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Key sticking points hammered out as ISPT seeks approval for its Spring Street tower

The development team behind one of Melbourne's most recent commercial tower applications has had right of reply to City of Melbourne's varied concerns regarding their proposal located at 267-271 Spring Street.

Property fund manager and developer ISPT has Australian Unity pencilled in as the prospective project's tenant, with John Wardle Architects handed the task of creating the modern edifice above the current low-rise heritage buildings onsite. Post the project's submission during June of this year, City of Melbourne have raised concerns regarding a variety of aspects relating to the development.

Last week Urbis responded on behalf of the development team.

The project's revised Little Lonsdale Street perspective. Planning image: Urbis

Many of City of Melbourne's concerns focus on the project's impact upon the heritage buildings in the immediate area, along with the appropriateness of the tower's form. The concerns in many ways mirror the stance taken by Melbourne Heritage Action, which considers the proposal to be demonstrative to the heritage precint's overall existing character.

Not only will the proposed office block involve the facadism of the 1925 Elms Family Hotel, it will dominate other heritage buildings on the site, like the 1913 Mission Hall, and the cottage on Casselden Place behind. It will also destroy some of the last remnants of the famous (infamous!) ‘Little Lon’ district, including the last section of Griffin Lane, and two small-scale 1920s red brick buildings that do not have individual heritage protection.

Melbourne Heritage Action believes that the precinct as a whole, from the Mission in Spring Street down to Oddfellows Hotel, is one that should obviously have been made a Heritage Precinct many years ago. This group of buildings not only creates an area and streetscape that hasn’t changed since the 1920s, but is the largest intact remnant of the notorious ‘Little Lon’ area.

Melbourne Heritage Action

As of last week 38 objectors had taken their concerns to Council.

The tower's exterior. Planning image: John Wardle architects

Urbis' response acknowledges the concerns raised by the objectors, while also asking Council to consider the "balance of objectives sought by the planning scheme and the extended consultation process conducted between the proponent and Council." Further to this Urbis point out that 267-271 Spring Street with Australian Unity in tow would be a boost to the CBD's economic success, given very few permitted commercial developments have proceeded to construction within the CBD during recent years.

For the most, the development team's response justifies the design ethos and outcome of the originally submitted scheme. Essentially Urbis' response adds further weight to the development team's stance, rather than making wholesale changes to the tower's design.

Concerns regarding heritage issues, setbacks to Spring Street and Littler Lonsdale Street, the project's perceived community benefit (or lack of), overshadowing and overlooking have all been addressed by Urbis. Following consultation with Melbourne Heritage Action and other vested parties, the only discernible changes to the proposal have been to retain the internal rear and side walls of the Elms Hotel and a change to the podium treatments to Little Lonsdale by way of additional glazing.

Beyond the above machinations, 267-271 Spring Street's fate lies in the hands of City of Melbourne, with a final approval decision likely to be some months away.

9 comments

johnproctor's picture

Urbis' response acknowledges the concerns raised by the objectors,

and tells them to get stuffed doing almost nothing to mitigate the impacts.

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Rohan Storey's picture

Yup.

Lookingupatbuildings

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Bilby's picture

Come on John Wardle - show some leadership here. Architects have an important civic role in providing advocacy from the inside - it is incumbent on the profession to push back where it can to hold developers up to higher standards for the community and the city in which they build.

We are simply losing too much in the trade off between the proposed development, and the architectural response to site and the precious remaining heritage of upper Little Lon. here.

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Clinton Leybourne's picture

This is a sad proposal for the city's most significant historic precinct. The proposed tower has no setback from the sensitive facade along Little Lonsdale Street. The top heavy building tower looks like it is imploding under its own weight. There is little street activation from Little Lonsdale St. I agree that Urbis' response to the objectors is patronising and dismissive. We have some fine examples of new towers well set back above heritage buildings - this is not one of them. There is not way a good planner could approve this.

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Clinton Leybourne's picture

Melbourne's ugliest building was approved last night by the City of Melbourne. Councillors had concerns about the impact of the tower on the existing heritage but still proceeded to vote for it. This part of the city was once know for it beauty, elegance and well proportioned buildings that respond well to heritage...until yesterday. The era of good decisions from the City of Melbourne ended a number of years ago. It is impossible to have zero setbacks from heritage facades and respectful design and the Urbis team including John Wardle Architects have proven it. The Doyle team must go at the October election. ISPT on heritage. SPIT on heritage.

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George D's picture

Ugly? I think it's beautiful.

Can someone tell me why this building is so exceptional, other than "it's oldish".

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Bilby's picture

It represents one of the last vestiges of Melbourne's notorious 19th century "Little Lon" precinct:

https://melbourneheritage.org.au/2016/07/01/call-for-action-objection-to...

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George D's picture

And this proposal recognises that, while adding to the structure of urban Melbourne. We can acknowledge history without having to live in it (literally, in this case).

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Bilby's picture

These buildings have some of Melbourne's most unique intact heritage interiors, George. A city isn't just pretty facades on a street - it exists in three dimensions (spatially speaking) and in time. In a good city, there are cases where where we do indeed need to "live in" (or live with) our history - and this is one of those relatively rare cases. We should more sensitively deal with this remaining section of Little Lonsdale street - but instead we are just getting more of the same facadism and tower typology.

I stand by what I said earlier, too - it's shameful to see such exceptional local talent involved with this damaging proposal. It's just not good enough - and I couldn't care less what commercial expediency led to the decision to take on this project - architects should shoulder more of the responsibility for shaping the city and dealing well with its important heritage aspects. But in Melbourne at least, the contemporary attitude by our design community is to pay lip service to heritage while capitalising on the current boom.

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