Wynne may soften high-rise rules

By David Schout

Planning minister Richard Wynne has flagged an easing of rules that have successfully reduced approvals on new inner-city skyscrapers.

The planning restrictions, known as C270, were introduced by the state government in November 2016 after a spike in high-rise approvals under the Liberals.

Then planning minister Matthew Guy earned the unfavourable nickname “Mr Skyscraper” on the back of excessive height allowances for developers, and C270’s implementation has seen a definitive drop in approvals.

But recent comments from Mr Wynne have hinted the tight planning controls may be scaled back, primarily to address a drop in commercial office space vacancies that the Property Council has called a “serious cause for concern”.

In a recent interview with Domain, Mr Wynne conceded that the government needed to consider whether C270 needed “tweaking”.

Just two new CBD commercial office buildings have been approved in over two years under the amendment, which requires developers to meet stricter density, separation and public provision conditions before gaining planning approval.

A November report commissioned by the Property Council of Australia raised the alarm on low commercial office vacancies.

The Urbis report concluded that by 2036, the CBD would needed a 50 per cent increase in floorspace of 9.1 million sqm – including an additional 4.4 million sqm of office floorspace – to accommodate future workforce projections.

“This report is a warning to policymakers that an immediate review of C270 planning controls is needed, with the impacts of this policy plain to see and cause for serious concern,” Property Council Victorian executive director Cressida Wall said at the time.

And it appears the report has had the desired impact, with Mr Wynne now willing to assess the industry body’s concerns.

“We’ll work with peak bodies to refine the regulations and ensure we continue to support a strong supply of commercial office space,” a government spokesperson confirmed to CBD News.

“Unlike the Liberals, who wanted to dump these controls and let developers cash in with unlimited skyscrapers, we’ll keep these important restrictions in place.”

The Property Council naturally welcomed the news.

“(We have) advocated strongly for the need to change C270 and we’ve provided substantive research that paints a compelling need for change,” Ms Wall said.

“Changes to C270 are urgent – with buildings in the CBD taking between five and seven years to complete … we are approaching a significant cliff where CBD development drops off, unless the government acts swiftly to address the issues.”

But, is the property council being alarmist?

In what might prove a sign of things to come, Cbus Property submitted an application prior to Christmas for a 55-level office tower at 435 Bourke St – a site originally slated as a residential high-rise.

Additionally, a development at 57 Haig St in Southbank (within C270 boundaries) that already has an approval for a 37-storey residential tower, has resubmitted a brand new application for the site seeking a 30-storey commercial office tower instead. 

And a host of large-scale commercial office developments are expected to be submitted for approval in 2019, including sites at 55 King St, 555 Collins St, 60 Collins St and 383 LaTrobe St.

President of Residents 3000 Rafael Camillo said he hoped all high-rise applications were treated with the utmost respect for the benefit of locals.

“The inner-city needs to be shaped with a clear vision and we cannot allow projects to be rubber-stamped in isolation from their surrounds,” he said. 

“The residents, visitors and workers of our CBD deserve a more balanced, sustainable and liveable city. Minor changes may occur in the amendment, but nothing [should change] that could compromise any of the provisions developed to provide adequate separation between tall buildings, ensure that public space and important landmarks are protected from wind and overshadowing, and establish a value capture system to deliver public benefits such as public open space, laneways and community space.”

It is believed the Planning Minister will begin reassessing certain aspects of C270 as early as February.

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