The Tale of Two Towers. Height Levels and Heritage. Council Intransigence.

Artist Impression ANZ Bank Development, South Melbourne.

In Melbourne right now there are two major battles being played out over what many consider to be two entirely inappropriate developments. One is in Glenhuntly Road, Elsternwick, the other is in the heart of South Melbourne heritage precinct on Bank Street. Both were initially to be five storey and six storey towers respectively. Both gained council approval with seemingly little community consultation.The five storey building in Glenhuntly Road is now seeking a seven storey approval at VCAT. 

An artist’s impression of the proposed Glenhuntly Road building.CREDIT:GLEN EIRA COUNCIL

What developers didn’t expect was for cashed up and informed opposition to their planned construction. Blindsided they now face significant opposition in the form of neighbour Mr. John Wylie. Read about it below in the article by Chris Lucas published in The Age 19.6.21 –

Well-connected ex-banker takes on council over Elsternwick tower plan

By Clay Lucas

June 19, 2021 — 6.00am

What does the average person do if they find out a large apartment building could soon be constructed just metres from their home, without their local council giving them any warning? They complain to the council, maybe call a journalist, or perhaps pen a letter to their local MP.

But if you’re John Wylie – investment banker, Rhodes Scholar, one of Melbourne’s most well-connected businessmen, and far from the average person – you hire lobbyists to help make your case public. And you call in the state’s top planning barrister, who charges upwards of $15,000 a day, to launch a Supreme Court case against the council for the errors you believe have been made.

Mr Wylie is a former chair of Sport Australia and the MCG Trust, a former president of the State Library, and the former Australian chief executive of financial giant Lazard.

Along with his wife Myriam, Mr Wylie is taking Glen Eira City Council to the Supreme Court to overturn its approval of a five-storey building in Glen Huntly Road, Elsternwick.The council approved the project “under delegation” – meaning it never went to a full council, and only some affected residents were told that it was going to be built.Mr Wylie and his wife were not among those told the building had been approved. Their home is 30 metres away from the project’s boundary, but is not directly adjacent.

John Wylie at the State Library.Credit:Arsineh Houspian

The developer, not satisfied with five levels, has challenged Glen Eira’s approval and is asking the state planning tribunal for permission to build seven.The project is to the north of the Wylies’ sprawling 4000-square-metre home, bought two decades ago for $2.1 million.

The couple has hired one of Victoria’s most successful planning barristers, former Supreme Court judge Stuart Morris, QC, who once headed the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Fellow barristers said Mr Morris’ court fees would top $15,000 a day.

An affidavit for the couple, lodged last week in the Supreme Court, says the council never had the right to approve such a building in an area where its own policies allow for only two-storey buildings. The affidavit also argues the council failed to notify the Wylies despite the project causing “material detriment” to them.

The Glenhuntly Road building in Elsternwick to be demolished for a new apartment tower.CREDIT:WAYNE TAYLOR

Along with Mr Morris, the Wylie’s have also hired lobbyists and media managers the Civic Group to help fight the proposal. The company contacted The Age over the issue, and provided a statement from Mr Wiley.

“How does a five-storey building on a site with a two-storey height limit get approved by council officers without properly consulting affected neighbours?” he said in the statement. “We’re bringing this action not just for ourselves, but for more than 20 of our neighbours.”

(L-R) The State Library’s Kate Torney, John Wylie, wife Myriam Boisbouvier-Wylie and Creative Industries Minister Danny Pearson in May this year.

One of those neighbours is Jon Hinwood, who has lived in his home 100 metres west of the building site for 50 years. “My house is going to be directly affected by cars coming and going” from the apartments, he said.

He and other residents fear the precedent the project may set. “Once this is approved there is no good reason to knock back any other seven-storey development here. And this is a little tin-pot shopping centre that has had a magical resurgence since COVID.”

Mr Hinwood said he was never informed by the council about the plan, despite being able to see the existing two-level building on the site from his front window.

