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No Wynne for locals in C270

08 Feb 2018

No Wynne for locals in C270 Image

By Sean Car

The Minister for Planning Richard Wynne has admitted that the very planning controls he introduced via amendment C270 don’t provide adequate protection for the Arts Precinct and Southbank Village.

His comments come as local architect Hayball won its bid at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) late last year to develop an 18-storey tower on the site of its current office at 135 Sturt St.

The local community, led by the Save Dodds Street group and Southbank Residents’ Association (SRA), has long voiced its opposition to the development.

It argues that such development is out of character with the Arts Precinct, would dominate the surrounding low-rise village and adds to existing traffic and parking congestion in Sturt St.

The VCAT approval will now see a 55-metre tower constructed next door to the 14-metre high Malthouse Theatre and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Arts (ACCA).

A decision on whether to approve a permit had rested with the minister as the responsible authority. However, after failing to rule on the application within the prescribed 60-day time limit, Hayball pursued a permit through VCAT.

While Hayball had submitted its application prior to the introduction of C270 in 2016, Minister Wynne failed to introduce mandatory height controls that would have protected the Arts Precinct from similar future developments.

And in January, it was a case of déjà vu as many local residents in Southbank Village received correspondence via mail notifying them of a VCAT action regarding a 19-storey application at 153 Sturt St.

Neighbouring architect Rothelowman has too pursued action for a failure to grant a permit for the redevelopment of its own office building within the prescribed time. This time it’s against the City of Melbourne as the responsible authority.

“It’s clear that the current planning controls don’t offer adequate protection for Melbourne’s arts precinct,” a spokesperson for the Minister for Planning told Southbank Local News.

When questioned as to why the minister had failed to make a decision on the application, his spokesperson said: “It’s not uncommon for complex matters that need to go to multiple authorities to take a bit longer, unfortunately.”

The spokesperson also said that, despite opposing the application at VCAT, the current planning scheme didn’t provide the minister with sufficient grounds to pursue further action.

“Advice provided indicated that he did not have sufficient grounds to ‘call in’ the proposal,” the spokesperson said.

“While Planning Ministers of the day have powers to intervene in planning applications, any intervention must stand the scrutiny of Supreme Court action, and he will not be seeking to challenge the decision.”

SRA president Tony Penna said he was “gob-smacked” by the minister’s comments and described the VCAT decision as “a sad day for Southbank Village”.

“The SRA is absolutely gob-smacked with the comments from the Planning Minister,” he said. “Our community, volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organisation spent $5000 engaging with a consultant for the Minister’s own review of the Capital City Zone built form.”

“We made a 50-page contribution to this and also presented to the panel. We argued there needs to be defined mandatory height controls, but moreover that the special character areas such as Sturt St environs must be protected.”

“The final outcome of that C270 review left these areas vulnerable. We felt our view was simply ignored.”

Save Dodds Street convener Julie Cowley said the community felt let down by the Minister for Planning.

“Our Planning Minister Richard Wynne has let down not only our local community but the whole of Melbourne,” she said.

“We as a community have made ourselves heard at council and with the Planning Minister’s office. They acknowledge our correspondence and do nothing.”

The City of Melbourne now has a similarly unwinnable fight on its hands. Rothelowman, acting as Sturt Street Pty Ltd, last month launched a VCAT action against council for delaying a decision on a permit for the redevelopment of its office building at 153 Sturt St.

With the VCAT hearing set for July, City of Melbourne media officer Brian Wilson said council was yet to form a position on the application.

“Council initially identified some concerns with the proposal, which were communicated to the applicant,” he said. “Council has also been informed that VicRoads has requested additional information regarding the proposed development. As such, council is yet to form a position on the application.”

Neither Hayball or Rothelowman responded to a number of offers by Southbank Local News to provide comment.

Neighbouring arts institutions Malthouse Theatre and ACCA also both declined the opportunity to comment on the developments.

Considered a “special character zone” in the Melbourne Planning Scheme, Southbank Village is subject to mandatory 14-metre height controls in Dodds St. However, the adjacent Sturt St border is only subject to discretionary 40-metre height limits.

As part of planning scheme amendment C171 in 2013, Former Liberal Planning Minister Matthew Guy had kept 40-metre height controls in the Sturt St precinct but removed the mandatory cap of 20 per cent. He also made compliance with the built form controls discretionary.

Richard Wynne’s C270 amendment included the Southbank Village area and ultimately had the chance to address these height controls, but didn’t.

City of Melbourne’s assistant chair of planning Cr Rohan Leppert said it was important to note, however, that C270 did not include Sturt St in the “DDO10 area”, which was what changed heights in certain parts of the capital city zone.

Cr Leppert said he suspected that the reason the minister hadn’t included Sturt St in the DDO10 area was due to the amendment’s new style of built form control for higher density areas.

“The reason the area was left out of DDO10 is that the DDO10 is about a new style of built form control (floor area ratio plus floor area uplift) for the higher density areas – mostly 100 metres plus or uncapped,” he said.

“Floor area uplift is inappropriate for Southbank Village because it would provide an open ended incentive for more built form (in exchange for community benefits) in these more sensitive areas.”

When asked to confirm why Sturt St wasn’t included in DDO10, Richard Wynne’s spokesperson said: “the new central city planning controls are about protecting the shape and skyline of our city and ensuring that all new developments have the public’s interest at heart.”

Member for Albert Park Martin Foley, who has long been a vocal opponent of high-rise development in the Arts Precinct, said he would continue working to enhance the amenity of Southbank’s cultural hub.

“The VCAT decision (135 Sturt St) raises a number of issues for the local community in relation to future planning for the Southbank creative precinct,” he said.

“I will continue to work closely with the community, council and planning authorities to make sure the amenity of this vibrant, cultural hub is enhanced.”

Southbank Local News understands that the State Government and the City of Melbourne are currently working with Creative Victoria to change a number of planning controls in Southbank Village.

It’s understood that the changes would push for future developments in the precinct to involuntarily include a mixture of creative uses and provide developers less discretion around built form controls.

What’s your take on development in Southbank Village and the Arts Precinct? Send your thoughts to news@southbanklocalnews.com.au

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