Cowboy developers could be whacked with heftier penalties after the illegal demolition of a Melbourne gold rush-era pub.

The weekend demolition of the Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton, built in 1857, is being investigated by several authorities and there are calls for it be reconstructed.

It was demolished despite a “stop work” notice, no demolition or planning permits and a heritage overlay, says Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

“These cowboy developers have shown complete contempt for the planning process and they have no planning permission to build a new development on this site,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Mr Wynne said those responsible “should feel the full force of the penalties available” while also flagging an increase to the current $200,000 fine limit for commercial developments.

“The developer just thinks he can add the penalty cost of $200,000 to the cost of the development,” he said.

“I’m going to have a really careful look at these penalties because whilst $200,000 is a significant amount for a residential development, it’s not much for a commercial development like this.”


He will refer the matter to the Victorian Building Authority and Heritage Victoria in case of any archaeological significance.

The site had heritage overlay, requiring a council permit before significant changes are made, but it was not listed on the more powerful Victorian Heritage Register.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also investigating over asbestos concerns.

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle called the demolition “the most brazen and wanton act of destructive vandalism” he had seen.

He said a fire in August at the pub had not caused enough damage to warrant demolition.

Attempts were made to contact the company behind the building’s destruction have been unsuccessful.

The pub was popular with students from the nearby University of Melbourne and some of the students want the developers to be forced to fully restore the building.

Student Rosie Francis, who lives next door to the Corkman, said she and her housemates were woken to their home shaking when demolition started on Saturday.

She said they received no notice of the demolition and are worried about potential exposure to asbestos.