Gutted building security queried

Museum of Perth executive director Reece Harley says the building should not have been left derelict and unsecured. Photo by David Bell

FIRE has ripped through the CBD’s abandoned Hostel Milligan, damaging the heritage-listed area supposed to be retained as part of a new development.

Fireys responded to a call about 1.30am Monday March 22. People were seen leaving the building shortly before the fire and one woman was taken into custody who’s now “assisting with the investigate”. The arson squad was called down Monday morning to go through the ashes and police are looking for more information. 

The hostel was built around 1929 and surrounds an in-tact 1880s cottage named “Pearl Villa”. 

In April 2020 Singaporean-based owners Fragrance Group won approval to build two towers on the site, a 37-level hotel and a 22-level office building. The hostel’s outer walls and the inner villa, now both damaged by fire, were to be retained. 

They’d previously evicted the hostel’s last remaining residents, mostly elderly and down-and-out, in September 2019 in preparation for works.

But there’s been very little progress at the site. An urban explorer who gained access to the unsecured building two months ago tells us “many squatters” have been living in there since it closed, and they also recognised two small meth cooking setups in there. 

That’s despite the owner being required to secure it. 

As part of getting development approval for the new towers, the owner signed a heritage agreement with the City of Perth and the state Heritage Council.

Trespass

It required that “reasonable measures are taken to secure the place against trespass, vandalism, vermin and pests” and the owner was supposed to carry out weekly checks to ensure the doors and windows were locked, and that security systems and smoke detectors were operational.

Museum of Perth executive director Reece Harley fears the building’s existence is now under threat and has called on the owner to commit to restoring it.

He’s written to Perth council, state heritage minister David Templeman, and Perth state MP John Carey asking for their assurance the building would be secured and restored, as per the Heritage Agreement, rather than demolished. 

The agreement says if there’s any damage or destruction the owner must “fully and properly repair, replace or restore the destroyed or damaged place,” unless they can argue their way out of it at the State Administrative Tribunal.

Mr Harley says “the developers could have allowed the [hostel’s] tenants to remain in the building to secure and maintain the site until they were ready to proceed with a development,” instead of evicting the residents and hostel manager back in 2019.

He pointed out: “If the owners had adhered to the legal agreement they signed the building would have been checked 58 times in the last 13 months” and asked “have those checks been occurring?”

We lodged a query with Perth council asking whether any inspections had taken place. They said “the city regularly inspects the property and advises the owner of any action that needs to be taken.

“The property has been inspected and security repaired twice in the past two weeks.”

Whatever was repaired didn’t keep the squatters out.

As to possible action against the owner, they haven’t yet assessed the building as it’s still under police investigation.

We contacted Fragrance but did not get a reply.

by DAVID BELL

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