Internal advice seen by The Age, from a council planning officer sent after the Supreme Court action was first initiated, said that “we consider that their prospects are low” of winning the case.

Glen Eira’s planning director Ron Torres said the council had approved the original application for a five-storey building but refused the developer’s seven-level proposal in February. Healey and Co, the group behind the proposal, has gone to VCAT to fight that refusal.

Asked about the court case the Wylies had brought against Glen Eira, Mr Torres said the council “does not comment on proceedings before the court”. But he confirmed Glen Eira “is defending the proceeding”.

If the legal action is successful, the original permit issued by Glen Eira council will be cancelled and the site’s owner will have to resubmit a proposal to redevelop the site.

The Age on Friday contacted Wendy Healey of Toorak and Andrew Robinson of Black Rock, the owners of the company behind the proposed apartments, but did not receive a response.

It is an apt demonstration of what is required to take on both the local council, in this case Glen Eira City Council, and powerful cashed up development interests. 

Former ANZ Bank Development

The second tower is most definitely a heritage issue. A six storey tower development has been approved for the rear of the former ANZ bank on the corner of Bank Street and Clarendon Street in South Melbourne. The developer, SheBuilt Pty Ltd, has sought permission to go to seven storeys.

ANZ South Melbourne 307 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne.

The initial call for objections was directed only at Clarendon Street residents and those directly opposite the proposed development in Bank Street. Most of these were commercial occupants. Heritage considerations were only considered as to the effect on Clarendon Street. Fourteen objections were registered, this fell marginally short of the number required – 16. 

The building proposed has its entrance on Bank Street. As such the residents of Bank Street should likely have been consulted. Consider this letter sent by a Bank Street resident to Planning Minister, Mr. Richard Wynne.

Here is an extract. 

Summary of key issues

The planning decision for approval of the 6-storey development was made in 2018, under the Council’s instrument of delegation, by a single Council officer. The developer, Shebuilt Pty Ltd now seeks an amendment to the permit, which if granted would allow a 7-storey office block to be constructed, at the rear of the historic Bank building. This decision is before the Port Phillip Council on Thursday 24 June 2021.

We are writing to bring this matter to the Minister’s attention. We believe that given the heritage nature of Emerald Hill, the scale and height of the development, and that it is adjacent to a unique and historic Bank building, this multi-storey development should:

  1. never have been approved;
  2. not have been made by a single Council officer and was therefore a derogation of the Council’s decision making. 

Given the nature of this development it should have been subjected to the scrutiny of the Council’s Planning Committee and consideration of the full Council.

The original Planning decision is so flawed that there are grounds for Ministerial intervention:

  • This important decision, to erect a prominent multi-story office block in a heritage part of old South Melbourne / Emerald Hill, should not have been made under delegation by a single Council officer.
  • The development was advertised as a development at 305 & 307-309 Clarendon Street – not Bank Street and on that basis the heritage parameters were considered from Clarendon Street. This was inappropriate and led to a flawed consideration of the Heritage policy and the wrong application of the public consultation process.
  • The multi-storey office will be accessed from Bank Street and the bulk of the building will be in Bank Street. The heritage impacts and future use impacts are on Bank Street and should have been assessed accordingly. 
  • The developer, Shebuilt Pty Ltd now seeks a further amendment to the planning approval (PA 776/2018A) to increase the height to 7 storeys (amongst other amendments). 

Heritage issues

The planning permit is a gross overdevelopment of this small parcel of land, adjacent to a unique heritage building (the old Bank building). The proposed 7 storey commercial building dwarfs the 2 adjacent buildings, the old Bank building on the corner of Bank and Clarendon Streets and the Butter Factory in Bank Street, which is currently being sympathetically redeveloped as office accommodation.

The location of this development is in old South Melbourne, Emerald Hill. The development is 50 meters from the South Melbourne Town Hall and is in line of sight of the Shrine of Remembrance. 

