By Tricia Mifsud
A PETITION to pressure the Macedon Ranges Shire Council to have the current owner of the Romsey Hotel, which has been shut since 2017, to either sell or restore and reopen the venue has gained more than 2500 signatures.
The Romsey Hotel, owned by Jim Hogan, has been closed for about four years, leaving the township without a pub or hotel.
Mr Hogan closed the hotel following a failed bid to put gaming machines at the hotel.
Romsey resident Sandra Chestnutt is among the passionate group of community members pushing for council to have Mr Hogan either reopen the hotel or sell the building.
She said despite many debates to arise about the Romsey Hotel, including council refusing to allow gaming machines at the premises back in 2004, the petition is about protecting the building’s heritage overlay and seeing what could be done about the empty building.
“The petition is about the heritage overlay; in the Macedon Ranges, only two places have heritage overlay and Romsey is one of them,” she said.
“There are specific rules and regulations that go along with it, including you can’t change the façade of a building, but in 2017 when the lease holder walked out, it was boarded and not with board but with aluminium, which was a big no.
“A council class representative went to meet with the owners, and he said there was an imminent sale, and he boarded it up for security reasons and security purposes, but it was never on the market, it has never been found to be on the market and it still isn’t on the market anywhere.
“It’s a private business and we can’t pressure anybody to do anything, but council need to put pressure on from their side for the owner to uphold the rules and regulations to do with heritage overlay building.”
Ms Chestnutt said even with its heritage overlay, and importance to the history of Romsey, the community were just longing for a pub where they could all come together, especially as COVID-19 restrictions eased and people looked for places to reunite.
“We just want a pub, it’s the social centre of any small town, it’s just not acceptable,” she said.
“Young ones want to go to the pub, mothers want to have catch up lunches at the pub, and I know we have other locations for that, but a pub is just different.”
The council’s planning and environment director Angela Hughes told The Free Press the council was in no position to force Mr Hogan to reopen the hotel.
“Council cannot force or require the landowner to re-open the hotel or use the site in a particular manner. A new use of the site may require a planning permit depending upon what is proposed,” she said.
Council met with Mr Hogan after it was resolved at the February 24 scheduled council meeting to write to him about what his intentions were for the site, and he met with council’s manager community and economic development, arts, and events to discuss his plans.
“As with any discussion with a landowner, the specific details of this conversation are confidential,” Ms Hughes said.
“With the exception of the above meeting, council has not had any involvement with the site in the last three to four years.”
The Free Press reached out for comment from Mr Hogan but he did not return calls.
Mr Hogan told the Midland Express that it would be six to 12 months before he made a decision on the site, but he was happy to hear from the community about what they wanted.
He said he had originally planned for a multifaceted business prior to losing his gaming machine bid and that it was ‘unfortunate that the council did not want that to go ahead’.
Mr Hogan said he had planned to redevelop the site but had instead been focusing on other business interests, such as Hogan’s Hotel in Wallan, during COVID-19.
For further information about the petition, visit change.org/p/macedon-ranges-shire-council-open-up-the-pub-in-romsey-victoria.