The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has sided with the Minister for Planning in refusing an application for a revised Development Plan for two parcels of land collectively referred to as 'Harbour Town Southern Sites Docklands'.
Developer Capital Alliance was seeking approval of an amended Development Plan for two key sites which would allow for the development of a 37-storey building comprising a Marriott branded hotel, residential apartments, car parking at 3-43 Waterfront Way in addition to dual towers of 29 and 19-storeys on a site at 26-38 Pearl River Road. The application for the latter development was put on ice pending the outcome of the VCAT hearing.
A planning permit for the detailed design of the proposed Marriott Docklands was also sought but was contingent on receiving approval of the Development Plan. Minister Wynne had initially refused the amended Development Plan and consequently also refused the planning permit.
The basis for refusal was the "pre-emptive" nature of the applications in the absence of "a comprehensive review of the Waterfront City Precinct with regard to height, shadowing of open space areas and broader urban design considerations."
In reaching its decision, the VCAT panel stated that its decision was not made on this basis and that it didn't believe any such review would and should be the determining factor in refusing a permit but rather the proposal's inability to provide a strong enough justification for built form which is out of character with the height and scale of the existing precinct.
Having considered the submissions and evidence of the parties, we are not persuaded that the proposal, particularly the amended development plan, should be approved. However, in reaching this decision, we are not persuaded of the necessity for a comprehensive review of the Waterfront City Precinct.
This case has various complexities including the number of authorities with an interest in Docklands (i.e. the Minister, the City of Melbourne and Places Victoria) and the extent of planning approvals required (i.e. development plans and planning permits) by different authorities dependent upon the scale of the particular proposed development.
In an important growth area like Docklands, achieving a cohesive approach to decision making is desirable. However, that does not mean amended development plans for small areas or sites should not or cannot be contemplated.
We find this proposal fails primarily because of the combination of the existing character of the immediate area and the broader precinct as established through the existing and emerging built form; and the urban design expectations contained in the relevant approved development plans.
We agree with the Minister that the urban design framework for taller buildings within the established built form of Harbour Town shopping centre is lacking in terms of strategic justification.VCAT report
Prior to the latest round of applications for the sites, the City of Melbourne had approved applications for DesignInc designed buildings for Ethan Property Group. The Pearl River Road site has approval in place for a residential tower of 15-storeys rising a height of 54.9 metres with ground floor retail, while the Waterfront Way site can accommodate a 14-storey residential tower of 49.6m.
As a point of reference, the NewQuay Central buildings currently under construction on a tract of land which was formerly part of Waterfront City vary in height from 56 metres to 139.8 metres.
The applicants argued that this indicated that the whole area was in a transition phase from a relatively low-rise precinct to one of considerable scale and that the proposed Development Plan was responding to this evolution.
With VCAT's decision to uphold the Minister for Planning's decision it remains to be seen whether Capital Alliance will seek seek to reduce their aspirations for the Harbour Town sites or develop the master plan further in response to authority concerns.
Distinguishing the two respective schemes to provide distinct responses but as part of an overall plan may see the proposals receive more favourable outcomes as the VCAT members indicated there was some concern regarding a uniform approach in building articulation and mass resulting in a 'wall effect' being produced.
The full hearing and reasoning behind the decision can be read in full on AustLII.