State steps in to stop City of South Perth setting tower height limits

Sydney Morning Herald

8th January 2019.

The City of South Perth is the latest suburban council strongarmed by the WA Planning Commission, which has moved to block it from reintroducing building height limits on the South Perth Peninsula.

The WAPC has intervened in planning processes for the cities of Nedlands and Subiaco to force higher density.

It had set the Nedlands a target of 4400 additional dwellings by 2050 and Subiaco a target of 6000, but then, when these councils drafted planning schemes accordingly, the state authority then requested each council accommodate an additional 9000 each.

It has now turned its attention to the area around Mill Point, Narrows Bridge and Perth Zoo.

In recent years, City of South Perth planners have rezoned areas of Labouchere and Mill Point Roads and Melville Parade, facing the freeway, and the connecting smaller streets, seeking to encourage development, enliven the area and meet the WA Planning Commission's density targets.

But the level of developer enthusiasm to take advantage of unlimited height “bonuses” and the rash of apartment towers proposed at 30-44 storeys exceeded expectations, and quickly sparked backlash.

The council’s 2016 attempt to reintroduce height limits on the peninsula was slapped down by previous planning minister Donna Faragher and now the WAPC has moved to block another attempt.

Residents thought their council was finally listening to their campaign against the latest draft activity centre plan for the peninsula, which had opened the door to buildings of 49 and even 70 storeys if developers amalgamated lots large enough to make this technically possible (Perth’s tallest building, the Rio Tinto Central Park Tower, is 52 storeys).

Residents are worried about skyscrapers hard up against much smaller homes and apartments (currently mostly 4-9 storeys) and potential impacts to traffic, sunlight and tree canopy that they thought was glossed over in the draft.

They have questioned population and dwelling forecasts used for the peninsula plan, saying they are inconsistent with the Perth and Peel planning frameworks.

They say the peninsula plan was also done out of turn, before the city-wide Local Planning Strategy, defying state policy in which city-wide plans are meant to be done before area-level plans.

Seven community groups, including the City of South Perth Residents Association and action groups from Manning, Salter Point, Como and the Peninsula, have banded together to protest both to the council and the WAPC.

“Here was a community ready, willing and quite excited about a new planning scheme that would enliven a dreary area, encourage new employment and revitalise the retail sector,” spokeswoman Vicki Redden wrote to WAPC chairman David Caddy.

“Naively we believed the blurb that told us that the character, amenity and liveability would be maintained, and the unique landscape and heritage would be protected.

“We accepted, as did the WAPC, that there would be an increase of about 1200 new dwellings, there were expected heights of 4, 8 and 11 storeys with a chance of some bonus.

“But somewhere along the way this new scheme was hijacked.

“We’ve attempted to work with the city, we employed planners to advise and ensure we understand the technicalities [but] the only stakeholders given any weight are developers and their consultants.”

In the face of such strong resistance, the City councillors unanimously voted in October 2018 not to progress the current draft to an advertisement for public comment.

They instead resolved to go back to the drawing board and hire consultants to hold further local consultations, this time taking into consideration, amongst many other things, "introduction of a maximum height limit".

The process was planned to be completed by the end of April 2019 and councillors began to hold workshops in preparation.

But on December 17 WAPC chairman David Caddy arrived at one of these workshops and told councillors that the state government had received a request from an unnamed party to intervene.

Mr Caddy said he would be instructing the council to advertise the draft in its current form by the end of January.

And once that happens, the local joint development assessment panel will be officially obliged to take it into account in approving developments, "deeming it to apply" despite the community having not yet had a say; so all rejected developments can reapply and possibly get approved even before the plan is endorsed.

These could include Sirona Capital’s 44-storey tower on the Lyall Street/Labouchere Road corner, knocked back in December over concerns about overshadowing Perth Zoo across the road.

Or Dragon Century’s 43-storey tower proposed for the other end of Lyall Street, facing the freeway, currently the subject of an appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal after the panel refused it.

Or the 30-storey Lumiere project, nicknamed the ‘Frankenstein project’ by locals for its numerous redesigns as the planning goalposts have shifted, currently also the subject of a SAT appeal.

The amalgamated community groups have written to the WAPC and Planning Minister Rita Saffioti requesting an urgent meeting.

A WAPC spokesman said that the City administration had invited Mr Caddy to attend the councillors’ workshop.

He said Mr Caddy had now written to the City “inviting the Council to give consideration to the advertising of the Activity Centre Plan by the end of January 2019, recognising that the draft plan has been prepared after comprehensive technical investigations and significant stakeholder and community engagement."

“It was also noted by the Chairman that further community consultation (including that of the broader community) could be undertaken once the plan is released into the public realm for comment," he said.

“Public advertising of the draft will enable the entire South Perth community and other interested stakeholders to examine the detail of the plan and make written comment. As mentioned above, the Council can undertake various community consultation activities during the public advertising period for the plan, including further community workshops.”

He did not respond to a question about who contacted the state requesting an intervention.

But the City of South Perth might not just roll over.

"The City will be seeking a reasonable extension to this date given the time of year and practicality of working through the matters and the adopted position of Council," said Mayor Sue Doherty.

"The Council is progressing the South Perth Activity Centre Plan as expeditiously as possible and in light of this, further workshops will continue early in 2019. It is anticipated that the draft South Perth Activity Centre Plan and associated scheme amendment will be resubmitted to Council for their consideration early in the new year.

"The Council is committed to ensuring best practice strategic planning processes and outcomes for the City, Council, community and stakeholders that is in line with WAPC planning guidelines."