Becton came to VCAT with an impressive team. Led by CJ Canavan QC, the team produced favourable evidence from architects Fender Katsalidis and Peckvonhartel; heritage consultants Allom Lovell and Associates as well as Goddan, Mackay Logan; urban designers urbis; traffic engineers Grogan Richards; town planners Contour Consultants; and music industry witnesses Bruce Milne, record producer and Catherine Haridy, talent scout and music promoter.
The Esplanade Alliance entered the VCAT hearing as a dissenting party. It had architect Norman Day, conservation consultant John Briggs and former manager of the Espy, Bruce Weibye presenting evidence.
The hearing ran for four days. On the morning of 19 August, the tribunal decided for Becton. It granted a permit that would allow:
Demolition of buildings, construction of a building of up to 10-storeys plus basements to contain 97 dwellings and associated parking, a food and drink premises, a convenience shop and service areas for the Esplanade Hotel, use of part of the building for a food and drink premises and convenience shop, the provision and sale of liquor for consumption on and off the premises in the convenience shop and food and drink premises, the construction of minor buildings and works exceeding the Planning Scheme’s setback requirements and a reduction of the Planning Scheme’s parking restrictions.
The permit came with conditions, including that:
• Becton had to make available an area at ground level, accessed from Pollington Street, to enable the continuation of the culturally significant live music venue at the hotel, particularly loading and unloading of live music equipment.
• Becton had to undertake noise attenuation works, particularly in the bedrooms, to avoid sleep disturbance to potential residents from the noise emanating from the Esplanade Hotel (operating as a culturally significant live music venue).
• Becton had to hire a qualified heritage architect to complete architectural records of the buildings to be demolished, scale drawings and photographs for Council and State Library archives and erect a commemorative plaque on the site.
VCAT decision 1066 (VCAT Reference Number: P424/2003) was published on 29 August 2003, six years to the day from when residents and Espy patrons had met at a St Kilda café to discuss what the transfer of ownership would mean for the much-loved hotel.
The decision would allow the Espy to continue to support live music, albeit under the shadow of a 10-storey building.
Esplanade Alliance member Krystyna Kynst told The Age's Misha Ketchell that the future of the Espy hotel as a live-music venue was now in the hands of Becton, the hotel operators and Port Phillip Council (Beat goes on as the curtain falls on Espy saga, 20 August 2003). "It will be their collective responsibility to ensure that the terms of the deal, that is, the lease agreement that they've reached with the hotel operator, guarantees the continuation of the Espy as a live-music venue."