Nonda Katsalidis

By Tina Perinotto
18 March 2013 – The recession must be over. At least if you believe that cranes in the sky, chippies in the burbs and an almighty growing community opposition to planning reforms in Sydney are any sign of a rebound. How sustainable (green) this will be is another matter.

In Sydney and Melbourne they’re vying for the tallest building. Again.

Melbourne’s pitch, Australia 108 at 70 Southbank Boulevard, will be designed by reclusive architectural house Fender Katsalidis, (which, according to reports is part owner with Stralliance Developments’ Benni Aroni and Adrian Valmorbida, the group that was also part of the syndicate for the Eureka Tower in Melbourne (soon to be formerly known as tallest in Australia.)

In Sydney, China’s Greenland Group says its tower at 115 Bathurst Street will be simply Sydney’s tallest.

Interestingly – or merely coincidentally, we can’t be sure  – the announcement of planning approval for the Melbourne skyscraper by Planning Minister Matthew Guy came with much fanfare, only days after Greenland made public that it had opted for the Sydney site, after walking away from 70 Southbank, which had been on the market since mid 2012.

The big thing missing from this flurry of excitement is that neither set of owners has said it is vying to be the most sustainable tower, at least judging by the initial media statements. However, there is always hope and The Fifth Estate is awaiting responses to inquiries along these lines.

By contrast Singapore, our near neighbour and vigorous competitor in some ways, seems intent on pushing a green message at every opportunity.

Its recent announcement for the new “iconic” Marina One designed by Ingenhoven Architects, makes green a central grand ambition of the project:

“Marina One, the prestigious landmark at the heart of Singapore’s new Central Business District in Marina South, was unveiled on 19th February by Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia and Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore.

“The integrated development with a gross floor area of 3.67 million square feet features a unique vibrant green garden surrounded by four GreenMark Platinum rated towers with 1042 luxury city residences, prime Grade A office and retail space. The centerpiece of Marina One called ‘The Heart’ will be a sanctuary and green civic space for communities to come together at the heart of Singapore’s future CBD .

Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy was happy enough that the Melbourne tower would have 646 apartments, in addition to hotels and related space.

“Towers such as Australia 108 are consistent with the Coalition Government’s drive to concentrate high-density development in defined areas and out of existing, quiet neighbourhoods,” Mr Guy said.

“Every apartment in this tower is one less apartment in an existing quiet neighbourhood.”

Is a quiet neighbourhood a sustainability gain? Maybe.

Regardless, Mr Guy also did not mention any particularly green features that the buildings might seek to attain.

Sydney announces towers and more sprawl

In Sydney, the NSW Government is not got off to a good start with its promise of ample community consultation at the strategic end of planning – rather than at the project specific.

The promise was part of planning reforms that partly aim to fit more density into existing suburbs. But also to provide more greenfield development.

Premier Barry O’Farrell’s announcement on the weekend that towers of up to 30 storeys would be included in eight key “urban activation precincts” angered community groups.

The fast-growing community coalition, Better Planning Network, currently with 310 community member organisations, “slammed” the announcement, saying the timing, only two weeks ahead of the expected release date for the planning white paper seemed to belie the promises.

The announcement was ill timed and “contrary” to the government’s proposals for good planning, BNP convenor and founder Corinne Fisher said.

“The O’Farrell Government is promising a new planning system that relies on evidence-based strategic planning in consultation with the community.

“It is extraordinary that the government has decided to rush ahead with urban activation when it hasn’t even managed to produce a white paper for its proposed planning reforms. It would be easy to conclude that the Government is hell bent on development but doesn’t really care about planning.

The government’s document, the NSW Urban Activation Precincts Guidelines fails to instill confidence that consultation will be as open and fulsome as residents might hope. It says:

“In addition to the formal public exhibition process, Community Reference Groups may also be established where the Department considers it appropriate. They will be established once a precinct has been endorsed by government. These groups should include a broad membership from the local community. The Department will liaise with the relevant council(s) to identify the most appropriate representatives.”

The eight urban activation precincts are:

  • North Ryde Station
  • Epping Town Centre
  • Herring Road, Macquarie Park
  • Randwick
  • Anzac Parade South
  • Carter Street, Homebush
  • Wentworth Point
  • Mascot Station

Together with new greenfield housing these would deliver more than 111,000 homes, the premier said.

However Ms Fisher questioned the assumption that these areas would be served by public transport as planned. Public transport could take years to complete, “if at all” she said.

“Until then, many new residents will have to use their cars, adding to already congested road corridors.”

Ms Fisher said the changes proposed for these areas were profound but the government was allowing a “mere six weeks for community comment.”

“Once again, the community that has to bear the consequences of these grand plans is the last to know and has the least influence.”

Clearly, density around railway lines is key to sustainable growth.  But what’s missing is a sense of engagement from the communities affected.

Bill Randolph, from the University of NSW’s city futures research centre, told Fairfax Media that the precincts were located in the right areas.

”If this doesn’t work then we’re really stuck as a city,” he said. ”We have to activate urban renewal across the city and we’ve got to do it appropriately.”

But authorities needed to take heed of the ”real traps” that had befallen previous plans, such as overdevelopment in Strathfield and a community backlash in Ku-ring-gai.

”It’s not just rezone and walk away,” he said. ”It’s work with the local community, master-plan the areas, get agreement and then work with the development sector to develop that agreed plan.”

See Wendy Sarkissian’s valuable and engaging article in The Fifth Estate, on how to get it right and avoid future mistakes.

But last year the Urban Task Force’s then chief executive Aaron Gadiel explained to The Fifth Estate that no matter what expanses of land and farmland are zoned it’s difficult to get landowners to part with estates that they see as their superannuation.

Furthermore it can be pricey to amalgamate and develop allotment, returning less than, say, a lifestyle property on a few hectares, with its promise of a semi-rural lifestyle relatively close to the city.

Marina One, green and four GreenMark Platinum rated towers