Sydney city plans released, amid some concerns


The City of Sydney has revealed its strategic vision for Sydney’s future skyline, with potential building heights in excess of 300 metres – 80 metres taller than Governor Phillip Tower – while still protecting sun access to important public places and parks.

In the most comprehensive urban planning strategy for central Sydney in 45 years, opportunities have been identified to unlock up to 2.9 million square metres of additional floor space for retail, hotel, cultural and office needs to meet long-term targets for the city centre’s growth.

A key move of the draft Central Sydney Planning Strategy is the identification of concentrated “tower cluster” areas where there’s potential for 300-metre-tall commercial buildings that would be subject to federal airport approval.

It’s suggested that this will allow the city centre to grow while still retaining essential solar access planes to Hyde Park and other important public areas such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Martin Place and Wynyard Park.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore says the strategy provides certainty, consistency and continuity of planning to help the city more effectively encourage economic and employment growth over the next two decades.

“Past planning strategies have successfully increased the number of residential buildings in the city centre, but now we need to protect and increase the amount of productive floor space to maintain Sydney’s economic vitality and resilience,” she says.

“Ensuring infrastructure keeps pace with growth, in terms of transport, cultural and social institutions and affordable housing, will help keep our community strong and maintain our standards of living.

“We need to preserve and maintain what is positive and unique about our city, while reshaping its other attributes to meet the needs of tomorrow’s central Sydney.”

The 20-year strategy proposes to update previous planning controls and is the first comprehensive plan since the City of Sydney Strategic Plan in 1971 by George Clark, which set the skyline and character of the city as it is today.

The new Central Sydney Planning Strategy includes 10 key moves and nine aims for business and residential development, balanced with the changing needs of the growing number of workers, residents and visitors.

The 10 key moves include:

  • The expansion of Central Sydney to reabsorb The Rocks, Darling Harbour, Ultimo (The Goods Line, Central Park and UTS) and Central Railway to Cleveland Street. Having a single consent authority and framework will make planning more consistent and reduce red tape and hurdles;
  • The prioritisation of business floor space employment by expanding the city’s commercial core west to Barangaroo and south to Belmore Park;
  • The management of small sites to consider wind, sunlight, public views and setbacks. The City wants to encourage owners of city buildings to talk to their neighbours about their combined development potential;
  • Progressing plans for three new squares along George Street – at Circular Quay, Town Hall and Railway Square – to provide precincts that improve the liveability of the city centre;
  • The strengthening of public open space, accessibility and connections to make moving around the city easier and more enjoyable for workers, residents and visitors;
  • The promotion of design excellence by requiring all towers and major developments to go through a design competition process;
  • Ensuring transport and social infrastructure keeps pace with growth, and that Sydney is inclusive of all members of society by the introduction of an affordable housing levy; and
  • A move toward zero net energy for all buildings through sustainability incentives for floor space ratio bonuses and minimum NABERs standards for new office buildings.

Central Sydney helps generate $108 billion of economic activity annually – nearly eight per cent of the national economy. It has the highest concentration of top 500 companies, banking institutions and mainstream artistic and cultural institutions, and is the largest retail centre in Australia.

It is also home to 25,000 residents and accommodates close to 300,000 workers and a large proportion of the city’s 610,000 domestic and international visitors every day.

Reacting to the strategy release, Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson says: “The Urban Taskforce has been calling for taller towers in the Sydney CBD so we’re supportive of the increase in height to 310 metres. We are, however, concerned that to achieve the increased heights, developments must share the value of the uplift with the city council.

“The Central Sydney Planning Strategy is establishing a planning framework where most projects will be negotiated outcomes through planning proposals. The report outlining the strategy calls for a streamlining of the Gateway process undertaken by the Department of Planning, which can take many months.

“The Sydney CBD strategy continues a trend with Sydney councils to set height limits but to then trade off extra heights for financial contributions to infrastructure. Value Capture has become the new buzz word but every council has different rules. It will be important for the New South Wales Government, through the Greater Sydney Commission and the Department of Planning, to establish clear policies about a flexible planning system based on trading floor space.

“The Urban Taskforce is concerned that the City of Sydney seems to be discouraging residential development in its strategy,” Johnson adds.

“The strong preference is for commercial towers. Residential-only towers are not allowed. This approach will have an impact on the physical shape of the city, with fatter commercial towers rather than slim residential towers.”

The Urban Taskforce believes the state government will need to interact with the city on the future balance of residential and commercial space in the city. “It’s important that the city has a good amount of residential accommodation where people can walk to work and the city can be alive all day and through the week,” Johnson says.

“The new strategy is very detailed and it will take some time for the industry to fully understand the implications of the changes to policy.

“If there are too many levies and affordable housing contributions then projects may not go ahead.”

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