Police investigate as heritage terrace in East Melbourne goes up in flames

Police investigate as heritage terrace in East Melbourne goes up in flames
Brendan Rees

Police are investigating a fire which broke out at an unoccupied building in East Melbourne on May 1.

Emergency services were called to the Albert St premises at around 9.40pm, with the building sustaining significant damage. No-one was inside at the time of the incident.

“A crime scene has been established while detectives work to establish the exact circumstances and cause of the fire,” a Victoria Police spokesperson said.

The site at 204-208 Albert St is currently occupied by a two-storey Victorian building originally built as three terrace houses in 1859, which was graded as “contributory” under the City of Melbourne’s Heritage Places Inventory March 2022.

The building, which was converted into a medical centre in the 1960s, is now boarded up.

Residents had in previous months cited concerns that the building was attracting squatters, as well as drug activity and vandalism, in what one said had created “distress and disturbance” in the community.

The building has remained empty, however developer Whitehaven Property Development Pty currently has plans to partially demolish the building and to construct a six-storey office building.

The City of Melbourne approved the plans last October after initially rejecting a proposal for a nine-storey building, a decision also upheld by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in July 2021, which cited the proposal’s lack of suitability for the Albert St landscape.

The proposal seeks to retain the three adjoining heritage terraces on Albert St and demolish a non-heritage two-storey rear addition, with the proposed development to be built in its place.

The proposed development received 107 objections following strong opposition from residents and the East Melbourne Group (EMG), which argued the revised application failed to align with the character of the area and would block the sunlight to neighbouring homes.

The EMG is now fighting the revised proposal at VCAT.

Inner City News is not suggesting that the fire is connected to any concerns of the proposed development nor to squatters being at the building, only that the site has been approved for development.

In a statement, the City of Melbourne said it was made aware of the illegal use of this property as a squat in April.    

“Council has since worked with the property owner to secure the building – and a report from early May showed no evidence of squatting,” it said.

“We will continue to work with the property owner to rectify any further building issues.”

A resident, who witnessed the fire, said they smelt smoke and saw two floors at the back of the heritage section “well alight, windows breaking, flames and smoke aplenty”.

They said there were seven fire trucks on scene, including about 30 firefighters and three police officers.

Anyone who witnessed the incident, has CCTV/dashcam footage or information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers Victoria on 1800 333 000. •


Caption: Fire crews on scene of the fire in Albert St.

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