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Tram shame

Green light for overshadowing

10 Dec 2015

Green light for overshadowing Image

By Sean Car

City of Melbourne councillors have again thrown their support behind overshadowing of the Yarra River in return for public open space in the CBD.

Developer Cbus has once again gifted the CBD with nearly 2000sqm of badly-needed open space as part of its development plans for the old Suncorp site at 447 Collins St.

It comes after its attempt last year to trade off a gift of 1990sqm of public “open” space in return for permission to overshadow the south bank of the Yarra.

And while City of Melbourne councillors were enthusiastic in their support for the plan (against their planning officers’ recommendations), former planning minister Matthew Guy said no.

Cbus was back at last month’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting with a new proposal, which has the town talking and councillors gushing in their praise.

While it now strictly complies with south bank overshadowing provisions, it would still cast a shadow over the north bank as well as cast a shadow up to the edge of Queensbridge Square during the deepest part of winter.

Having opposed last year’s proposal, Cr Rohan Leppert said he was a “little surprised” to be supporting the new application, which still overshadows the north bank.

“There’s very little additional overshadowing of the north bank as there is a lot of overshadowing already, given the built form immediately north of Flinders St in that area,” Cr Leppert said.

“The area proposed to be overshadowed is not the open space of Batman Park or Enterprize Park.  It’s predominately space that’s already under overpasses or the railway yards and that sort of thing as well.”

“It’s unfortunate that supporting this means supporting the partial overshadowing above the north bank of the Yarra. However, on balance, given the key positive aspects of this application, I’m actually quite happy to do that.”

Southbank Residents Association president Tony Penna dismissed the rationale of councillors by stating that “overshadowing was overshadowing”.

“It’s a truly remarkable development, however it still falls short,” he said. “We are perplexed with understanding the position of the officer (who recommended acceptance to councillors).”

“This is a contravention of the planning scheme as it currently stands, which is there to protect the south and north banks from overshadowing. There is no compromise.”

“If this council, or even this government, is going to allow an exemption to overshadowing of the north bank, it sends a very dangerous message to developers that overshadowing is negotiable.

However, with an offer of 2000spm of space on the table, Cr Leppert said supporting the application was the “best possible planning option.”

It’s wrong to be talking about “open” space though. The precise language used in the documentation speaks of “public space”, “public realm” and, in the words of council planner Jane Birmingham, “publically accessible spaces”.

Those hankering for a return of the sun-drenched 2500sqm forecourt in front of the old Suncorp building will be sorely disappointed.

The actual “public open space” component of the proposed development is limited to a pocket park on the corner of Collins and Market streets, which is an obligatory contribution from the developer.

Much like a shopping mall, the bulk of the “publically accessible spaces” are forecourts, arcades and entrances to retail as well as the twin towers themselves.

The City of Melbourne is coming to the party though, and wants to contribute 1500sqm of Market St to the cause. The developers call this genuine open space, the “extension”.

The council supports the developer’s application to the Minister for Planning for a planning scheme amendment for its master plan for the site.

At its Future Melbourne Committee meeting of November 17, acting Lord Mayor Susan Riley said: “I think it looks fantastic.  I absolutely think it’s one of the best developments that I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s got character, it’s got views to the Yarra and I think it will be just a landmark on Collins St.”

Cr Stephen Mayne said: “The twin towers and the terrace are remarkable to look at and I think it’s really going to the captivate the imagination of Melburnians and visitors.”

Cr Arron Wood said: “I think that the design is something that is really going to add to the streetscape and the skyline of the City of Melbourne.”

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