An artist's impression of Lumiere

The City of South Perth is a hotbed of debate for planning and sustainability following community action that has led to the Supreme Court ruling a previously approved development as unlawful.

The 29-storey, predominantly residential “Lumiere” development was set aside by the court after it failed to meet South Perth’s own requirement of a 50/50 commercial/residential mix, despite being given prior approval by a joint development assessment panel (JDAP).

The mix is just one of a number of conditions that developers must adhere to in order to take advantage of a “special design area” within South Perth’s Station Precinct.

The design area includes special provisions to encourage developments that support greater commercial and residential activity, through increased height and density allowances, which will in turn support the creation of a train station.

Members of the Save South Perth Peninsula Action Group took the case to the Supreme Court and spokesperson Vicki Redden said the community was delighted with the ruling.

“We have said from the outset that irrational planning approvals were being granted in South Perth that were contrary to the Station Precinct Plan,” she said. “The Court has now recognised that the resident concerns were well based, and so we feel vindicated.”

However, despite Ms Redden’s elation at the decision, the case is far from over.

The 29-storey Lumiere development by Edge Visionary Living, whose directors are architect David Hillam and former funds manager Gavin Hawkins, is at the heart of the debate, but is only one of many large-scale projects currently being designed, considered or constructed in the South Perth Station Precinct.

Of the 12 grounds upon which the Lumiere development was to be considered unlawful, relating to height, design and setback, only two were upheld by the court, relevant to its commercial and residential mix.

Paul Plowman, spokesperson for Edge Visionary Living and chair of the Better South Perth Taskforce, said the company wasn’t entirely surprised by the decision and has lodged a new proposal to the council for the same site in anticipation of such a ruling.

The new proposal is a 44-storey development and contains a number of serviced apartments, raising the commercial content of the development to 50 per cent. It is expected to be considered by the JDAP in late March.

“We are confident that our building will be built,” Mr Plowman said.

He said the council now faced a significant problem as a result of the Supreme Court decision, which potentially throws into question the legality of up to $1 billion in projects currently underway in South Perth.

The City of South Perth is seeking legal advice to determine the implications of the court ruling on other development projects in the area.

South Perth chief executive Geoff Glass said the ruling only applied to the Lumiere development, but “in relation to proposed or future developments, they will need to demonstrate compliance with the Supreme Court decision”.

Ms Redden said community concerns included a lack of consultation, as well as “drastic increases in height, and zero setbacks, [which] are completely out of character with the current architectural tone and natural landscape and put major strain on roads and infrastructure throughout the Station precinct”.

According to urban planning consultant Tony Watson, the scale of proposed developments are often not anticipated by the community, but lack of consultation is not to blame.

“Community consultation takes place as it normally does, that is, as a function of local government. Where the process might be flawed is the community’s awareness in relation to progressing their concerns to the JDAP itself. I’m not sure the same level of awareness applies to JDAPs as a place where those same concerns can be aired,” he said.

From a sustainability perspective, high-density infill development is key to achieving more compact urban forms, which encourage a variety of land uses and alternative methods of transport.

However, in response to community concern over changes to the area, the City of South Perth is now proposing Amendment 46 to its town planning scheme, which may once again see planning controls imposed on the special design area, including absolute height limits.

Sustainability expert Peter Newman has been advocating for compact, mixed-use urban forms for over 30 years and has concerns over the proposed amendments.

“I do not support arbitrary height and density rules. I am sure they do nothing to enhance quality development. The whole process should be based on design quality and how the development assists the area,” he said.

Professor Newman argued that the proposed high-density style of development in the area was “critical for the economic viability of a train station and also for the economic viability of South Perth as a relatively self-sufficient area in terms of jobs, shops and services”.

According to Professor Newman, numerous examples show that as density increases, private motor vehicle use decreases. He also said that councils and developers needed to be more active in ensuring that high-density developments achieve the outcomes they set out to, including the provision of funding for train stations.

Barring an extension, the JDAP is expected to hand down its decision on the 44-storey Lumiere Development on 26 March.

The City of South Perth is currently compiling the 900 submissions to Amendment 46 and will present the findings to council in due course.