By ALLISON HORE
On Wednesday the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) released the findings of their review of the Star Casino’s plans for a 237-metre tower in Pyrmont, rejecting it on the grounds that it was “overly obtrusive”.
The tower development was part of the Star Casino’s strategy to remain competitive with Crown’s $2.2 billion resort and casino development in Barangaroo, which is set for completion in 2021 and has also faced criticism.
The 66-storey development, if it went ahead, would have comprised a 220-room, six-star Ritz-Carlton hotel and 204 residential apartments.
The initial ruling from Department of Planning, Industry and Environment in July was that the tower was not in the public’s best interest due to its “poor design” and “unacceptable visual impacts due to its scale”. After its review of the decision, the IPC agreed saying that the proposal “lacked strategic justification” and was “inconsistent” with policy relating to design principles and environmental impact.
Concerns raised by the public about the building’s scale, incompatibility with existing buildings and “unacceptable visual impacts” were taken into account. Possible increased traffic and anti-social behaviour were also factors in the decision.
“Based on its consideration of [submissions received], the Commission agrees with the Department’s assessment that on balance the public benefits do not outweigh the impacts associated with the application,” the IPC review concludes.
Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, who has been an outspoken critic of the proposal, welcomed the planning commission’s decision to reject the development.
“Approving this development would have required the most significant departure from planning controls in NSW history, so the decision is a win for the integrity of the planning system, for the community and for fairness,” she told AAP.
“By standing up to a disingenuous campaign from The Star and its allies in the media, the IPC has reinforced the principle that planning rules should be applied fairly to all.”
The rejection of the casino’s proposal by the Department of Planning Industry and Environment lead to a torrent of criticism from The Daily Telegraph and 2GB shock-jock Alan Jones, who called NSW Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, a “delinquent”.
The backlash led to Premier Gladys Berejiklian requesting the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) review the planning procedures in the Pyrmont area. They found that the current planning procedures were inadequate and recommended the NSW Government move towards a holistic place-based approach instead of a project-by-project decision making process.
The IPC says that Star’s proposal was “inconsistent” with the placed-based approach recommendations of the GSC review.
In response to the recent decision, Stokes told the Sydney Morning Herald he was “pleased a decision has finally been made on The Star’s proposal and that the door’s not closed to a new hotel and apartment tower in Pyrmont.”
Not everyone is praising the IPC’s decision. The Sydney Business Chamber, which had welcomed the findings of the GSC’s report, is critical of the choice to reject the proposal. They suggested the IPC was “out of touch” with the needs of a business-friendly world city.
“The IPC’s outright rejection of The Star’s hotel in Pyrmont shows that it’s sadly out of touch with Sydney’s place as the nation’s global city and it’s time to rethink the slow and inefficient planning process,” said executive director Katherine O’Regan.
More hotel accommodation needed
Some in the tourism industry have echoed O’Regan’s concerns.
“After four long years and millions of dollars invested on extensive consultation with the government, the community and stakeholders, for an unelected planning body to arrive at a decision like this is simply short-sighted,” said Tourism and Transport Forum CEO, Margy Osmond. “The city is crying out for more hotel accommodation and we can’t get enough luxury beds built.”
Clover Moore explained that City of Sydney “understands the urgent need for more hotels” and said it is prioritising the development of holiday accommodation. She added that the council has approved over 5,700 hotel rooms and other visitor accommodation in the past five years.
“We are completing application assessments efficiently, and working with developers to create striking and sustainable buildings in the right locations – work that relies upon controls that have been developed in consultation with all parties and applied consistently,” she said.
Star Entertainment Group are yet to release an official statement on the decision, but a spokesperson told Reuters, “given we had no prior notification of the decision, we are still digesting the full findings before we announce next steps.”
The spokesperson also suggested that the development would have created around 1000 jobs and brought more tourists to the area.
“We just hope this does not prove to be a lost opportunity for Sydney,” Star added.