371 Spencer Street finds no favour with City of Melbourne

Proponents of a high-rise development located at 371 Spencer Street, West Melbourne will pin their hopes on State Government approval following City of Melbourne once more indicating they will reject the dual tower scheme. Melbourne-based Bennelong Group via subsidiary Bennelong Value Funds Pty Ltd have pushed for approval since early 2012 for the 749 apartment project.

Amended plans put forward earlier in 2014 featuring shortened towers and fewer apartments have failed to curry favour with City of Melbourne, leaving the approval decision in the hands of State planning body DTPLI and Minister Matthew Guy.

As described by the architect

Bruce Henderson Architects’ design response establishes a strong podium base, responsive to the context but modern in its interpretation. This podium supports slender tower forms that respond to the opportunities of the site which include ‘unobstructed’ views in all directions, variation in existing and evolving built form, multiple points of accessibility and good solar exposure.

The design of the towers de-emphasises vertical elements, instead relying on strong horizontal banding via exposed slab edges and smaller scale facade elements set within the horizontal bands. The random arrangement and mixture of facade materials provides a dynamic solution and varies the appearance of the building from surrounding viewpoints.

Major changes from the initial application

Visually, the amended 371 Spencer Street seen above carries a highly similar facade to the initial design, perhaps with the exception of blue glass over earlier renders which were dominated by grey tones. The podium has been refined with the addition of a high awning and additional glazing addressing the Spencer and Batman intersection.

Both towers have been lowered in height considerably with the western tower subject to seven fewer levels or 30 metres. Floor to floor heights have also been reduced from 3.5 metres to 3.1 metres, bringing the intended apartments down to a more conventional dimension.

  2012 Plans 2014 Plans Comment
Summary of changes (courtesy City of Melbourne)
Gross Floor Areas 85,000 sq m (Approx) 79,206 sq m Floor space removed at the upper levels is in part off-set by increased floor area in the west tower.
Number of residential units 749 (225 x 1-bed and 524 x 2-bed) 704 Reduction of 45 units.
East Tower 120m (32 levels) and 107.2m (28 levels) 104.6m (28 levels) and 95.5m (25 levels) Reduction of four levels and three levels.
West Tower 152m (41 levels) and 139m (38 levels) 123.4m (34 levels) and 114.1m (31 levels) Reduction of seven levels on both parts.
West tower setback from Batman Street 6m 6m No change.
Minimum separation between towers 13.85m 11.7m The average separation is maintained.
Retail floor area 235 sq m 235 sq m No change.
Car spaces 548 537 Reduction of 11 spaces.
Bicycle spaces 223 222 Reduction of one space.
Floor to floor 3.5m 3.1m 0.4m reduction.

City of Melbourne says

Taken from the City of Melbourne's report to Future Melbourne Committee, Council's final recommendation that City of Melbourne advise the Minister for Planning that they continues to object to application based on four principal factors:

  1. The height and massing of the proposed building is inappropriate having regard to the built form outcomes and decision guidelines of Design and Development Overlay Schedule 33.
  2. The lack of activation and design of the ground floor frontages particularly at the north-east corner of the building will have an adverse impact on the public realm and is contrary to the policy objectives of Clause 22.17 Urban Design Outside the Capital City Zone and the built form outcomes and decision guidelines of Design and Development Overlay Schedule 33.
  3. The height and massing of the proposed building will adversely affect the heritage significance of the adjoining heritage buildings (Sands and McDougall Building) and is inconsistent with the built form outcomes and decision guidelines of Design and Development Overlay Schedule 33.
  4. The proposed building is expected to generate additional vehicle movements which will have a detrimental impact on the Batman Street, Spencer Street and Franklin Place.


This particular pocket of West Melbourne serves to illustrate the gulf between the positions taken by City of Melbourne and the State Government. City of Melbourne have been nothing if not consistent in their disapproval of 371 Spencer Street and surrounding projects that have well and truly breached local built form guidelines.

The State Government on the other hand has earmarked the area is a natural extension of the CBD, with high-rise towers in tow. That there is no consensus between both bodies leads to a bureaucratic back and forth that ultimately will achieve little as State Government maintains final say over any project exceeding 25,000 sq.m in area.

This in turn will encourage developers to super size their proposals to over 25,000 sq.m as evidenced by the recent application at 15-31 Batman Street, with the knowledge that the State Government will be more likely to green light their project. What does this all mean for 371 Spencer Street?

Given the State Government approved 420 Spencer Street diagonally opposite earlier this year at 38 levels and 131 metres, a precedent has been set. I can't see how 371 Spencer Street would gain anything but approval.


Bilby's picture

Our planning system is wrecked. Plain and simple - it needs a structural overhaul to do away with this bureaucratic ad hoc decision making. How about City of Melbourne deciding on something it actually knows about - the city of Melbourne? New Yorkers would never put up with this sort of heavy handed intervention from a minister.

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Paolo's picture

Notice of Decision has been given for this application.

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Melbourne_Fragments's picture

if you look on streetview, these seem to be a carbon copy of the circular towers further down in Docklands along the Batman st vista

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