State uses crisis powers to build

By Meg Hill

The construction boom in the CBD has been boosted by a state government initiative to use the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis to speed up building and development. 

The state government has already fast-tracked billions of dollars’ worth of building and development through a taskforce set up to keep the industry running through the crisis.

Six huge CBD developments have already been approved.

The first to be fast tracked were 555 Collins St and 52-60 Collins St – by Charter Hall and Dexus respectively.

The Charter Hall application for a $1.5 billion twin tower project had been lodged in April 2019.

The Dexus application for a 26-storey office tower was lodged in August 2019. The proposal had caused some controversy by proposing the partial demolition of the heritage-listed ANU House and raised concerns regarding overshadowing.

On May 25 four more CBD developments were added. These were:

A $290 million, 21-storey office building at 140 Lonsdale St, which will become the Melbourne headquarters of the Australian Federal Police (AFP); 

A 68-storey development at 640 Bourke St, worth $234 million, including 857 apartments, retail space and an art gallery;

A $180 million, 41-storey hotel development at 600 Lonsdale St featuring 288 hotel rooms, as well as office and retail space; and

A 20-storey, commercial office and retail building at 683-699 Elizabeth St located in an emerging biomedical precinct worth $60 million. 

Minister for Planning Richard Wynne and Treasurer Tim Pallas will oversee the Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce which will investigate planning and investment opportunities.

A state government media release said the taskforce would help to “remove barriers to building and development works” and work with “industry and unions” to review existing major building and development projects.

Initially it will focus on overseeing the fast-tracking of planning approvals using ministerial powers. The state government said this was to reconcile COVID-19 related delays to the Victorian planning system. 

Minister for Planning Richard Wynne said it would “ensure the building and development industry is a driving force for Victoria’s economy through this pandemic and beyond”.

“It will help deliver existing projects more efficiently and assist new projects to get off the ground faster,” he said.

The taskforce will also advise on a pipeline of longer-term projects, including the expansion of social housing options. It will run for an initial three months before reporting to the government with recommendations.

The taskforce is co-chaired by Roger Teale, Jude Munro AO and Stan Krpan. 

Roger Teale was a former President of the Property Council (Vic) and Senior Executive at LendLease, Jude Munro AO is chair of the Victorian Planning Authority and Stan Krpan is a Victorian Public Service CEO.

The taskforce will receive advice from three industry working groups and be guided by a steering committee, involving representatives from industry peak bodies and unions.

At their May 26 council meeting, City of Melbourne councillors endorsed a motion detailing a series of measures aimed at helping the taskforce identify and expediate “shovel-ready” state and locally significant projects, while establishing its own fast-tracking processes.  

The motion also prioritised planning in urban renewal areas such as Arden, Macauley and Fishermans Bend •

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