By Alicia Brown

1 November 2011 – I recently came across the article Melbourne’s new sky park, 33 storeys up posted 22 June 2011. The article discusses a proposed development at 17-23 Wills Street comprising hotel, restaurant and residential components.

I am a resident of an adjacent property, Wills Court at 25-33 Wills Street. Not surprisingly I, and other nearby residents, believe that that is actually a highly irresponsible proposal. However, I do believe we have some compelling reasons.

Most compelling is that my building, Wills Court, will actually adjoin the new development and some flats have balconies and windows (providing the only natural light source for those residents) on the adjoining side that will be completely encased by the new development which is seven storeys taller.

The new development deals with this by creating a six metre set-back cut-out in the floor plate, a feature described in the planning application as a “light well”. In actual fact it would effectively plunge the existing south-side Wills Court flats (particularly those at the lower levels) into a state of severely limited natural light penetration. Not to mention the reduction in access to fresh air and the likely “heat chimney’” effect created by the exhaust air from airconditioning units already present on the Wills Court balconies.
Should the development go-ahead it will set a new, and we believe, dangerous and unsustainable precedent for residents in the Capital City Zone. Despite an intensive search, we have not found a similar typology anywhere else in the city.

We then wondered what would happen to the owners of flats on the south side of Wills Court between floors 20 and 24, who in addition to a balcony, have large windows on the south façade of our building. We were outraged to discover that their contracts of sale include a clause that says they must bear the cost of bricking-up these windows should an adjoining development go-ahead. I can’t imagine what the cost and occupational health and safety implications would be for actually carrying this out.

Sadly their conveyancers don’t seem to have identified and questioned this clause on their behalf. We can only imagine that these windows were included in the first place purely to improve the sale value of the penthouse level flats with the developer (Brady Group) in full knowledge that it may not be possible for them to become a permanent feature.

It is also important to note that the images you featured in your 22 June 2011 article fail to include a 35 storey residential tower currently under construction (situated on the site directly behind the proposed new development) at 350 William Street. These sites are separated by a 10 m (approx) wide laneway. This is a situation that not only defies sensible international benchmarks for tower separation but also international benchmarks for population density taking into account the existing residential buildings in the precinct.

Wills Court. Photo submittted by author

Apart from all of this, the disruption that construction of such a tall building on a site with such a small footprint in such an already built-up precinct is hard to fathom. It smacks of developer greed and poor planning when the site would be much more suited to a high-end low-rise residential development that would not so grievously affect existing residents.

At very least the proposal intends that the charming existing art deco era factory façade be retained.
I realise that the grievances of privileged inner-city dwellers does not add up to an earth-shattering injustice on the world stage, however, I do believe this particular situation forces us to ask some serious questions about the sort of city Melbourne may be in the future should these sorts of proposals be endorsed by government decision-makers. The planning application is due to be considered by City of Melbourne Councillors in early 2012.

Image of Wills Court south façade.