10pm, 20 November 2014
From Cr Rohan Leppert:
As I write this, City of Melbourne officers are seeking emergency heritage protection for the interiors of the Palace Theatre.
This follows today’s deplorable act by the new owner of the theatre to demolish its significant interior heritage fabric.
This was an act of vandalism, pure and simple.
When I visited the site mid afternoon, the skip was filled with the 1916-built Louis 16th style decorations to the galleries, and tiles from the 1912-built art nouveau dado from the Bourke Street staircase. When I returned in the evening, the skip had been taken away to be emptied.
Clearly, the owner is trying to demolish as much heritage fabric as possible before Council considers its heritage protection planning scheme amendment on December 2.
Interior heritage protections have been hard fought for: on 7 October my motion to commission a planning scheme amendment to recognise the Palace Theatre as a site of local significance scraped through by a single vote. This was the amendment to be considered on December 2.
The State Government is also in the middle of a planning scheme amendment process for the Bourke Hill precinct; a heritage review undertaken for that amendment recommended changing the Palace Theatre’s heritage grading from “D” to “B”.
Both the State Government and Local Council have therefore recognised the heritage significance of the Palace Theatre, and are moving – too slowly, but moving nonetheless – to protect the Palace Theatre’s significant heritage fabric.
The owner has an application before Council to demolish the entire building; no permit has been issued for demolition and the matter is not due to be considered until 9 December. Today’s demolition of the Palace’s internal heritage fabric is an arrogant move to pre-empt the proper planning processes.
Our officers’ moves to seek emergency heritage protection for the interior of the Palace Theatre are, in effect, an exercise in pulling forward the 2 December planning scheme amendment and seeking the State Government’s immediate support for it, on an interim basis. As we are in the middle of a caretaker period, the Department, and not the Minister, has the authority to determine the matter.
Should the Department agree with the City of Melbourne tonight or early tomorrow, any further demolition of the Palace Theatre’s interior heritage fabric would be unequivocally illegal.
Keep your fingers crossed that the Department comes through.
I will post any news I receive to twitter.