale and connection to Hosier Lane must be better suited to the location, more sympathetic to the surrounding built environment and respectful of the relevant planning overlays.”

“We hope the owners of the Forum Theatre will now take action to carry out much needed maintenance and repair work on this significant cultural institution. We believe a building of such importance to the city, and the nation deserves to be respected and not used as collateral to gain advantage and profit at the expense of the taxpayers of Melbourne.”

“Above all, we want the street culture of the laneway to survive and respect given to all who live, work and play in Hosier Lane and allow the continued production of great art for all members of the community to enjoy,” the Hosier Inc statement said.

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