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Southbank Residents Association

08 Feb 2018

Southbank sold out by Planning Minister

Sadly, since my last column Southbank has had a few disappointments.

Recently VCAT ruled in favour of the developer for the controversial 135 Sturt St development. So, in the not too distant future the beautiful character of the Arts Precinct residential, Southbank Village as us locals refer to it, will be blighted with an 18-storey monstrosity.

And, the developer for 153 Sturt St has now also referred to VCAT its application for a 19-storey tower. It isn’t difficult to guess what the outcome there is likely to be. 

Did I hear you mention you thought there was a 40-metre height limit in that part of Southbank? Well you are absolutely correct! So how did we get in this predicament which allows developers to build almost 20 metres over the 40-metre height limit?

The key wording here is that the height limit is a “discretionary” limit. Therefore, when VCAT decides if the height is acceptable they will consider this relative to the surrounding developments. The closest high-rise to these sites is at 152 Sturt St, which is The Guild apartments comprising two towers with the tallest being 24 metres. At the other end of the street, at 250 Sturt St, is an approval for 16-storeys.

We have always been concerned with the ambiguous height control in this area and have lobbied to have it amended to a mandatory control. Our opportunity came when the current Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, conducted a review of the Capital City Zone built form in mid-2016 called C270 Built Form review. The new planning scheme was gazetted at the end of 2016 and, despite our vigorous lobbying, we were unsuccessful with obtaining mandatory height controls for the Southbank Village.

It is troubling to recently learn the Planning Minister stated that C270 doesn’t provide adequate protection for the Arts Precinct. We (Southbank Residents Association) spent $5000 hiring a consultant to assist us with having a say in this review.

It was critical that we had a say in this important review and not only for height control. In fact, we were the only residents’ group that did have a say. We contributed through the very means that the Minister advised us to.

We were even invited to put our case forward in person to the panel, of which I did personally.

In our 50-page submission, among other things, we argued that the special character areas (SCAs) particularly Sturt St/Arts Precinct needed to be protected through mandatory height controls.

How can the Minister now say that C270 is inadequate when we clearly told him that this needed to be addressed? It would seem that all our time and expense was useless as it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

If the system doesn’t provide us with a voice to actually be heard by the decision maker, then the Minister should have made himself available to chair the panel and hear first-hand from all the submitters.

Sadly, I feel the Minster has sold us out and this is just the beginning of the end for the Arts Precinct. In the same way the Minister didn’t give us (or council) a voice to be heard (through council’s FMC meetings) with the Queensbridge Tower development, citing State Significance (what a load of crap, that should not stop the Minister from allowing stakeholders to have a say).

And again, most recently with the Apple flagship store to replace the three-storey Yarra Building at Federation Square – no public consultation or even consultation with council – the deal was done at the start of the Christmas holiday break. I wonder if that was a deliberate strategy?

I think the Minister is showing his true colours with how much he cares about what the public and local residents have to say. No wonder our submission fell on deaf ears! Has the Minister forgotten that we are in an election year?

But I do ponder how much lobbying our local Member, Martin Foley, has lobbied on our behalf to his political colleague during this time? These issues have not been kept secret within ourselves.

And now, over to the other side of Southbank where we are trying to save the beautiful Robur Tea building. There is a development application to build a multi-level serviced apartment hotel which, in my opinion, is going to dominate the built form and hide this heritage-protected building.

If you feel the same as us, please send an objection to planning@melbourne.vic.gov.au quoting TP-2017-801 – Robur Tea Building 28-34 Clarendon St, Southbank.

Council needs to hear from the community that such a development is certainly crossing the line and is going too far. We don’t have much heritage left in Southbank, so what we have needs to be preserved.

Finally, this month we will be holding our bi-annual free Southbank information evenings. If you are new to Southbank come along and meet some other residents and learn lots of little tidbits about your neighbourhood to help you settle in.

Even if you are a long-term resident you are most welcome. I am sure you will learn something new too. This will be held on Wednesday, February 21 at 6.30pm at Boyd Community Hub. I hope to see you there.

Tony Penna - President 

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