Cbus Property seeks a sky-high planning scheme amendment for 447 Collins

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Cbus Property seeks a sky-high planning scheme amendment for 447 Collins

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.

A river runs through it

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

Bridge and Spire concepts under consideration

Cbus Property seeks a sky-high planning scheme amendment for 447 Collins
Alternative Spire (left) and Bridge concept designs (right). Image courtesy SHoP / Woods Bagot

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.

Cbus Property seeks a sky-high planning scheme amendment for 447 Collins
A large open space is the defining difference. Image courtesy SHoP / Woods Bagot

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.

447 Collins and 555 Collins to overshadow?

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.

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Discussion (8 comments)

Aussie Steve's picture

There is no dilemma here, the answer is simple. Overshadowing of the Yarra River is unacceptable. Full Stop! The provision of open space at ground level with the part closure of Market Street is essential and not negotiable either.

Greed is the problem with this project. The developer can easily build a tower at or below the height limit and public open space at street whilst still making a profit. It is that simple.

No matter how good any design is, the lack of and overshadowing of open space is not negotiable.

Go back to the drawing board and play by the rules.

Purple Dawn's picture

I can never figure out why a dirty, brown river and particularly during winter, is so sacrosanct that it can hold up or scupper world-beating projects due to a thing called 'overshadowing.' To my mind, the more we can steer the eye away from the dirty, brown river the better off we will all be. If however we were talking about pristine, blue water I might understand and agree.

Nicholas Harrison's picture

Unfortunately the rules say that they only have to provide Council with 480 square metres of open space. To get 2000 square metres of open space Council would have to apply a Public Acquisition Overlay to the site and buy the land at commercial rates (over $20 million).

Land for sunlight, simple equation but a very difficult decision.

Nicholas Harrison's picture

This is from the Council report:

The slender residential tower component of the proposed development on the subject site will cast a slender shadow on Southbank that will be ‘fast moving’.

By way of example, it has been calculated that the shadow affect Queensbridge Square for 16 minutes during 11am-2pm period at Equinox.’

Bilby's picture

Purple Dawn - your comments re: the Yarra River are curious. Just because the Yarra naturally has a high sediment load doesn't make it any less valuable as a natural asset to the city. That would be like complaining that because Port Phillip Bay doesn't look like Sydney Harbour that we can pollute it without a worry. The Yarra is a living ecosystem that needs sunlight to thrive. It's difficult to see from the surface, but underneath the water it is full of fish, crabs, eels and many other marine species that all require the sun for their metabolic processes. There has to be room for some living systems in an urban environment like Melbourne, doesn't there?

Logical planning's picture

From my understanding, it is not the Yarra River itself that it is protected by policy, it is the Southbank of the river and more specifically Queensbridge Square that this proposal would potentially overshadow.
Direct from the City of Melbourne's Planning Scheme:
"A permit is required:
To construct a building or construct or carry out works which would cast a shadow
across any part of Federation Square, City Square, Queensbridge Square and the State
Library Forecourt between 11.00 am and 2.00 pm on 22 June. A permit may only be
granted if the responsible authority considers the overshadowing will not prejudice the
amenity of the squares"

Purple Dawn's picture

There probably does, Bilby. But this isn't the French Riviera and no amount of sun will change that. In any event, I'm sure our river gets all the sun it needs. Balance is important, but it's not as if tall buildings overshadow the Yarra all day long. Personally, I'd love to see that section of the CBD filled out as much as possible, with good-sized parks/open areas provided for the public. Currently, it's lacking in size, imagination and quality. If only we could get Flinders Street Station revamped, but that's probably a longshot.

Rohan Storey's picture

Sadly Council originally owned the site, and it was leased to National Mutual in 1961 with the stipulation that they provide the forecourt, though not that it be anything more than lightly landscaped open space. Then in 1992 during the time of the commissioners, the freehold was sold with no protection over the open space. Oops.

So now we find ourselves with this developer led artificial dichotomy, shadow the southbank in return for a new plaza, or have a full block building with a 'laneway' open space.

Im a great supporter of sticking to rules when you have them, and keeping the long, popular open space of the southbank promenade free of shadows is one of the few that have been stuck to. There really should be no exceptions no matter the offer, because as soon as there's one, then there's another (and the Minister has already allowed 555 collins to overshadow, only on the basis that the city needs a new office tower it seems), and pretty soon there will be more, and there will be many 'fast moving' shadows chasing each other across the cafe tables of the southbank.

As to what sort of public space is 'better', its not the sqm that counts really, unless all you want is the 'feeling' of open space, not a well used plaza.

The more I think about it, the less it seems that a large open space here is all that necessary, or would definitely be as well used and attractive as the city square / state lib forecourt, even if its the same size. It would all depend on how it feels and what opens onto it, and also how sunny.

Firstly that part of the city nowhere near as busy (except at lunchtimes) as swanston street, and not likely to be even with more apt towers - its the most officey end of town.

Second, it would need a public function like a library or gallery to attract users another than passers by, office users or residents - if its all cafes, then its really a food court.

Third, there's no protection of sun access - it would be overshadowed progressively after 2pm by the new building anyway, and in winter only the back half would get direct sunlight since the 10 storey buildings to the north already overshadow almost all the existing plaza in winter, and there's no controls (now or proposed) to prevent further overshadowing by new tall buildings to the north. So it could end up unattractive in winter anyway.

Whereas, a well designed laneway / atrium, with lots of retail and sunny only at lunchtimes like all the north-south laneways in the CBD could be very attractive.

(and lets not forget that the laneway option just happens not to include the use of market street, so there is a third design that uses that space too, which could be a pocket park, with more retail facing onto it, albeit one that would only be sunny at luchtimes, and only the back half in winter).


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