The City of Melbourne last month sacrificed its formerly-consistent opposition to over-shadowing of the south bank of the Yarra in return for public open space at 447 Collins St.
Developer Cbus offered the council nearly 2000sqm of space in return for council’s support for a change to the planning scheme.
The offer clearly presented a dilemma for councillors, with planning officers recommending rejection of the proposal and warning of a dangerous precedent.
Cr Arron Wood, one of only three councillors to vote against the deal, compared the situation to being asked to give up one of his children. “For someone in charge of the environment portfolio its like saying choose one of your kids almost. Do you want open space or do you want to overshadow the Yarra?” he said.
At the Future Melbourne Committee of September 9 the council voted to support Cbus’s application to Planning Minister Matthew Guy to exempt its 300m tower, which will cast a shadow over Queensbridge Square in Southbank.
Cr Wood said: “It’s a shame that we don’t have the resources to purchase that land on the open market and that we have to do deals.”
“It sets a precedent in that the City of Melbourne is prepared to negotiate on things that are supposed to be prohibited in the planning scheme and that’s dangerous ground.”
For Cr Rohan Leppert, the decision to oppose the exemption was more clear cut. “We’re actually talking about a mandatory control here, so this isn’t about negotiating under the current rules. It’s about changing the rules,” he said.
“Citizens are looking at council and saying that they’re happy to breach their own planning scheme, they’re happy to break their own rules and we do it far too often.”
In their report recommending that councillors reject the deal, council officers said: “The precedent that support of this amendment would set is that that the City of Melbourne is willing to consider ‘trading off’ the prohibition of over-shadowing of the south bank of the Yarra River for a desired development outcome.”
“The opportunity for additional open space should not be to the detriment of existing open space, in this instance Queensbridge Square and the Yarra River corridor.”
“If governments thought that the over-shadowing of the south bank of the Yarra River could be acceptable in some circumstances, even exceptional circumstances, the control would be discretionary, rather than mandatory.”
Consultant Sarah Horsfield told councillors the benefit of gaining so much open space in Collins St simply outweighed the over-shadowing considerations.
“It’s a question of weighing up public benefit versus impact. Cities are required to make courageous decisions,” she said.
She described the Collins St land as a “Federation Square for the west” and said it would not be done elsewhere in the city.
Cr Stephen Mayne agreed, saying: “If you look at the bigger context here, it is a trade-off worth pursuing.”
And the Lord Mayor, Cr Robert Doyle, warned that, even if the council rejected the deal, it would be possible for Matthew Guy to approve the overshadowing without the open-space trade-off.
“The conundrum is obvious and its been spelt out already – how do you balance the desirability of open space on Collins St with the potential of a vista through the Immigration Museum to the Yarra against overshadowing of the south bank?”
“You might forego the open space as well as get the overshadowing,” he said. “Unfortunately for Southbank, the Collins St development carries the day.”
“To say it creates a precedent is simply wrong. In fact, once you get one or two like these it gets much harder, not easier, in the future to argue that you should make an exemption. Particularly with the benefit this one offers, which is unique,” Cr Doyle said.