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Local anger at pub’s rooftop plans, but council largely powerless in dispute

David Schout

A Russell St pub’s plans to expand service onto its rooftop has been met with anger from a resident-heavy pocket of the CBD.

And while the City of Melbourne has acknowledged that issues could arise as a result, the council has admitted there is little it can do to protect locals.

The Crafty Squire’s plans to extend operations into the open air — accommodating almost 400 patrons until 1am nightly — has left members of the local community who reside close to the popular pub frustrated.

Speaking on behalf of the committee of the nearby Georges Apartments, Mike Lauer said while he understood that living in the CBD was different to suburban areas, the proposed bar was a step too far.

“[We] know that we are privileged to live in a beautiful building in the heart of a great city,” he said.

 

We also understand that living in that location comes with compromise. That does not mean, however, that we do not have the right to peaceably enjoy our homes.

 

Chair of the owners’ corporation at 118 Russell St Jillian Luttin was similarly angered.

“The noise is going to be the huge issue for all of us in the area. It’s a very quiet area, so it’s going to change forever,” she said.

Both noted noise was the biggest issue for locals, with Mr Lauer describing the adjoining Portland Lane as a “noise canyon” that “amplifies everything at street level, all the way up.”

However, councillors noted there was little they could do.

The Crafty Squire, formerly The Portland Hotel, benefits from “existing use rights” that allow it to extend operations onto a proposed rooftop bar without requiring a permit that new pubs and bars would ordinarily require.

Planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece outlined the difficultly of assessing the planning application at the February 1 Future Melbourne Committee meeting.

“This is a challenging application,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.

“On the one hand I think the City of Melbourne and councillors welcome new investment in hospitality venues in our city and we see that investment being an important part of the revitalisation of nightlife in the city and bringing back the buzz to Melbourne. On the other hand, this particular application has raised some amenity issues.”

Deputy planning chair Cr Rohan Leppert said he would “have no hesitation” in curbing the venue’s rooftop operations, but the reality was there was little the council could do.

“This is a really difficult application for us to consider given there is no permit required for the use (of the venue as a rooftop bar). If there was such a permit, and we could apply our local policy about hours of operation associated with such a permit,” he said.

“I’d have no hesitation in finding that this is an area that has sensitive noise residential areas in the surrounds and, therefore, we should not be permitting the consumption of liquor on the rooftop after 11pm … we do take very seriously the rights of citizens in the City of Melbourne — who have been there for a couple of decades now — to sleep after midnight.”

A report from council officers, however, noted that residents should not expect the same level of amenity within the Hoddle Grid as other areas of Melbourne.

“Residents in the surrounding area cannot expect the same level of amenity that may be expected in suburbs outside the central city,” it read.

Conditions were placed on the planning permit including mandated extra noise testing for the site, and that the council could request additional noise testing at any time after the rooftop venue opened.

The case was due to be heard at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) after the council failed to grant a planning permit within the prescribed 60-day time period late last year.

The Crafty Squire is managed by Australia’s second-largest pub operator Australian Venue Co, which operates more than 170 venues nation-wide, including (in the CBD) the Duke of Wellington, European Bier Cafe and Beer DeLuxe Fed Square.

CBD resident amenity: A juggling act

The issue of resident amenity has perhaps taken on a greater level of importance given the City of Melbourne’s push for homebuyers to consider purchasing and living in the central city.

In October it launched the “This is Your Local” campaign, which promotes the CBD as an affordable places to live, and a way to revive a post-COVID city.

Councillors have even flagged a similar revival of the 1990s policy “Postcode 3000’”that encouraged people to move into the CBD to prevent city streets city becoming “soulless glass canyons” and “a ghost town at weekends”, according to then Lord Mayor Des Clark.

But the promotion of the CBD as a liveable community must also juggle the desire to be a “24-hour city”; another one of the council’s aims.

As one of the 45 objectors to the Crafty Squire permit put it: “What does council propose to do for residents … for future proposed plans like this that will affect their quiet enjoyment moving forward? Especially to be able to then regenerate residents moving into the city, which of course everyone wants to promote?”

Cr Jamal Hakim said it was an area of concern, and something the council was watching closely.

“The discussion around noise is something that’s really important in the way we’re crafting our planning in and around the city, and what we want to see out of living in our city,” he said.

“We will be watching this very carefully as part of our continued promotion of living in Melbourne.” •

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