A rooftop bar with 360-degree views over Melbourne atop an iconic inner-city landmark.

It’s a strong proposition – but critics are concerned it could come at a cost to Melbourne’s heritage.

A three-stage, 21-storey, $1 billion redevelopment plan for the old malting silos in Cremorne has been proposed by local developers Caydon Property Group.

Called The Malt District, development plans include 1000 apartments, a micro-brewery, retail spaces, a plaza, a bike cafe, shops, restaurants, green public spaces and a possible ferry stop. The plan also includes the aforementioned rooftop bar near the iconic Nylex clock, which sits atop the silos.

Caydon purchased the site in 2014 for $38 million. The developer has engaged architect David Sutherland from Fender Katsalidis (also behind Mona Museum) to design the complex, along with landscape designers, Oculus.

If the plan goes ahead, the defunct malting silos will be demolished. The heritage-listed Nylex clock will be restored to full working order and repositioned on a new tower. The digital clock – which also displays temperature – has been dormant since Nylex Plastics went into administration in 2009 (except for a brief period when some daring types broke in and found the switch last year).

“We have a great respect for the significance that the Nylex clock holds for Melburnians,” Caydon’s marketing manager Monique Ancora tells Broadsheet.

“It’s our goal to make it accessible for everyone. A bar and restaurant where people can view the Melbourne city skyline from a completely new perspective would be a great way to achieve that.”

It hasn’t been a smooth process for the developer. Heritage Victoria blocked stage one of the proposal to demolish part of the site, stating the development would have “very little positive heritage outcomes”. Caydon has since lodged an appeal. The situation is complicated because, technically, the silos, on which building started in 1952, are not heritage listed. But the older malting buildings and the Nylex sign are.

In an interview with The Age in January, National Trust’s Felicity Watson stated, “There is no good reason why the silos should not be incorporated into the development. There are many excellent examples of silos being adapted for residential use, not least the nearby Richmond Silos by Fender Katsalidis, who are also the project architects for the Nylex site.”

Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has been vocal in his criticism of the development, calling it an “overdeveloped, under-designed monster”.

“I don’t mind reasonable development, and I am in favour of developing the site, but what’s proposed is totally inappropriate given its size,” Kennett told The Australian Financial Review in January.

“It could be a highly creative design. If you incorporated the silo facades, you could develop very attractive apartments with an unusual shape and form. Nobody wants another square apartment development,” he said.

Heritage Victoria outlined the historic significance of the old maltings site in a report:

“The Barrett Burston Richmond Maltings site is aesthetically and socially significant as a substantial Melbourne landmark. This collection of four brick malt houses dating from 1880, 1920, late 1939s and 1942 together with the 1952 and 1960s concrete silos present a distinctive industrial aesthetic, which has formed a significant part of the townscape of Richmond, the adjoining River Yarra and South Yarra, for many years.” It continues: “Together with the Nylex sign, which sits atop the silos, they have become a significant cultural iconic feature in the Melbourne landscape and psyche and even feature in the song Leaps and Bounds by musician Paul Kelly.”

Caydon’s senior development manager Georgia Willis says prohibiting development of site is not of benefit to anyone.

“The site can’t sit there. It sat there for many, many years. It’s dilapidated. It’s got a lot of issues with asbestos. There’s contamination in the ground from previous industrial uses,” she tells Broadsheet. “So as far as urban renewal, it’s a prime example of where government needs to work with the private sector, and that’s what we’re endeavouring to do.”