20 years after Southbank Towers, the suburbs are punching through the 20 level barrier

20 years after Southbank Towers, the suburbs are punching through the 20 level barrier
Alastair TaylorSeptember 28, 2015

Sitting in Moonee Valley City Council's offices last week and looking over the plans for Hall and Margaret streets, it struck me that we are starting to see the same level of developer confidence in Melbourne's suburbs that used to be contained to Southbank back in the 1990s.

Southbank Towers which stands 28 levels high, completed in 1997 and built by ubiquitous Southbank developer Central Equity, was a new milestone for the developer back in the day.

If you peruse CE's long list of completed projects, you will see Southbank Towers set a new benchmark in scale for Central Equity which prior to Southbank Towers was building smaller-scale buildings in the inner city on both sides of the Yarra.

The municipalities of Melbourne, Yarra, Port Phillip, Stonnington and Maribyrnong are referred to the inner sub-region of the previous State Government's Plan Melbourne strategy (from the archives: How much urbanism will central Melbourne need to build by 2031?) and it is no secret these five LGA's are seeing the vast bulk of medium and high density dwellings built.

But as I say when we field requests from other media outlets about Melbourne development data, we really need to pay far more attention to the suburbs.

20 years after Southbank Towers, the suburbs are punching through the 20 level barrier
The inner sub-region of Plan Melbourne with the previous Government's proposal for a cross-city rail tunnel

Why is 20 levels significant?

For no particular reason other than if we go back over the tall building history of Melbourne to the late 1950s when ICI House was constructed on land outside the CBD.

ICI House has 20 levels, was once Australia's tallest building and at the time was the building which made a statement and set the cat amongst the pidgeons in terms of sending buildings even higher, just like Southbank Towers did for residential buildings in Southbank.

20 years after Southbank Towers, the suburbs are punching through the 20 level barrier
ICI House. Image CC BY SA Wikipedia.

The hills are alive with sound of piling rigs

Earlier this year we reported on Whitehorse Tower's approval and it has since sold out and started construction.

20 years after Southbank Towers, the suburbs are punching through the 20 level barrier
Whitehorse Towers site works in full swing. Image Mark Baljak.

As the suburb's name suggests, Box Hill is an elevated area so when you build a tower, or two in Whitehorse Towers' case - 36 and 26 levels respectively - the towers become more prominent when viewed from a distance. Not to mention I dare say the views from this project will be utterly spectacular.

However when you take a good look at the other development within a one kilometre radius, a development story emerges of a suburb that is not too dissimilar to that of one company's: Central Equity.

We are tracking 21 projects in Box Hill and most are in the four to tweleve level range. Some examples include Chloe, Elland Avenue and 757 Station Street. This is replicated in other major suburban nodes in Melbourne.

Moonee Ponds: the east can't all have the fun

As reported earlier this morning, Caydon have lodged plans for two more towers on what's known as the Readings site in Moonee Ponds, the tallest of which punches through the old Melbourne barrier of 20 levels.

Like its 20+ level counterpart in the East, Moonee Ponds is elevated - around 45 metres above sea level - and the area is not without high-rise residential precedent.

20 years after Southbank Towers, the suburbs are punching through the 20 level barrier
Caydon's new proposal for Hall Street. Image from Planning Application

The proposal which is currently before Moonee Valley City Council measures 68 metres and when taking the already elevated position into account, the tower like Whitehorse Towers will act as an anchor in the suburban skyline should it be approved in its current form.

Moonee Valley already has one building complete above the 20 level barrier in Travancore and another under construction opposite Flemington Racecourse, however the Hall Street proposal is first in the elevated section of Moonee Ponds and in its traditional activities district.

Hills and public transport, a recipe for development confidence?

The location of both of these suburbs in elevated areas is significant however I would argue there is something far more significant.

Both Moonee Ponds and Box Hill are two of suburban Melbourne's richest "non-rail junction" public transport nodes: they are both simply major stations on single rail lines.

While Box Hill's rail frequency does benefit from the junction-effect of combining rail services into a single line at Ringwood in this case, Moonee Ponds and Box Hill are hubs for all three modes of public transport: heavy rail lines, trams and both boast large bus hubs (although, Box Hill bus hub is better connected to heavy rail than Moonee Ponds).

Where could the 20 level barrier be breached next?

If I were a betting man, the rail junction suburbs of Melbourne outside the inner city - Dandenong, Caulfield, Ringwood, Camberwell, Newport and Sunshine - are likely to be the next suburbs to stare down the old Melbourne barrier.

Dandenong is ever so close with Spectra having 17 levels and the suburb has another 22 projects ranging in floor heights from four to twelve. Ringwood is half way there with 10 levels at 233 Maroondah Highway, the suburb has another five projects in the four to eight level floor height range.

Camberwell? Despite its penchant for fostering celebrity NIMBYism, it actually chalks up eleven projects in the three to nine level range.

Caulfield has not reached the heights that Ringwood has as yet in the same region Malvern East has Vanguard at 18 levels as well as a good mix of four to eight level projects. Sunshine has a sole nine level building on the database and we are not tracking anything for Newport as yet.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Urban.com.au. Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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