Historic West Melbourne pub under threat from development

Historic West Melbourne pub under threat from development
Brendan Rees

A heritage pub in West Melbourne that dates back to the gold rush era is under threat after a proposal was submitted to convert the building into apartments.  

The Royal Standard Hotel has stood at the corner of William and Walsh streets since 1865, but under a planning proposal to be considered by the City of Melbourne, the building could be partially demolished to make way for five apartments across four storeys, with a ground level restaurant plus basement.  

This is despite the building being considered “significant” under the City of Melbourne’s Heritage Places Inventory 2020, and thus subject to heritage overlay.   

If given the green light, the $4.8 million development would result in the rear brick addition of the hotel demolished together with the existing internal walls and floors.

The heritage-listed façade would be “retained and renewed to better reflect its heritage status” while the existing roof and chimney would be removed and reinstated following the construction of a basement level.  

The existing bar and restaurant would continue to operate in its current space.

But the proposal has sparked alarm among community members who fear another historic pub would be lost to apartments.   

Chairman of the North and West Melbourne Association and a former Melbourne Lord Mayor Kevin Chamberlin said the community was “very concerned that an application like this should even be permitted by the planning scheme”.

“Destroying our heritage should be prohibited and the council and state government have a lot to answer for if this proposal proceeds,” he said. “Heritage plays a very important part in the life of inner Melbourne and the council and state government should protected it at all costs, and not offer it up for desecration by the developers.”

“The destruction of our heritage is truly alarming and reflects badly on both the council and the state government for their pro-development stance for West Melbourne.”

However, Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece maintained the plans for the hotel at 333 – 337 William St would be “very, very, carefully considered” as “protecting heritage pubs is important”.  

Cr Reece, who is currently supporting a campaign to save the historic John Curtin Hotel in Carlton from demolition after it was bought by an overseas-based investor, said the Royal Standard Hotel “is among the earliest examples of the pub hotel in Melbourne”.

“Built in 1865 it has been a William St icon for more than 150 years and has been rightly recognised as a significant heritage place within the City of Melbourne’s heritage overlay.”

However, Cr Reece noted West Melbourne was like the “next Fitzroy or Collingwood” as it was a “hot spot for new development due to its enviable inner-city lifestyle and easy access to everything Melbourne has to offer.” 

“While it’s encouraging that we continue to see strong development interest in West Melbourne, these applications must be carefully weighed against these heritage considerations, planning controls and the West Melbourne Structure Plan,” he said.

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s (RHSV) said in a statement that it was “very much concerned” about the future of the hotel, which was “remarkably intact and still functioning”.

“The City of Melbourne has a shocking record in allowing the demolition of historic hotels, most recently in granting a permit to demolish the 1864-built Great Western Hotel, which the RHSV protested in the strongest terms. The Royal Standard must not suffer the same fate,” it said.

Simon Ambrose, CEO of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), said the Royal Standard Hotel was among the first buildings classified by the National Trust following its establishment in 1956.

“It has served as a meeting place for generations of customers, but like many corner pubs in Melbourne, it is now under threat,” he said.

“Our heritage laws protect the facades of these historic pubs, but in their current form they can’t protect what is really important – the role of these buildings as community gathering places.”

Mr Ambrose said the National Trust raised this urgent issue as part of the current Parliamentary Inquiry into Protections Within the Victorian Planning Framework, calling for stronger protections to safeguard places of social significance to communities.

“We will continue to pursue this in the lead-up to the State election in November.”

According to the application by Melbourne architects Lovell Chen, three stories will be constructed above the restaurant, one within the existing heritage façade and two above. •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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