Future up in the air

By David Schout

The future of the 136-year-old Hotel Windsor remains uncertain after Planning Minister Richard Wynne put his foot down and rejected a fourth planning permit extension for its redevelopment.

Developer The Halim Group has planned to build a 26-storey luxury hotel at the rear of the building since first being granted approval by the Brumby Government in 2010.

But work has remained in the preliminary stages for almost a decade, and despite being permitted three previous extensions, the group had sought more time beyond the March 31 deadline next year.

Mr Wynne said that almost no progress had been made since the last extension three years ago, and that “enough was enough”.

“The developers have failed to secure finance or show a real willingness to get construction started despite having nine years to do so,” he said.

Now that has been declined, the developers need to finish the work within the next seven months, which appears highly unlikely.

Billed as Australia’s oldest grand hotel, the Windsor is on the Victorian Heritage Register, which puts responsibility on an owner to maintain the building’s integrity.

The Indonesian-based Halim Group bought the hotel in 2005.

Since being granted approval to redevelop the rear of the site in 2010, major amendments to the planning scheme have been introduced to protect the Bourke Hill precinct.

As such, the proposal would have been knocked back altogether in 2019.

“If the same application for development was brought to me today, I would have to reject it immediately – planning rules and community expectations have changed,” Mr Wynne said.

“The Windsor Hotel is a Melbourne icon and we’re protecting it – and the unique character of the Bourke Hill precinct.”

Halim Group hotel director Adi Halim said in a statement that the company still believed it could find a solution for the hotel’s future.

“We are disappointed with the minister’s decision,” Mr Halim's statement said.

“It is an opportunity lost for the Hotel Windsor and for Melbourne. We are determined to keep the hotel and work with Heritage Victoria to try to find an alternative solution. Meanwhile, it is business as usual.”

Plans for the 26-storey tower have been shrouded in controversy for almost a decade.

In 2010 former Labor Victorian planning minister Justin Madden’s press secretary accidentally leaked plans to halt the development, including plans for a bogus community consultation period to block the proposal. 

Soon after the bungle, the Brumby government approved the redevelopment.

In 2016, the Halim Group applied for an extension until 2020 on the project, but were denied by Mr Wynne.

After an appeal at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), the group was eventually granted an extra three years to finish the works.

The government said in a recent press release that granting yet another extension would be “dragging the process out for 13 years and defying industry and community expectations”.

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