Construction workers are reportedly stripping the inside of Melbourne’s historic Bourke St theatre, The Palace. Several sources claim workers are demolishing the theatre interior, despite a pending decision by Melbourne City Council over whether to seek local heritage protection for the music venue.

The venue has stood boarded up since May and has since been the site of numerous protests and vigils, most of them organised by the Save The Palace grassroots group, who are opposing the actions of the site’s new owners, Jinshan Investments, who hope to turn the former Palace into Melbourne’s first W Hotel.

According to the Save The Palace Theatre Facebook page, “Demolition workers have been found on site at the Palace Theatre in Bourke Street stripping out all of the interiors. The building is currently under review by numerous authoritative bodies and no demolition permits have been granted.”

“We asked to see a copy of the demolition permit and were asked, ‘Who the hell are you?’ and ‘Where’s your badge?'” the group writes. “Nearby businesses have confirmed they’d been there at least all week. It is illegal and Cr Leppert has just confirmed enforcement officers are on their way to the site.”

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Indeed, The Age reports that Adam Jacks, manager of nearby restaurant Mrs Parma’s, said rubbish skips have been outside the venue for about a week. Fairfax also reports that other protestors were told by a worker that the crew did have a permit and to call the police with any complaints.

According to one commenter on the Save The Palace Facebook page, local council have dispatched officials to the site and are encouraging people “to email [email protected] with any feedback and concerns about the situation so that they have our ‘opinions’ in writing”.

Melbourne Heritage Action report that among the structures demolished are “original doors from 1923, plasterwork circa 1916, and tiles 1912”, which have been “smashed into a skip out the back of the Palace Theatre”. They report that “workers [are] not quite as keen to have photos of themselves doing the work, ducking behind cover whenever a camera is raised”.

A construction worker who did speak to Fairfax Media confirmed that the crew are working to remove the interior of the building and that the site is going to be turned into apartments.

City of Melbourne councillor Rohan Leppert, who proposed the motion to seek local heritage listing, has called the work was “sheer vandalism”, adding, “There is no permit to demolish the building, and the owner knows that the Council and Government considers the interiors to be of significant heritage value.”

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However, according to Melbourne Heritage Action, police have indicated that a permit “might not be needed” and the matter is one of council planning and not law enforcement as “no structural demolition” has yet occurred. “Building claim they are ‘checking sprinklier systems’ …apparently by tearing down the entire plasterwork and cornices of the theatre,” they add.

Save The Palace have announced plans to stage another vigil at 6pm tonight outside of the theatre site. “A visual sign to the people who can turn this around that this IS NOT ON! While there is still something to save you all need to get off your arse and down to the Palace,” they write.

“We have a few signs but anything you can get together bring it and all your friends along. The people of Melbourne need to join together to make some damn noise. These people are cultural vandals and all their money in the world does not put them above the law.”

A meeting of the Future Melbourne Committee early last month yielded a 6-5 vote to explore local heritage protection for the Palace Theatre. At the time, Melbourne Heritage Action president Tristan Davies told Fairfax Media that approval for heritage listing would “probably be a nail in the coffin for this development”.