Becton's revised planning application, lodged on 12 November 2002, blocked access to loading bays servicing the Espy's main stage, severely impacting its ability to function as a live music venue.
Amendment C25 had been gazetted on 1 November 2002. It introduced, into the Port Phillip Planning Scheme, new policies that supported the cultural significance, use and operation of the Esplanade Hotel. The amendment was (and continues to be) ground-breaking in its effort to enshrine the Espy's continuing cultural use as one of the key values to be protected in any development approval. The developer now had clear guidelines for what would be allowed on the site and the public's expectations about the Espy’s continued operations. Its planning application did not respect those guidelines and expectations.
In accordance with the planning objectives, the new lessees had prepared a management plan, detailing the hotel’s access, operational and service needs. It was clear Becton’s application ignored those needs and would strangle the Espy as a live music venue. The new building would seal off the hotel’s internal loading areas and access to the main stage, compromising its operations as a pre-eminent live music and comedy venue.
Significantly, and contrary to the spirit and letter of Amendment C25, Becton’s 10-storey apartments design proposed to demolish the beloved and (local) heritage-protected Baymor Court and any other buildings outside the lease-line, including two wings of the Espy Hotel.
The media reported Becton’s application and resulting community concerns:
Long running Espy saga reaches new heights, Farah Tomazin, The Age, 14 November 2002, page 7.
Espy row soon to end, Kate Uebergang, Port Phillip Leader, 18 November 2002.
Residents dig in on Espy, Simon Kidd, Emerald Hill Times, 20 November 2002.
Council received 31 objections, including one from Esplanade Alliance and one from VicMusic, a not-for-profit organisation established to represent and promote the growth and development of original contemporary music in Victoria.
Once again media interest focused on Council’s looming decision – just as it had back in December 1998 when Council was to decide on Becton’s first application, its 38-storey tower.
Developer cops a blast over Esplanade proposal, reported Farrah Tomazin in The Age, 3 February 2003. A week later, on 10 February 2003, she led with: Another big night for The Espy, one some may wish to forget.
Espy debate flares again, wrote Simon Kidd for the Emerald Hill Times, 5 February 2003.
Crunch time for the Espy, Kate Uebergang proclaimed in the Port Phillip Leader, 10 February 2003.
On the day of the Council meeting, 10 February 2003, news on radio stations 3AK, 3AW and 774 ABC reported the pending decision periodically throughout the day and announced the outcome that evening.
Esplanade Alliance member, Krystyna Kynst, explained the issues to radio 774 ABC presenter Virginia Trioli.
Council votes 'No'
Council voted to refuse the application because of the impact on the hotel’s operation and the demolition of a heritage building. It argued the proposal compromised its planning guidelines. Councillor David Brand spoke in favour of the refusal, saying “It is extremely disappointing to me, in fact it’s dumbfounding to me, that after all the discussions and negotiations and hearings and investigations and expert opinions and warnings, over all this time, that the application before us still falls so far away from satisfying the objectives of the planning controls.”
said the next day: “Becton has failed to respond to the heritage controls, and their plans put the ongoing hotel use in jeopardy. From the time they submitted their plans last year up until the meeting last night, Becton have declined to make any revisions or improvements to their application. This clearly shows a lack of willingness to play ball. Indeed, what was even more telling is that they did not even bother to speak in support of their application at last night’s meeting.”Port Phillip Mayor Darren Ray
Becton warned it would appeal, claiming the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) would be better placed to make an independent and objective decision.
Council's decision and Becton’s response featured on radio news across major Melbourne stations – FOX FM, Triple M, 774 ABC, 3AW, GOLD FM, KIIS. Radio station 3AK ran an interview with VicMusic’s James Nagy. Channel 10 reported the decision on its 5:00pm news.
The Emerald Hill Times reported: Espy plans sent packing, Simon Kidd, 12 February 2003, and ran an accompanying news feature: A pub for the people, also by Simon Kidd, page 9. The Port Phillip Leader pronounced: Espy fight to continue, Kate Uebergang, 17 February 2003.