planning laws
Site of the demolished Corkman Pub (Image Tracey Nearmy/AAP)

The sad, absurd and very typical tale of the Corkman pub is coming to its close as the year winds down.

In a piece of rare good luck, the wreckers who demolished it illegally have actually been given a jail term — a month, for contempt — while at the same time plans for the soulless new tower on the site in Carlton have been announced.

From that tower they will make millions. Readers will remember the Corkman, or the Carlton Inn as it was known until recent years, as the 1850s-era pub that was illegally destroyed one Saturday in 2016 by Raman Shaqiri and Stefce Kutlesovski.

When an emergency injunction was granted to stop them, they simply returned the next day to finish flattening it. The pub had suffered a fire weeks earlier. The flattening of it precluded further investigation as to the fire’s origins. They left exposed asbestos on the site. Then they dumped it near a school. And on and on.

Commercial buildings from the 1850s are rare in Melbourne; the Carlton Inn was an essential feature of our heritage. Public outrage from community leaders was swift and loud, but it never amounted to much.

Planning Minister Richard Wynne huffed and puffed but from the start he was evasive about what he would do about it. Lord mayor Robert Doyle demanded the pub be rebuilt, and then he was gone from public life.

The wreckers in question made noises of contrition and declared they’d rebuild the pub as was. Then, as people started to forget about it, the fix was in. Shaqiri and Kutlesovski — dubbed “cowboy builders”, cute term; animals would be a more accurate one — made legal representation against rebuilding the pub, or keeping to a two-storey limit.

Gradually the line against the wreckers began to soften. Wynne had put a heritage overlay on the site to limit development to two storeys; this was challenged in VCAT, the developers’ casino.

But Wynne never reached for the biggest stick available; compulsory purchase of the site, at existing price, rather than at potential value. This was open to him, and it would have ensured that Shaqiri and Kutlesovski took a big financial hit on the site.

Would have ensured too that something redolent of the destroyed pub would have replaced it. It would have been challenged in court, but at least the fight would be had.

Instead a Labor government pathetically rolled over as they had pathetically rolled over for the Apple store in Fed Square proposal until community protest and a heritage listing gave them an out.

In the Corkman case, the “developers” were allowed to proceed with multi-storey plans, which duly appeared two weeks ago and turned out to be another concrete and glass pile, devoid of historical reference or texture. In the interim they’d promised to build a garden there, big deal. They didn’t even do that, so they were hauled into court again. And lo and behold someone finally did something.

Out of the failure to build that garden, Shaqiri and Kutlesovski were jailed for contempt for 30 days, the maximum possible term. They’re not in yet, having appealed the sentence. The rejoicing that will go forth across Melbourne if they lose that appeal and actually have to go into chokey will be a thing to behold.

It’s all I want for Christmas. But they’ll probably win the appeal, if the history of this sorry tale is anything to go by. The ability of two thuggish arseholes to bulldoze their way forward is one thing. But the utter cowardice of Labor in the face of anyone who hangs the word “developer” around their neck is the main issue here.

Somehow a government with a stonking majority was pushed around and made a fool of by a pair of anti-social chancers who are loathed by almost everybody in the city.

Was it the act of a government so desperate for property developer support that it couldn’t even push back against a marginal operation that broke all the rules that other developers follow? Or does cowardice and compromise just become a habit after a while?

The Carlton Inn/Corkman should be rebuilt, not as a replica but in some form, scale and materials that suggests what was there, and has a living connection to it.

The last chance for that lies with a continuing green ban on a multi-storey building from the CFMMEU, though they are not without other problems at the moment. But what better way to honour their own heritage — out of the BLF — and their statement that building workers “aren’t just animals” there to destroy whatever they’re told to.

What better way to have a good end to this shabby tale and a win for the people at Christmas than to restore a place at the inn? As touching as the nativity — and, most likely, as fantastical.