$183m legal district tower to go before Minister for Planning

By Meg Hill

A proposed $183 million, 23-storey building for Melbourne’s legal district was endorsed by the City of Melbourne on February 16.

If approved by Minister for Planning Richard Wynne, the development will demolish an existing office building on Lonsdale St and eight storeys of above ground car parking – the “Flagstaff Carpark” – on Little Lonsdale St.

The proposed building would have street frontage at 550 Lonsdale St and 535 Little Lonsdale St, with underground car parking and ground level retail topped with 22 storeys of office space.

In endorsing the application, the City of Melbourne has advised the Minister for Planning to require the ground floor of the building to be set back two metres along Healeys Lane – the main connection between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale streets.

The applicant – Lonsdale Investment – had requested the proposed condition be dropped. Jamie Govenlock, a town planner at Urbis, spoke on behalf of the applicant at a Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on February 16.

“We think that will be a significant impediment to attracting appropriate retail and food and beverage clients and tenancies along Healeys Lane,” he said.

Mr Govenlock said the current COVID environment made it difficult to secure tenancies and, as the retail spaces proposed on the ground floor of the development along Healeys Lane were restaurants, the loss of space would be a further barrier.

But the council’s chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece said the importance of Healey Lane and the nature of development surrounding the site made the setback a safety issue.

“Healeys Lane is a narrow laneway. It’s situated between a recently completed very large Central Equity building and then you’ll have this hopefully terrific new Bates Smart building up on the other side of the lane so it is going to be a very heavily used laneway by pedestrians, it also is a laneway that is accessible to cars and because of the number of people in the precinct there will be quite a bit of traffic going up and down,” he said.

Cr Rohan Leppert said the building would be an important addition to the area but agreed the setback should be included as a requirement.

“While I understand the argument that’s been made, what we can’t do as a result of COVID and the economic conditions that COVID has induced is make the public realm less safe and this is a pretty fundamental safety issue,” Cr Leppert said.

“Healeys Lane is a really important through block link between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale [streets], it’s the main way to get through the public realm between the two streets if you’re not going around the block and there is currently a meagre footpath there that we can’t lose.”

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