By Colin MacGillivray
AN ongoing stoush between former Kilmore businessman Alan Wilson and Mitchell Shire Council has erupted again after council rejected Mr Wilson’s plan to demolish a building at 37 Sydney Street.
Mr Wilson accused council of being glib in its dismissal of his planning application to demolish the building, which he said was in danger of collapse, and of running ‘a personal vendetta’ against him.
Mr Wilson and council have clashed since council turned down a proposed food truck park development on land owned by Mr Wilson at 33, 35 and 37 Sydney Street in 2019.
He said his latest application to pull down the building at 37 Sydney Street was not made with development in mind, but out of concern the building would collapse.
Mr Wilson’s application included an engineering report stating that the building’s foundations were crumbling and the building was structurally unsound.
But council’s municipal building surveyor found the building was structurally repairable at cost, while an independently commissioned report found the building had significant heritage value.
Cr Annie Goble said the report had confirmed the building was ‘probably one of the oldest buildings in Kilmore’.
“It’s incredibly old, and I’m so pleased to see the heritage specialist came back to us and said it should be preserved,” she said.
“To those people who are not passionate about history, they might look at it – and it is in pretty poor shape – and think it probably needs to come down, but it is, according to engineers, structurally sound.
“I would love to see it if it was preserved in some way – looked after and maybe become a point at which coffee is sold from, or even pies like it used to be, because I think in previous history it was a pie shop.
“Maybe if it was renovated they could work out of this gorgeous little heritage building, which would probably be far more appropriate in Victoria’s oldest inland town.”
Mr Wilson questioned the heritage report, saying council had not provided him with a copy and he had made a freedom of information request to obtain one.
He said he made his application to pull the building down after being put on notice by council that the building was unsafe, and accused council of deliberately wasting his time and money.
“They put me on notice about the building that I had to take action, and consequently I’ve had to spend over $30,000 in [engineering] reports,” he said.
“Now that the councillors have officially stated the building is officially safe and it can open as a coffee shop or a kebab shop, we’re ready to start trading and we’ll ignore our engineering reports that the building is going to collapse.
“If the [heritage] report was so conclusive, why not just table it? They hid it.
“I asked how [whoever wrote the report] got access to my building when it’s been boarded up. I never got contacted and never gave access to anyone. Did they trespass? How did they get access? I never got an answer.”
Council chief executive Brett Luxford confirmed council had given Mr Wilson a notice to stabilise the building, but said such a notice did not automatically provide grounds for the building to be demolished.
“The planning permit process and building process are two separate matters and the decision making is made under the relevant legislation,” he said.
“The decision not to grant the planning permit was made under the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Mitchell Planning Scheme.
“Under separate legislation in the Building Act 1993 and Building Regulations 2018, council issued a building notice to stabilise the building for public safety.
“Specific works to be undertaken on the building would need to be proposed by the landowner or a developer. No proposal to repurpose the heritage building has been submitted to council.”
Mr Wilson accused councillors of being flippant and dismissive while discussing his proposal at last month’s council meeting after Cr Nathan Clark noted the building had ‘survived the largest recorded earthquake in Victoria’ in September.
“They’re running a personal campaign against me. You can see by their behaviour – they think it’s funny,” he said.
“If it falls down and hurts someone, it’s on the council because they’ve said it was perfectly stable. If someone gets hurt, then manslaughter laws mean council will be sitting right beside me in court.”
Cr Rhonda Sanderson said Mr Wilson’s application had not provided adequate justification for the building’s removal.
“As part of the application process, the applicant was invited and recommended to provide additional supporting documentation in relation to the heritage value, or lack of, of the building to improve the heritage interpretation response. No additional information has been submitted,” she said.
Cr Fiona Stevens said preserving Kilmore’s history was the main factor behind council’s decision.
“This building is 180 years old just about, and it’s looking a bit fragile and weathered, but that’s to be expected,” she said.
“Our history, once it’s gone, cannot be replaced. It needs to be a very good argument as to why we would consider getting rid of the last remnants of this significant building, and that certainly hasn’t been brought before us.”