Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has blasted the new development masterplan for the Sydney Botanical Gardens and Domain, as designed by Cox Richardson architects.
In an interview with ABC 702 radio, Keating described plans for the Royal Botanical Gardens and Domain Trust “the most appalling and outrageous plan Sydney has ever seen for the misappropriation of its public lands".
And this quote was one of the nicer ones. Keating didn’t like any of the proposed changes to the area, including a new ferry wharf, Domain railway station, harbour viewing platform, new plaza, shop and café and an $80 million five-star ''Botanic Hotel’’.
In the interview, Keating says that the developments incorrectly emphasise the Botanical Gardens and Domain as a destination rather than a natural place for community contemplation.
"The Trust is calling it a place of celebration, it is no such thing," he said.
"It is a place of contemplation, it is a place of quiet enjoyment, but as well as that it is a scientific place. Fundamentally this is the essence of naturalism. The topography and plantings tell the story."
"The Botanic Gardens is first and foremost a horticultural place; it is one of the two or three great such gardens in the world.”
The plan has a price tag of more than $130 million and includes 25 proposals to be rolled out in stages over 25 years.
An $80 million five-star ''Botanic Hotel' is planned for construction and will be situated on Sir John Young Crescent on the south-east edge of the Domain car park. It will consist of 150 rooms and rooftop gardens open to the public. The building is planned to be four storeys in height, although, due to the sloping land, would emerge only one storey above the adjacent playing fields which are to be upgraded.
Above: Keating said the existing site is sacred and should not be developed.
Below: An artists impression of the new "Botanic Hotel". Image: rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
Transportation and access upgrades are also considered with a new Domain train station—to run on the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line, and new ferry terminal at Woolloomooloo in the draft.
There are a number of entertainment and facility upgrades planned. A permanent ''sound shell'', auditorium will be situated adjacent to the Sydney Hospital, where summer season concerts and Carols in the Domain now take place.
A new building, housing a cafe and shop, inside the QE11 Gate will sit opposite the Opera House.
Above: Keating called the "orientation centre" at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, near the foot of the Opera House, "a scandal – they don't have any respect for [architect Joern] Utzon or his building". Image: rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
There is also plans to create a new plaza between The Pavilion restaurant and the Art Gallery on Art Gallery Road, which could be used for markets, art displays and performance.
A harbour viewing platform at Mrs Macquaries Point is also planned.
View the fly through masterplan video below:
Although there isn’t much of the plan that Keating didn’t disapprove of, he was especially critical of the proposal for a viewing platform at Mrs Macquarie Point.
"It is the nearest thing to a sacred site in Sydney – held sacred by the non-Aboriginal community as well as the Aboriginal community," he said.
"You do not need a construction on a natural point…it is an atrocity"
Keating labelled the plans as a mere grab for money by the developing trusts and believes the building at the foot of Utzon’s Opera House is “in essence just a money thing”.
However, new executive director of Sydney Parklands and Botanic Gardens, Kim Ellis, does not agree, saying that there would be no commercialisation of the gardens and no plans for an entry charge or loss of green space.
''You don't see any McDonald's, there's no entry fees charged, there's no new gates,'' he said. ''These gardens are free to the public. We want this to be a public facility. There isn't a plan to fill it with coffee shops, to commercialise it, to run it as a pay-for-entry business. This is about putting in amenities that people need.”
Ian Connolly of Cox Richardson architects, who drew up the master plan, emphasised the proposals at Mrs Macquaries Point had taken into consideration any heritage issues.
''Sydney can't rest. You have got to keep looking to improve the experience not only for visitors but for everybody who lives here as well,'' he said.
The plans are available for public viewing at the Lion Gate Lodge in the gardens until May 4 or online at rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au.