Precinct  under threat

By Rohan Storey

The Little Bourke / Hardware Lane precinct has developed as one of the most lively and busy areas of the CBD, an oasis of low pedestrian scale, historic buildings, that has become an attractive location for cafes, bars, shops, businesses and homes. 

You would think that there would be controls in place to protect this amenity – and local residents certainly thought so – but the only protection is a discretionary 15m height limit along Hardware Lane itself, in place since the early 1980s. 

Recently we learned that there are not one but TWO high-rise proposals right in the middle of this popular low scale precinct, both on the north side of Little Bourke St between Elizabeth St and Hardware Lane. 

One is 18 levels and the other is 35 levels, on sites that are both heritage buildings. One is an interesting c1940 modernist building where at least the facades would be preserved, while the other is a nice 1920s office building that, for reasons we still don’t understand isn’t proposed to be protected and would be demolished. 

This is a situation where we would not only lose heritage buildings, but the scale of the towers, and their location on the north side of the street, would mean that both Little Bourke St and the laneways to the south would be overshadowed. 

The area is full of lanes that run north-south, and sunlight streams into them exactly at lunchtime, even in winter, but the 35-storey tower in particular would cast a shadow over Rankins Lane, casting it into near permanent gloom. 

CBD height limits were reviewed in the 2015-2016 Central City Built Form Review by the Ministry of Planning. But it only looked at existing height limit areas, not new ones – except for extending the retail core 40m height limit to the west side of Elizabeth St  

This left a narrow “gap” of properties on Little Bourke, an area that the report recommend should be looked at for future controls. In the two years since, nothing has happened, and now of course developers have taken advantage of the lack of controls, squeezing onto this one small area – but perhaps it’s not too late. 

Surely there are enough high-rise apartments and hotels that we as a society can say that at least this one popular corner of the city can stay low-scale ? 

We have written to the Lord Mayor to urge council to take a stand. If planning controls aren’t strong enough and the only way to save the amenity of the area is to buy the properties or pay compensation to the owners, then we think this is a price worth paying. 

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