By David Schout
The approval of a third and final tower in a block-long project on the CBD’s northern fringe has been fast-tracked by the state government as part of an effort to speed up development during COVID-19.
In May the council endorsed the 18-level office tower on the Elizabeth St site adjacent to the Haymarket roundabout, currently owned and occupied by Bob Jane T-Mart. It was quickly followed with an approval by Minister for Planning Richard Wynne announced on May 25.
The site is considered stage three in the “Elizabeth North” plans, an ambitious project aiming to transform an entire block into a biomedical hub to further bolster an area already occupied by the University of Melbourne and other research facilities.
Next door, stage two will see developer PDG build a 17-level facility for biotech giants CSL committed to move their global headquarters, while stage one will see an education facility built atop the heritage-listed Melford Motors site.
Both the recently-approved office tower and CSL site significantly exceed preferred height limits for the northern end of Elizabeth St, something acknowledged by planning chair Cr Nicholas Reece at the May 5 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting.
“If we were here five years ago considering an 85-metre tower on a site with a 60-metre control, you’d probably say the proponent was ‘dreaming’,” he said.
However, the council has considered the research and education uses of the developments.
Further, it has attached a “non-accommodation” use to the new tower to ensure it contributes to the area known as the “knowledge precinct”.
The second condition put forward by the council specifies that there is 24-hour unobstructed public access to the ground-level arcade that links Elizabeth and Peel streets.
“This is a very large site along Elizabeth St and we do need those through-block links to provide for better linkages through that area,” Cr Reece said.
In 2017, planning minister Richard Wynne approved a $208 million, 1008-dwelling development on the now PDG-owned site, stretching across four towers.
That proposal included 700 student units, and was criticised by the council.
After that project failed to materialise, plans for the site were significantly changed and since then the move for a research and development hub has continued to gather momentum •