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Williamstown's Oriental Hotel: at centre of row

Williamstown’s Oriental Hotel: at centre of row. Photo: Wayne Taylor

A long-running planning dispute over derelict buildings on Williamstown’s old woollen mills site is endangering public safety, developers say.

A company half-owned by business identity Ron Walker on Monday fenced off footpaths and land around the dilapidated Oriental Hotel, amid fears the 142-year-old building may collapse, echoing the recent Swanston Street wall tragedy.

But Williamstown residents vehemently opposed to development plans for the woollen mills have questioned the timing of the move. An application by the developers, Evolve, to have the building demolished was rejected by Hobsons Bay council in February. Evolve has appealed the matter to VCAT.

”I’m concerned that the timing between the two incidents is suspect,” said Godfrey Moase, a spokesman for residents’ group Save Williamstown. ”We are concerned that safety is being used as a stalking horse for profit.”

”We do care about our own safety but this is one small parcel of land in terms of a very dense proposed development covering quite an extensive area down that end of Williamstown.”

Mr Moase said that the Oriental Hotel was the oldest three-storey pub in Victoria, and was particularly rare because it was made out of brick, rather than bluestone.

Evolve director Ashley Williams said the company had responded to directions from Victoria’s building surveyor to check the integrity of structures on the site.

It immediately moved to cordon off the Oriental on the corner of Ann Street and Nelson Place after an engineer’s report found the building posed a public hazard.

”We would be negligent if we didn’t act to ensure the public weren’t at any risk at all,” Mr Williams said.

”We’ve never shied away from the fact this building is in poor condition,” Mr Williams said.

The planning dispute with the local council and residents has been running for eight years and is set to be heard at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in June.

The Save Williamstown group’s 1500 members have campaigned against the high-rise development for years, arguing that developers should pay for the structural repairs to the pub.

”This comes down to a matter of costs more than anything else,” Mr Moase said. ”They’ve had eight years to do something constructive with this building,” he said. ”If they seriously believe it would cost too much to save this … they should just put the building up for sale for the cost of the land.”

In February, Hobsons Bay Council rejected an application to demolish the hotel.

About 220 people objected to the demolition and development. Many said the decisions should be adjourned until a risk assessment was done, given that the development site fell within a 300-metre safety buffer from Mobil’s tank farm supplying half Victoria’s fuel.

The first stage of Evolve’s proposed development has 134 apartments in two towers, one 4-storey and one 6-storey building. It also includes two 3-storey townhouses.

With Goya Dmytryshchak

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