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Pyrmont in the cross-hairs

Pyrmont, seen here in 1892 with the original timber bridge, will be ‘revitalised’. Photo: FredHardie_WikimediaCommons


Following the release of the results from the Greater Sydney Commission’s review of the planning protocols in Pyrmont at the end of last month, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the NSW Government’s intentions to “transform” Pyrmont into “the next jobs hub”.
“For our city and State to continue to be the jobs capital of the nation, we need this area to be revitalised. We have successfully transformed Barangaroo into a spectacular waterfront precinct and are in the midst of revitalising Central,” she explains in the announcement. “Pyrmont is the next frontier.”

Ms Berejiklian called for the review in August after the NSW Department of Planning refused to support Star Casino’s proposal for the construction of a 66-storey tower which was set to include a $500 million Ritz-Carlton hotel and 204 residences.
The tower development was part of the Star Casino’s strategy to remain competitive with Crown’s controversial luxury resort and casino development in Barangaroo, which is set to be completed in 2021. The Department of Planning ruled that the tower was not in the public’s best interest due to its poor design and “unacceptable visual impacts due to its scale”.

Place-based approach needed
The commission held meetings with, or collected written submissions from, representatives of the NSW government, local government, members of the community and representatives of industry.
The review determined that a place-based approach must be implemented for the planning procedures to be “fit for purpose” and to deliver on the plans laid out in the NSW government’s 2018 “Greater Sydney Region Plan” and “Eastern City District Plan”.

This place-based approach would look at the area more “holistically” for planning purposes, and not make decisions on a site-by-site basis.
This approach would also involve dividing Pyrmont into its separate sub districts, including Darling Harbour, Ultimo and Wentworth Park, and identifying the defining characteristics of these areas. The new regulations would then be based on the character and potential of each area.

The report also stressed the importance of a “collaborative approach” between state government, industry, council and community representation in making planning decisions.
Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore welcomed the recommendation of a place-based approach, but told the Sydney Morning Herald that in order for it to work the NSW Government needs to be transparent with council and the community about its plans for public assets.

“We need real place-making that takes into account transport, public space, solar access and, importantly, community consultation, like we’ve done across the city,” she says.
“The City of Sydney stands ready to lead this process, but such a collaboration will require the state government to be more transparent about its intentions for development of sites it owns, such as The Star casino, Fish Markets and the Powerhouse Museum sites.”

Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Katherine O’Regan, also welcomed the recommendations to the building guidelines which she says are “confusing and complex and in need of overhauling”.
“This will allow the Western Harbour precinct to thrive, completing the corridor from Barangaroo to Darling Harbour and the new Fish Market,” she said in a press release. “A simplified planning framework replacing the restrictive, out-of-date planning controls must now be a priority for Government.”
Planning Minister Rob Stokes, despite rejecting the Star Casino’s proposal, thinks there needs to be a balance between new developments and heritage.

“We can support larger-scale development and maintain the unique heritage nature of Pyrmont. It’s not an either/or choice,” Mr Stokes said in a press release. “However, we must plan for the precinct strategically, rather than on a site-by-site basis, to ensure the long-term livability and sustainability of the area.”
Star Casino’s initial tower proposal is now before the NSW Independent Planning Commission for review. Although there is still a chance that the proposal will pass the Independent Planning Commission’s review process, the commission usually follows the advice of the Department of Planning.

Challenging to the eye
However, things are not looking good for the Star Casino. A review from Yvonne von Hartel, the architect appointed by the Independent Planning Commission to assess the proposal, is even more damning than the initial analysis.
“The built form of the proposed development is challenging to the eye and the mind; a tower that tapers inwards at its base is contrary to common sense; the eye expects a thickening at the base not a constriction,” she concludes. “The tower itself is not sleek – rather it is a combination of cylindrical and part cylindrical forms which start and stop apparently randomly.”

Whether or not the recommendations and conclusions drawn by the Greater Sydney Commission will influence the Independent Planning Commission’s decision remains to be seen. Public comments on the proposal closed at the end of last month.

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