In a nod to the bad old days of property development in NSW, the Berejiklian government has knocked back the advice of two independent reports, including one from its own planning department for the design of two proposed Macquarie Group towers at Martin Place.
The reports by the Independent Planning Commission, and the government’s own Department of Planning and Environment found the Martin Place towers should be set further back from the public square to prevent overcrowding of the pedestrian space.
However, in an almost-Trumpian about-face, the NSW Department of Planning last week ignored its own reports and actually approved the planning proposals, after receiving advice from another part of the planning department, government architect, Peter Poulet, who has ruled in favour of allowing the towers closer to Martin Place.
City of Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore says the decision overturned a decades old policy of requiring new towers to sit at least 25 metres from Martin Place.
“This approach has prevented overcrowding by new towers and allowed Martin Place to evolve as a pedestrian-focused public space with better access to sunlight, daylight, views and controlled wind conditions,” Moore was quoted as saying by Fairfax Media.
While planning minister, Anthony Roberts, requested advice from the Independent Planning Commission late last year about the “building envelopes” proposed at the site and his own department urged for an eight-metre setback, not surprisingly, site owners Macquarie Group argued against any setbacks, claiming that enforcing the existing 25-metre setback controls would “limit opportunities for architectural expression.”
While the reviews all agreed otherwise, noting the that the 25-metre setbacks need to be adhered to, the government architect said he was “not convinced a rigorous application” of setbacks would provide the best outcome, saying that eight metres "will be appropriate".
The Department of Planning said that a 25-metre setback would result in a tower with a “very slim” depth and not provide enough floor space to accommodate commercial development in the heart of the city.
According to the planning minister, Anthony Roberts, the development, which would also include the Metro Martin Place station, is “consistent with historic buildings in the Martin Place precinct.”
Like with the recent kerfuffle over sports stadiums, its seems that when it comes to getting the desired planning result for development proposals, it’s not what is the best outcome for the people of NSW, but rather, what you would like your desired result to best be.
However according to minister Roberts, the Martin Place Metro planning proposal was to "amend existing planning controls in the Sydney Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and was not to approve any final design for a tower on the Macquarie Group site."
"As part of those LEP amendments, the Department sought advice regarding set backs for a podium below the main tower to ensure the proposal would not obstruct key views of the GPO clock tower."
"The IPC, City of Sydney, independent consultant AECOMM and the Government Architect were all consulted and gave recommendations," he says.
The proposed setback is in the context of the final design meeting a Design Review Panel’s requirements.
"Detailed design of the building façade will also ensure the development is consistent with historic buildings in the Martin Place precinct. The Government Architect will contribute to the final detailed design," says Roberts.
"Consideration of the Macquarie’s unsolicited proposal is a separate matter for Government, which is yet to be finalised," he says
As for lord mayor Moore, Roberts says notes that on September 2014, " the City of Sydney Council submitted a planning proposal to the Department for 60 Martin Place for a Gateway determination."
"Part of the planning proposal sought to implement DCP controls instead of LEP controls, requiring a minimum setback of 4.8m to Martin Place instead of the 25m setback required under the LEP."
"The Lord Mayor Councillor Clover Moore was Chair of the committee and further moved to support the planning proposal for 60 Martin Place," he says.