Should we be building more towers?

By Meg Hill

A new development proposal endorsed by the City of Melbourne has raised questions regarding the future of towers and density in the city in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

A Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on September 1, councillors supported a proposal for an office building to be built at 32-44 Flinders St, with the site extending to Flinders Lane.

Now the subject of planning approval by Minister for Planning Richard Wynne, the $200 million project would include a through-link from Flinders St to Flinders Lane and proposes a six-level fronting on Flinders Lane and a 42-level tower on Flinders St.

All councillors voted in support of the application with the exception of Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley, who said he was voting against the proposal due to concerns about towers in a COVID-affected future.

“We don’t know how long this will last, we don’t know that this won’t be a reoccurrence either annually or every so often this comes back,” he said.

“What we do know is that access to buildings at those times is really difficult particularly because we have to get up lots of floors with lifts with social distancing of 1.5 metres.”

Cr Frances Gilley said it was a political issue that he was concerned wasn’t being considered.

“It’s not that this [proposal] isn’t great or that it’s not within the planning scheme, but the city is so quiet at the moment is because it’s got so many buildings that are so tall that people can’t access,” he said.

“When we come back the city will recover slower than many outer city areas where there are buildings that are lower that people can walk up and down.”

“I’m concerned that we are not considering the impacts of building more and more dense buildings in a world that may be annually, or every so often – we don’t know –closed down.”

“I’m going to vote against the motion because I really do believe we shouldn’t be making decisions about buildings until the State and the City have reviewed whether or not we are actually building things that could set us back in the future.”

Other councillors expressed sympathy with Cr Frances Gilley’s concerns, but voted for the application to go ahead.

Cr Nicholas Reece said he was hopeful there would be a vaccine for COVID-19 in mid-2021.

The site had previously been granted a development permit for a residential development; the proposal endorsed by council was an amendment to office space.

A representative of the site’s owner, GPT, said the company was a major office landlord in the City of Melbourne and was confident office space had an “exciting future”

“We think people will work in their workplaces differently to how they did pre-COVID but we certainly think that there is still going to be growing demand.” •

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