The group behind a controversial $650 million development in Sydney’s Cockle Bay has made its case to the Independent Planning Commission in one last attempt to gain approval.

The investors (GPT, Brookfield and AMP Capital) are proposing a 183-metre tower for the eastern edge of Darling Harbour. The proposal has previously received criticism from the City of Sydney, with concerns that the tower will overshadow the future Town Hall Square (THS).

The proposal has undergone four rounds of design changes since the plan was first announced in early 2016. It is now the investors’ last chance to get the proposal through, with representatives arguing that the public benefits of the project outweigh the overshadowing, setback issues and the tower’s impact on private harbor views.

A new design sees the tower slightly shorter and closer to existing commercial real estate. However, it would still overshadow the future THS, blocking 6.8 hours of sunlight per year.

In their submission to the panel, the representatives professed there would be significant benefit to the public, with the project providing a hectare of public open space over the Western Distributor freeway, allowing improved pedestrian access between the CBD and Darling Harbour.

“Darling Harbour has become such a focus for celebrations and gatherings and community activities and visitation,” says architect and design director of FJMT, Richard Francis-Jones, to the panel.

“There is an enormous opportunity to connect it through to the city but to enhance this experience, and in a sense we’ve conceived the lower levels of this development as almost a series of terraces which form this kind of natural amphitheatre into Darling Harbour which can have a series of uses which contribute to its public and social uses.

“Another really significant opportunity for this project is to improve the connection of Pyrmont Bridge to the city. The Western Distributor cut off the bridge quite decisively at this point, and while there has been a connection there, the kind of coalescence of monorail, pedestrian access, clearances above the freeway and pedestrian equitable access has meant that while the link there was possible it wasn’t a very pleasant or indeed, intuitive experience.

According to Sacha Coles, director of Aspect Studios, an elevated park will be the centrepiece of the development.

“This, really, will be a park for the people of Sydney,” he tells the panel.

“It will be a place of event. It’ll be a place that’ll be curated … It’s open 24/7.

“We’ve tried to integrate as much greenery in terms of canopy cover, biodiversity and also trying to ameliorate urban heat island in this particular place. It’s like nothing else around this context of Darling Harbour other than, if you like, Tumbalong Park to the south or Barangaroo Headland.”

Image credit: Brookfield