By Shane Scanlan
The City of Melbourne appears ready to support over-shadowing of the south bank of the Yarra in return for desperately-needed open space in the CBD. The council has not previously supported over-shadowing of the river and the principle has remained “sacrosanct”.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle used the term “sacrosanct” on August 5 when making an impassioned plea to Planning Minister Matthew Guy to reject a planning application for a tower on the old CUB Brewery site in Carlton which will overshadow the forecourt of the State Library (see our story on page X).
Protection of the Yarra from overshadowing features in numerous planning ordnances, including the same clause (22.02) of the Melbourne Planning Scheme which protects the library forecourt. But councillors appear primed to support an application by Cbus for a 300m tower at 433-455 Collins St which would cast a shadow onto Queensbridge Square in Southbank.
Cbus is entitled to build a lower structure on just about all the site but prefers to leave at least a third of it as public open space. It return, it wants to build a 300m tower on the remaining area. Strictly-speaking, Cbus doesn’t need the council’s approval for the amendment to planning law it is seeking and the decision remains with the Planning Minister, Matthew Guy. Cbus CEO Adrian Pozzo did not respond to CBD News.
At the Future Melbourne Committee meeting of August 12, most councillors spoke glowingly of the proposal, however they voted for a month’s deferral to allow closer collaboration with Cbus. Ironically, Melburnians have been enjoying a vast open plaza along the length of Collins St in front of the old Suncorp building since 1965. And, while the council is now eager to trade off its principles regarding overshadowing, it would not be in this position if it had not sold the site to private interests in 1992.
The council says it sold the site in 1992 because changes to State Government land tax meant that it was costing more than it was earning. A council spokesperson said it appears the $15 million raised through the sale ended with the State Government. The Crown Land was initially vested to the council in 1846 for “municipal purposes”.
The site, bounded by Collins St, Market St, William St and Flinders Lane, was the site of the original Western Market. In 1960, the council leased the site for 99 years to the National Mutual Life Association. But in 1992 it sold the site, extinguishing its rights to insist on any future public open space requirements.
The issue comes back to the Future Melbourne Committee on September 13 and, based on the widespread positive comments from councillors on August 12, support for the proposal would appear assured. Only Greens councillor Rohan Leppert flagged that he might oppose the request.
“I don’t know whether I can reconcile this precedent of overshadowing the south bank of the Yarra in exchange for what is obviously a good return to the community with open space in the city,” Cr Leppart said.
Cr Stephen Mayne, on the other hand, was disappointed with the deferral motion and wanted the council to put on the public record its support for the concept. “My personal preference would have been to vote for something more supportive and put council on the record saying we support the concept and that the securing of the open space is a very important outcome,” he said.
Cr Mayne described the proposal was one of the boldest the city had seen in decades. “I look forward to hopefully the council and CBus reaching a position where there can be solid support and we almost, if you like, go to the government with a joint position,” he said.
“We see this vision, we’re all signed up to it. We want to get the state on board and we have a transformative proposal for a site which is, quite frankly, an absolute eyesore.”