The new controls were offered as alternatives to the old controls, meaning landowners could still choose to apply old controls if preferred.
However, developers embraced the new scheme; they are not only achieving the objectives of the alternative controls but have instigated further improvements. For example, Lendlease purchased properties owned by Westpac, St George and ‘Jacksons on George’ sites and is using this significant landholding to achieve an even better public domain.
Lendlease is relocating the urban space planned for the centre of the street block to a site with better sunlight and a more prominent George Street frontage. Moving this space to George Street also improves access to the new light rail link along George Street.
With the prospects of future developments vastly improved, various international design competitions have been held for developments within the block and some of Sydney’s most exciting modern architecture will be developed there. In short, the establishment of alternate development controls was a pioneering statutory planning concept for the city and has been taken up by the market for the benefit of all.
The AMP precinct
Two blocks to the east, another urban planning dilemma was brewing at Circular Quay.
For twenty years, AMP had been buying up land between Loftus Street and Phillip Street waiting for the right time to propose a tower behind the heritage building, Customs House at Macquarie Place.
Successive councils had declined AMP’s proposal. In the 1990s, council had studied the area around Macquarie Place and determined that the park and its Moreton Bay fig tree were already subject to too much overshadowing and whatever sun access remained should be protected. The 1996 Local Environmental Plan also protected sunlight to the nearby First Government House plaza on Bridge Street. In other words, extending the height limit for the properties behind Customs House was out of the question.
Previously, AMP approached Architectus among others asking what could be done. We were able to conceive a tower shape that actually protected sunlight to Macquarie Place during the 10am–12pm control time in midwinter but, problematically, overshadowed First Government House plaza. At the time, I thought this was a good idea as First Government House was already significantly overshadowed.
More than a decade later in 2008, Lord Mayor Clover Moore asked what could be done about the AMP tower. I reasoned that although there a was a tower solution, it no longer seemed feasible given how imperative sunlight protection controls had become in the 20 years of the operating plan.
By then I had begun thinking about the taller AMP tower on nearby Bridge Street, a building with a floorplate that was much smaller and out of date compared to the then recently approved Barangaroo office towers with their large floor plates.
I thought that a compromise might be reached with AMP through which the “air-rights” for the land behind Customs House were transferred to the existing AMP towers site on the next street block to the east.
The council urban design team outlined how the floorplate of the taller existing tower could be almost doubled with a partly new lift core yet still maintain good separation from the heritage lower AMP tower. Such a large floorplate tower would still protect sunlight to the Domain parkland.
We took this idea to AMP who seemed somewhat reluctant to empty 60 storeys of paying tenants for the council’s idea, which was far less exciting than their hope for a new tower behind Customs House.
A few years later, to their great credit, AMP came around, and a longstanding issue was resolved. They have since held an international design competition and the city will get two new architectural triumphs in an enlarged tall tower as well as a new urban quarter at low rise scale behind Customs House.
Strategic Advisor at Architectus, Michael Harrison has 40 years of experience in urban design and planning and architecture. He led the Architectus Urban Design and Planning discipline from 1985 to 2018. From 2007 to 2011, he was seconded to Sydney City Council as Executive Director of the City Strategy and Design division.