Sirona's high hopes

The West Australian

20th March 2019.

Examples of “how not to do it” are all over the world, leaving Perth in a strong position to deliver quality density well, aspiring South Perth developer Sirona Capital says.

Its $110 million, 42-storey Lyall Street Residences was knocked back by the Metro Central Joint Development Assessment Panel in December despite hurdling design excellence criteria and being on an appropriate site.

Metro Central JDAP presiding member Megan Adair said then that gaps in the planning framework made it impossible to approve it.

The City of South Perth this month endorsed a draft activity centre plan — the decision to defer it weeks before the JDAP hearing contributed to the planning “limbo” that incensed Sirona Capital — to encompass 100ha from the tip of the peninsula to Richardson Park and the Perth Zoo.

City of South Perth mayor Sue Doherty said the council had invested a lot of time and resources into its draft plan and did not take lightly its responsibility to deliver a strategic plan for future development.

“I need to balance the views of everyone to work on incorporating equilibrium between social and financial benefits,” Ms Doherty said.

Adopting the draft plan was “a bit of a breakthrough”, Sirona Capital managing director Matthew McNeilly said.

“Hopefully, we can all make mature decisions about what is appropriate,” he said. He opposed height limits of 123m proposed for the Lyall Street Residences site, (Sirona’s tower is 144m) but he said: “We are starting to get pretty close.”

He said once the South Perth Activity Centre Plan was advertised the Metro Central JDAP would have access to a framework under which it could make a decision.

WA Planning Commission chairman David Caddy in November said that as well as community resistance and land fragmentation, State Government density and infill targets were being hampered by “sometimes inconsistent policy frameworks that can be challenging to navigate”, “poorly designed existing developments”, concerns about tree canopies, traffic and parking.

Several near-city local government areas, including South Perth, Nedlands and Subiaco, have had bruising encounters with vocal residents opposed to updating local planning schemes. It has created widespread concern that the voices of residents who want local governments to plan for the future are not being heard.

Planning schemes are crucial for preserving character and heritage areas, ensuring appropriate spaces for denser mixed-use projects near public transport and services and to accommodate future generations in suburbs with great amenity that are close to jobs.

Local Government Minister David Templeman has urged everyone to ensure the debate is civil and well informed.

Mr McNeilly said the outcome of the debate about quality density on the South Perth peninsula was of critical importance to housing affordability for future generations.

“If we build a beautiful new tower, I suspect a lot of our buyers will be local buyers upgrading from existing stock,” he said.

“What that does is free up older, existing (housing) for other people to move into (which) helps the State Government meet its density targets.

“We are catering for luxury but it helps cater for everyone.” When asked whether he would consider removing a couple of storeys from the Lyall Street Residences, Mr McNeilly said he would prefer not to.

“I think what we have designed is outstanding,” he said. “We are trying to raise the bar in terms of the design of apartment buildings.” The City of South Perth’s activity centre plan clearly promoted tall, slender towers over short squat buildings on key sites, including Sirona’s.

“There’s a way to go, clearly but I am far more confident than I was in December,” Mr McNeilly said. “The passage of time is a killer — these things take time — but I am pleased we are back on the right track.

“Bear in mind, we have a joint venture partner in Singapore, they are investing real money, and you can imagine their heads spinning a bit when they are told the framework doesn’t allow approval.”

The City of South Perth brought forward its vote on the activity centre plan, which had set down for April or May, after the WAPC intervened.

Now the council has voted to endorse the draft and its scheme amendment No.61 and sent it to the WAPC for its signoff before it is advertised for public feedback.

It was important to learn from past mistakes, Ms Doherty said, alluding to the failure to incorporate setbacks in amendment No. 25, which triggered a community backlash and prompted amendment No. 46.

“We have spent so much time and energy and money fighting what we didn’t want,” Ms Doherty said. “It is time to say what we do want and enable our community to let us know their thoughts.”