The heritage parameters, set by Council for the planning assessment considered the sight lines and heritage values from Clarendon Street, and did not adequately consider the effect and impacts to Bank Street, including the residences in that street. 

The multi-storey office building, if erected will the double the size of the heritage Bank building and higher than any other building in the near vicinity. It will detrimentally alter the nature of this area of Emerald Hill.

This is a Bank Street development  

The application is referenced as a development at 305 & 307-309 Clarendon Street. However, it is our contention that as the development has its main entrance in Bank Street, it is in substance, a Bank Street development. Accordingly, the planning assessment and consultation process should have focused on its impacts to Bank Street and particularly the heritage impacts to this important heritage area. 

Council officers advised that the heritage and height parameters were set in consultation with the developer – and were premised on this being a Clarendon Street development. In fact, the true impacts of this oversized development are to Bank Street. 

The consequences of assessing this as a Clarendon Street development

The incorrect characterisation that this is a Clarendon Street development has led to a series of consequential outcomes:

  • The heritage parameters were wrongly set and assessed from Clarendon Street and the sight lines were not adequately considered from Bank Street;
  • The assessment that this was a Clarendon Street development led to a flawed consultation process. Most of the residential properties along Bank Street were NOT directly notified about the planning proposals.

The statutory consultation process was flawed

The planning assessment and consultation process should have focused on its impacts to Bank Street and particularly the heritage impacts to this important heritage area. 

Council advise that 90 properties received notification, primarily in Clarendon Street, and to the commercial premises directly opposite the development site in Bank Street. The residents 25m down the road in Bank Street were not directly notified. 

We assume this this was based on the wrong premise that the development in question, was a Clarendon Street development. Accordingly, the relevant and directly impacted properties were not provided with an adequate opportunity for participation in the consultation and we believe directly led to their being only 14 objections.

Port Phillip Council delegation policy

This important decision, to erect a prominent multi-story office block in a heritage part of old South Melbourne / Emerald Hill, should not have been made under delegation by a single Council officer. Further, it is extraordinary that Council’s delegation policy is so arbitrary as to not require Council delegates to consider the overall impact of a development and consider who in fact is impacted and ensure that they are part of the consultation process. 

This was a decision that should have been made by Council for the following reasons:

  • The decision in question raised significant heritage considerations and should have been referred to Council
  • There were 14 objections.  Some of the objections were signed by more than one signatory and should have been considered as constituting more than one objection.
  • The characterisation of this as a Clarendon Street development resulted in there technically being less than the minimum 16 objections as direct notifications were sent primarily to Clarendon Street owners (predominantly commercial enterprises).
Artists Impression ANZ Bank Building development, South Melbourne – full view.

Unfortunately it appears that to contest such developments requires considerable financial capacity. It shouldn’t be the case, especially where heritage issues are concerned. Port Phillip Council have scheduled a meeting on 24 June to consider the approval for the seven storey extension to the proposed former bank development. The meeting is to be a Webex virtual meeting. Members of the public were invited to attend and following council protocol – are permitted to speak to the meeting for three minutes.

This is a project that simply should not proceed in its current format, with the major consideration being its impact on the sensitive Emerald Hill precinct. The building next door in Bank Street – the Butter Factory(as seen in the image above) has strenuous heritage controls on its redevelopment. What is the reason that the bank building tower and its  annex (which was built with strict heritage guidelines in the 1970’s) does not require such direction?

Former Butter Factory, Bank Street, South Melbourne. Credit: Commercial Real Estate.

It’s time to speak out. No more inappropriate development. It’s time to protect Melbourne’s fabulous heritage and livability. Now is the time for government intervention.

The current heritage standards are simply being ignored by developers. Height regulations are being flouted and it is now timely for the Planning Minister, Mr. Wynne to intervene. A complete overhaul of heritage protection is required – pronto. Heritage is precious. Once lost it can never be replaced. 

Heritage – It Matters. Preserve It. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s