On Tuesday night the City of Melbourne’s Future Melbourne Committee considered the current planning application for the Palace Theatre site at 20-30 Bourke Street, following a recent recommendation by Council planning officers to reject the application due to the potential impact on the low-scale Bourke Hill Precinct. Although the original proposal for a 72.25m tower was rejected by the state government in January, the amended application before Council, at a proposed 50.65m, continues to flout the 23m height limit which applies to most of the site.
Representatives of both sides of the argument were present at the Town Hall meeting, including a large and vocal group of Palace supporters. Impassioned arguments were heard from Save the Palace Theatre committee member Rebecca Leslie and other longtime patrons about the significance of the theatre to Melbourne’s live music culture. Melbourne Heritage Action’s president Tristan Davies argued the rarity and significance of the theatre’s interiors, while the committee also heard arguments put forward by representatives of the luxury W Hotel which is proposed for the site, as well as the scheme’s architects.
As Cr Rohan Leppert acknowledged however, any decision regarding the application must be made according to the current planning scheme which focuses on height controls and built form. “Just as the W hotel can’t be given special consideration because it is a 5 star hotel, special consideration can’t be given for social and cultural uses”, he said. Lord Mayor Robert Doyle added that the reality of the current planning scheme is that social significance and interiors do not come into play.
Paul Roser echoed this in his presentation which focused on the National Trust’s objection to the proposal based on its failure to adhere to the height controls in place for the Bourke Hill Precinct. The Lord Mayor, however, foreshadowed the precedent set by the forthcoming Hotel Windsor redevelopment, which he said would “define the paradigm of the precinct”.
At the request of the applicant, Council carried a motion to defer the decision to 1 July. The applicant was encouraged to use this opportunity to address the concerns raised by Council officers in their recommendation, and it is expected that the proposal will again be revised.