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Council damning of mega tower

06 Apr 2017

Council damning of mega tower Image

By Sean Car

The City of Melbourne’s planning officers are less than impressed by Minister for Planning Richard Wynne’s approval of what will be Australia’s tallest skyscraper at 1 Queensbridge St.

Council publicly released its official review of Crown and Schiavello Group’s 90-storey tower on its website last month and it’s hard to find much that planning officers like about it.

Due to the State Government deeming the project as “state significant”, it was exempted from normal planning rules and hence the council’s views are irrelevant.

Nevertheless, the review provides a good insight into exactly what the exemption of state significance has gifted the developers and denied the local community in the process.

Perhaps officers’ most glaring critique was of what Mr Wynne referred to as a $100 million public benefits package, which supposedly flowed as a result of the planning minister’s rubber stamp.

It notes that contributions to Queensbridge Square ($25 million), Queensbridge St ($10 million), Sandridge Rail Bridge ($15 million), Southbank Boulevard ($ million) and Southbank Promenade ($10 million) only equates to $65 million.

Furthermore, it duly highlights that the minister’s own floor area uplift scheme (based on a building’s plot ratio of 56:1) should have warranted public benefits worth $125 million.

“Floor area ratio (FAR) in this location is limited to 18:1 with any additional uplift to be matched by a controlled public benefit/floor area uplift,” the report stated.

“The development has a FAR of 56:1, which in this case would require a public benefit/FAU to the value of approximately $125 million.”

The report also noted the development had been exempted from providing a public open space contribution of approximately $7 million and the building’s mass, height and setbacks also came under fire.

The building has been setback from neighbouring Freshwater Place by 12.8 metres, while it is a mere 6.95 metres from Prima Pearl. Under normal rules, the building should be set back from both of its neighbours by a minimum of 19.3 metres.

Both its front and rear boundaries will be constructed right to the site’s boundaries. Again, normal rules require setbacks of 5 metres at the front and 19.3 metre at the rear.

The development’s controversial skybridge over Queensbridge St also received heavy scrutiny in the report. The developers noted in their application that without it, “the new hotel would be commercially unviable”.

However, officers noted that it would inhibit a major gateway into the city and encourage visitors and inhabitants of the building to remain inside and avoid the public realm.

“The pedestrian bridge does not meet relevant policy objectives, which seek to retain views into and out of the capital city,” the report said.

“Although the design of the bridge itself appears considered and engaging, the negative outcome to the public realm will be irreversible.”

While highlighting a series of other issues, perhaps officers’ only positive comment was the developer’s revised walkway linking Queensbridge St to Freshwater Place.

However, all in all, the review provides a damning assessment of an approval that neighbouring residents have vowed to fight tooth and nail.

Freshwater Place Owners’ Corporation chairman Peter Renner applauded the council’s review.

“We commend the report. I’ve thanked the planners for their unbiased presentation. It’s comprehensive and it actually does show how the minister has ignored his own planning scheme,” he said.

Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA) president Tony Penna said he maintained that the public benefit would only benefit the developers and their future guests.

“I find it appalling that this planning minister, but worse premier, would allow a blatant disregard of the recently-spruiked and gazetted planning scheme amendments and, in the process, rob the community of a further $67 million of benefit,” he said.

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