So it has come to be that a slab of marble facade dislodging itself during 2012 has led to one of Melbourne's more audacious and sought after planning amendments. From that initial 'loss of face,' a chain of events has since seen 447 Collins Street vacated, approved for demolition and subject to an international design competition at the behest of current owner, Cbus Property.
Woods Bagot in conjunction with New York-based SHoP Architects have created dual concept designs that would contravene one of Melbourne's enduring planning covenants, thus potentially setting a new benchmark for others to emulate. The Yarra River and Southbank have long been considered off limits in terms of overshadowing as explained below.
The importance of the Yarra River as a key natural feature of Melbourne is acknowledged in State planning policy, the Melbourne Planning Scheme and the Planning Schemes of other relevant municipalities. The only basis upon which an exemption to the prohibition could possibly be contemplated is if there was a demonstrated public benefit which would outweigh such an impact on a natural asset of state significance.
However, it is considered that it is premature to consider an exemption from the mandatory shadow prohibition requirement without further resolution of a detailed design for future development of the site.Report to the Future Melbourne (Planning) Committee
Seen above are the two concepts put forward for consideration and comment. Spire refers to the single slender tower in the vicinity of 300 metres in height while Bridge consists of two interconnected towers at 190 metres and 160 metres respectively.
The Spire proposal incorporates a tower to the western portion of the 5,900sqm site. Its massing and three separate elements sees Spire hold a remarkably similar form to another Melbourne proposal, 97 Franklin Street.
While both schemes are mixed-use (commercial, residential and hotel and retail) only Spire proposes a large public space to three street frontages. This provision of a new public space by way of a city park is the 'carrot' for anointing Spire as the preferred outcome and would see a new public space of 2,000sqm established, equivalent in size to City Square or the State Library forecourt. Interestingly the Spire design seeks to subsume part of Market Street thus increasing dedicated public space 2,739sqm.
A height versus public benefit relationship is at play with the two designs. While Bridge would lessen Yarra River and Southbank overshadowing concerns, it also drastically reducing the amount of square metres dedicated to public space whereas Spire aims to deliver the opposite outcome. Therein lies the crux of the matter.
Despite discussions between City of Melbourne's Urban Design Branch and the proponent, City of Melbourne's Future Melbourne Committee report recommends the opposition of the proposed Planning Scheme amendment.
Overall it is considered that the proposal is not supportable due to the potential to further erode a long-held policy and due to the loss of amenity to Queensbridge Square and the Yarra River corridor. The numerous policies which seek to protect the Yarra River and which highlight Queensbridge Square as an important open space are not given enough weight in the applicant’s submission. Although it is acknowledged that the proposal presents potential gain to an area of open space this should not be at the expense of existing amenity and character to one of our most important assets.Report to the Future Melbourne (Planning) Committee
In effect this places the final decision squarely in the hands of State Planning Minister Matthew Guy.
Further west along Melbourne's premier thoroughfare, 555 Collins Street has garnered media attention in recent times. Touted as the future home of a 404-metre skyscraper, the initial proposal was promptly consigned to history owing to Essendon Airport's flight path restrictions.
Consequently controlling interests sold the site to Singaporean developer Fragrance Group and Urban Melbourne understands that preliminary talks have taken place regarding an optimal design envelope for the site. While a nominal height for 555 Collins Street has been put forward we're unable to divulge further information, suffice it to say that both 555 Collins Street and 447 Collins Street would comfortably overshadow the Yarra at certain times of the year based on initial concepts.