Late-night pub bid rejected

David Schout

A bid to extend the opening hours of a proposed Bourke St hotel from 1am to 3am has been rejected by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

The tribunal was unconvinced that the under-construction venue, in part a restoration of the 1840s-built Job Warehouse, would not have “unreasonable impacts on the amenity of the area” and backed the City of Melbourne’s decision to order the venue close at 1am. 

Concerns principally surrounded long-term residents on Liverpool St, some of whom live less than 10 metres from the proposed venue.

One of those, Nicola Smith, said the decision handed down on December 17 vindicated their hard work.

“It was a nice Christmas present, a huge relief. I am incredibly proud of the residents who invested 18 months of hard work and argued their case so compellingly,” she said.

“Residents banded together, fought to retain some level of amenity and were able to prove their case. It was pleasing that the VCAT members assessed the reality on the ground and disallowed any further impact to what we will already have to endure until the early hours, 365 days per year, and it certainly highlighted some inadequacies in the planning permit conditions and reports as issued.”

The 673-patron bar and restaurant, set to be called Juliet’s Terrace, would replace the derelict Job Warehouse, which has sat dormant since 2012.

Developers the O’Brien Group, owners of the nearby Imperial Hotel, had previously argued that the economic viability of the new venue was reliant on a favourable liquor licence.

“Due to the age of the building and its heritage status, the care, time and skill needed to restore this building is three times what it would normally be. To make it viable, we need a 3am licence,” CEO Michael O’Brien said in December 2020.

“The reality is, without the support of the Melbourne City Council for a 3am licence, it will not proceed, and we’ll have no other choice but to hand back the keys.”

Residents were angered by this expectation.

“It’s a disgrace and completely unreasonable that the [former] building owners have allowed a heritage buildings of state significance to fall into such an appalling state of disrepair and then expect the local residents to pay for its restoration through significant loss of amenity,” Ms Smith previously told CBD News.

The O’Brien Group did not follow through on its threat to hand back the keys, and began development on the site in October, notably before VCAT had handed down its decision. 

Mr O’Brien did not respond to requests for comment from CBD News.

Planning policy dictates that most larger CBD venues, like the proposed Juliet’s Terrace, close at 1am.

While some hotels in the CBD may operate until 3am, VCAT found this did not translate to a one-size-fits-all model.

“Because one, or more, hotels within the CBD may operate until 3am or beyond, that does not mean it is an acceptable outcome in all situations,” the findings read.

“In other words, adding to the vitality of the central city as a 24-hour city, does not mean in all locations – it does not mean it should occur here.”

The tribunal was not satisfied the venue could prevent “unreasonable impact” on nearby locals, particularly those on Liverpool St.

“To allow the venue to operate beyond the hours supported by the planning policy, we would need to be satisfied that the proposal would not result in unreasonable impacts on the amenity of the area. As based on the material before us we are not satisfied that this is the case.”

The development is significant as it represents the much-needed restoration of one of the CBD’s oldest buildings.

The Job Warehouse, which last served as a haberdashery, has been described as one of the CBD’s “most high-profile eyesores”, and calls for its restoration have come from across the board, including from residents.

However, a planning application submitted in April 2020 proposed an almost 1000-patron venue which would remain open until 3am.

Residents were angered by the proposal, and written objections exceeded 100.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said it constituted a “significant community campaign of opposition”.

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