Supreme Court “saves” Hosier Lane

By Khiara Elliott

Developer David Marriner must apply to the City of Melbourne if he wants to build a hotel backing onto Hosier Lane, following a Supreme Court decision last month.

The court ruled on September 6 that the City of Melbourne is the appropriate authority to judge his ambition to demolish the old Melbourne Theatre Company premises at 17-25 Russell St and build a 32-level hotel building in its place, along with a proposal to refurbish the exterior of the Forum Theatre next door.

The ruling is a victory for Hosier Inc, a community group dedicated to the preservation of the street-art-laden lane.

Hosier Inc supported the City of Melbourne in its challenge of former planning minister Matthew Guy’s permission to the developer in 2014.  The Victorian Administrative and Appeal Tribunal (VCAT) ruled that Mr Guy did not have the jurisdiction to decide the application, but Mr Marriner took the matter to the Supreme Court earlier this year.

CBD News spoke to members of the association about the court case ­– what they are fighting for and their feelings about Marriner Group’s past action and intentions.

While pleased with the victory, association members are conscious that they are merely back to where they started.

“David Marriner in his history has always bought theatres and used them as leverage to get things that he wanted,” began member Alison Fairley.

Member Kerry Butcher said: “Hosier Inc is a group comprised of residents, business owners, tourist operators, service providers, artists and anybody else who has an interest in it.”

“We’re about creating an environment where people can work together to get the best outcome for the community and for the laneway,” she said.

Marriner Group had argued that Mr Guy was the responsible planning authority because the combined site was greater than 25,000sqm.  The council, however, successfully contended that the MTC and Forum Theatre sites should have been assessed separately from each other.

“Part of his explanation in tying the two sites together was him basically saying unless I can build this hotel to this extent, I can’t afford to maintain the Forum,” explained Ms Butcher.

“Our whole application to VCAT was actually it’s not one site, they should be treated separately and that opened up a whole other list of issues,” she said.

“The trick of combining the two into one was that it made the building large enough that the minister would call it in and the council wouldn’t make the decision,” Ms Butcher continued.

“We made the argument that whatever happens on one site is not dependant on the other and that was upheld.”

“We were going in to do the usual objections, you know ‘it’s too tall, it’s doing this, it’s doing that’ and Melbourne City Council, who have been fantastic on this issue, they came in and said, 'actually they were the ones who have ruling on this,” Ms Fairley said.

From here, Marriner Group has two options. Firstly, it can take its plans as they are and present them to the council for approval. However, according to Hosier Inc, the council has made it fairly clear that it will not approve a building of that size. The other option is to amend the application and present it in a format that council is more likely to agree to.

Hosier Inc says it is not against development around the lane, but would appreciate some consultation first.

“Our concerns are not about development of that site. In fact, we welcome a development of that site,” Ms Butcher said.

“One of the things I’ve been really confused about is why Marriner or his development advisers didn’t come talk to us at all. Still, there’s been no communication with us directly,” she continued.

“As people who live and work in the laneway it would make sense to come and consult with us about what’s going on.”

Marriner Group is yet to present its application to council.

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