Little Lonsdale Street becomes a showcase of previous planning attitudes

Little Lonsdale Street becomes a showcase of previous planning attitudes
Mark BaljakSeptember 9, 2016

A stretch of Little Lonsdale Street between Queen and Elizabeth is becoming a microcosm for various other pockets of the CBD and Southbank, in that is will be a showcase of previous planning attitudes. As a raft of new towers push through, the fundamental feel of this Little Lonsdale stretch is being altered to something very different.

The crux of the issue was best described by Laurence Dragomir at the turn of 2015:

The proposed development continues the recent trend of large scale high-rises encroaching on the relatively low scale streetscapes which define Melbourne's 'Little' streets and laneways. I've always been a proponent for skyscrapers in the CBD, I won't shy away from that fact, however I don't consider developments of this scale to be appropriate responses to the character and grain of these areas.

The footprints of these sites is generally much smaller than the larger sites on the primary CBD streets. This results in narrow skyscrapers with two shared boundaries that if built to the extremity as usually tends to occur, creates a 'wall' effect that is amplified on much smaller streets from a pedestrian perspective.

I don't consider this to be a desirable outcome and would invite anyone to tell me otherwise or convince me that these are the type of streets we wish to create moving forward.

Laurence Dragomir, "Planning Application: 278 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne", February 19 2015

Much has changed since early 2015, particularly the planning fundamentals that underpin what can and cannot be approved within Melbourne's CBD. The stretch of Little Lonsdale Street is heading into a phase of redefinition, owing to construction beginning on a number of towers that were approved prior to Minister Wynne's new planning decree.

Union Tower and 399 Little Lonsdale are both at early construction, with Brady Group also poised to launch sales for the hulking 380 Melbourne. With 380 Melbourne's website taking registrations, Brady Group also have the approved 207 metre 272-282 Queens Street up their sleeve, as well as a failed development site opposite 380 Melbourne at 278 Little Lonsdale Street.

The above projects fall within a roughly 150 metre stretch of Little Lonsdale Street, turning it into a a monument to previous planning attitudes; highlighting all that is both good and bad about Melbourne's sustained development drive over recent years.

Good in that two multi-level car parks have or will be razed, with the expectation that what replaces them will be of an almost infinitely superior design outcome. Bad in that this emerging 'wall' effect will subsume another section of Melbourne's CBD, which incidentally acts as a gateway to the sensitive Guildford Lane Precinct.

Little Lonsdale Street becomes a showcase of previous planning attitudes
An engaging street level. Image: Brady Group

380 Melbourne as the are's largest development also shapes as the most promising. A much improved public realm experience will see an aesthetically pleasing street level overhaul, including a new mid block pedestrian thoroughfare and heavily green aspects applied to its Little Lonsdale Street podium.

380 Melbourne has the luxury of maintaining quite a sizeable development plot, allowing for higher levels of design sophistication and increased setbacks. 399 Little Lonsdale and Union Tower with their smaller plots employ lesser setbacks, resulting in "a 'wall' effect that is amplified on much smaller streets from a pedestrian perspective" as Laurence so correctly spoke about.

Add these projects to the already completed Melbourne Star, Melbourne Sky and Elm Tower, and the result is less than ideal. In isolation each project has its own design merit, yet together they shift the physical form well beyond what should be considered acceptable for the area, while eroding the finer grain street level character of the area.

Little Lonsdale Street becomes a showcase of previous planning attitudes
399 Little Lonsdale and Union Tower. Images: K2LD & RotheLowman

With Planning Minister Richard Wynne's reworked planning controls, the 'Little Lonsdale effect' could now not be repeated elsewhere within Melbourne's CBD.

What remains unclear is Brady Group's intentions for the Phillips Shirts site at 278 Little Lonsdale Street. Submitted prior to the change in planning controls and having failed to gain approval for a 180 metre residential tower, the historic building now sits forlorn as if almost caught between two differing planning eras.

It will be fascinating to see Little Lonsdale Street change over the next five years. For those who appreciate the current character of this stretch of Little Lonsdale Street, best take it in now while you still can.

Mark Baljak

Mark Baljak was a co-founder of He passed away on Thursday 8th of November 2018 after a battle with cancer. He was 37. Mark was a keen traveller, having visited all six permanently-inhabited continents and had a love of craft beer. One of his biggest passions was observing the change that has occurred in Melbourne over the past two decades. In that time he built an enormous library of photos, all taken by him, which tracked the progress of construction on building sites from across metropolitan Melbourne.

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