Not so open ‘public open space’

By Shane Scanlan

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that developer Cbus was again gifting the CBD with nearly 2000sqm of badly-needed open space as part of its development plans for the old Suncorp site at 447 Collins St.

Last year it attempted to trade off a gift of 1990sqm of public “open” space in return for permission to overshadow the south bank of the Yarra.

And while City of Melbourne councillors were enthusiastic in their support for the plan (against their planning officers’ recommendations), former planning minister Matthew Guy said no.

Cbus is back with a new development proposal which has the town talking and councillors gushing in their praise.

This time it complies with south bank overshadowing provisions and is also being sold with an offer of 2000sqm of space.

It’s wrong to be talking about “open” space though.  The precise language used in the documentation speaks of “public space”, “public realm” and, in the words of council planner Jane Birmingham, “publically accessible spaces”.

Those hankering for a return of the sun-drenched 2500sqm forecourt in front of the old Suncorp building, will be sorely disappointed.

The actual “public open space” component of the proposed development is limited to a pocket park on the corner of Collins and Market streets, which is an obligatory contribution from the developer.

Much like a shopping mall, the bulk of the “publically accessible spaces” are forecourts, arcades and entrances to retail as well as the twin towers themselves.

The City of Melbourne is coming to the party though, and wants to contribute 1500sqm of Market St to the cause.  The developers call this genuine open space, the “extension”.

The council supports the developer’s application to the Minister for Planning for a planning scheme amendment for its master plan for the site.

At its Future Melbourne Committee meeting of November 17, acting Lord Mayor Susan Riley said: “I think it looks fantastic.  I absolutely think it’s one of the best developments that I’ve seen in a long time.  It’s got character, it’s got views to the Yarra and I think it will be just a landmark on Collins St.”

Cr Stephen Mayne said: “The twin towers and the terrace are remarkable to look at and I think it’s really going to the captivate the imagination of Melburnians and visitors.”

Cr Arron Wood said: “I think that the design is something that is really going to add to the streetscape and the skyline of the City of Melbourne.”

Having opposed last year’s proposal, which overshadowed the south bank of the river, Cr Rohan Leppert said he was a “little surprised” to be supporting the new application which still overshadows the north bank.

“There’s very little additional overshadowing of the north bank as there is a lot of overshadowing already, given the built form immediately north of Flinders St in that area,” Cr Leppert said.

“The area proposed to be overshadowed is not the open space of Batman Park or Enterprize Park.  It’s predominately space that’s already under overpasses or the railway yards and that sort of thing as well.”

“It’s unfortunate that supporting this means supporting the partial overshadowing above the north bank of the Yarra. However, on balance, given the key positive aspects of this application I’m actually quite happy to do that.  There is a lot more open space here than a straight forward application of the planning scheme would normally require.”

“We need to acknowledge that there is going to be additional open space that’s going to be provided here.  We need to take the best possible planning option that we can and that means we should be supporting the planning scheme amendment before us.”

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