Corkman Hotel replica to rise from the ruins after rogue owners back down

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The owners of the Corkman hotel site in Carlton will build a replica of the heritage pub they illegally demolished seven years ago.

In 2016, Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski knocked down the pub that had stood on the site since 1854. They had no planning permission or building permit.

The pair bought the Corkman Irish Pub for almost $5 million in 2015 and plans obtained by The Age soon after the demolition showed them considering a 12-storey student housing project on the site.

After public outrage at the brazen demolition, then planning minister Richard Wynne ordered that the pub be immediately rebuilt. But after a drawn-out legal battle, the pair were given an alternative: get a new plan for the site approved by the planning minister or rebuild the heritage facade.

Having failed to get their plans for a three-level hospitality venue – designed by architects Six Degrees – approved by Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny, the pair took her and Melbourne City Council to the state planning tribunal.

But the Corkman owners have now dumped the hospitality plan after negotiations failed with Kilkenny and the council – and two former Melbourne University law students who once drank at the pub and are party to the case.

The three-level hospitality venue proposed by the Corkman site owners that will not proceed.Credit: Six Degrees architects

Instead, under a draft legal agreement with the minister and council seen by The Age, Shaqiri and Kutlesovski will rebuild a replica of the old pub.

A small park currently stands on the Carlton site. In 2021, Shaqiri and Kutlesovski were jailed for 28 days after repeatedly flouting state government orders to build the park. They did so only after being jailed.

A County Court judge in 2019, when fining them $1.1 million for the illegal demolition, found “little, if any, evidence of genuine remorse” from Shaqiri and Kutlesovski for the 2016 demolition.

But facing a threat of more jail time if they fail to build a replica of the pub they demolished, the pair have now given assurances it will be rebuilt according to an order hanging over their heads since 2021.

Replica plans for a replacement pub drawn up in 2017 for the planning minister.Credit: Williams Boag architects

That order, by Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal deputy president Teresa Bisucci, requires the Corkman be rebuilt on the site using new materials. The replacement must be rebuilt “the external parts of the hotel being roofs, chimneys and external facades of the building as nearly as practicable to the condition they were immediately before their unlawful demolition”.

Neither Shaqiri nor Kutlesovski would comment but a spokesman for the construction management company representing them, Nash, said the pair would rebuild the pub.

But the replica building will not be used for a pub, he said.

Instead, the owners have approached the Salvation Army with the idea of running a food bank or community centre. Major Brendan Nottle, the commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Melbourne, said he’d had a preliminary discussion with project managers for the Corkman pair. Nottle said the Salvos would welcome the opportunity to use the new building to help those in the area who had trouble accessing community services.

The former Corkman pub site on Sunday.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

Heritage specialist James Lesh reviewed the Six Degrees hospitality plan, assessing it against the proposed replica pub. He found the three-level hospitality venue was preferable to rebuilding the pub. In Australia, reconstructions of demolished and destroyed historic buildings had long been discouraged, Lesh wrote, because they were “generally perceived to represent an inauthentic, fake, or ‘Disney-fied’ heritage outcome”.

An arts project commissioned in 2021 on the adjacent University Square gardens shows the level of community concern over the lost pub. Irish artist Sean Lynch’s Distant Things Appear Suddenly Near includes a wooden scale replica of the Corkman pub’s facade.

Irish artist Sean Lynch’s replica wooden pub, part of an artwork standing since 2021 in University Square in Carlton, opposite the Corkman site.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

The planning minister did not respond to questions by deadline. Melbourne City Council deputy lord mayor Nicholas Reece, who holds the planning portfolio, declined to comment on the Corkman because it was “subject to ongoing legal proceedings”. Reece said more generally, though, that across Melbourne heritage pubs were “under development pressure like never before as developers look to buy corner sites and convert them to a ‘higher value use’.”

Duncan Wallace and Tim Staindl are two former law students who have been part of the case against the Corkman pair since 2016. Both were studying law at Melbourne University when the demolition occurred, and both remain part of the case seeking reinstatement of the pub. The pair said it was positive the order for the building to be reconstructed would stand, but they pointed out the order did not mandate use of the restored site as a pub. “One way the developers could restore the faith of the local community would be to re-open it as a pub,” they said.

Australia’s lack of success at forcing rogue owners who illegally demolish heritage buildings to reconstruct them stands in contrast to England, where rebuild orders are sometimes issued. Shortly before the Corkman case in Melbourne, the Carlton Tavern in London was demolished in 2015. The pub was rebuilt under orders from a west London council and reopened in 2021. Another pub in London, The Alchemist, was also demolished in 2015 and ordered rebuilt by the local council – it has since been reconstructed, although it is no longer a pub.

The Carlton Tavern in London was illegally demolished in 2015. It reopened in 2021 after its reconstruction was ordered by a west London council.

The state opposition said the government had let the Corkman pair off too lightly. “This seven-year embarrassment is a blight on the state Labor government and proves how poorly they enforce planning laws,” opposition planning spokesman James Newbury said.

The pub’s demolition led the Andrews government to bring in tougher penalties for illegal demolition. But those tougher laws did not apply retrospectively to the Corkman pair.

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