Berejiklian government backs over-shadowing of future public square

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The state government is pushing to allow larger buildings to overshadow a long-planned public square in the heart of the city.

A proposed $650 million redevelopment of Cockle Bay Wharf has triggered another dispute between Clover Moore’s City of Sydney Council and Gladys Berejiklian's government over development controls in the inner city.

The Department of Planning and Environment is supporting a proposal for a 183-metre tower to be built on the eastern edge of Darling Harbour. That support is against the strong resistance of the council, which is trying to prevent more overshadowing of a long-mooted public domain at Town Hall.

An artist's impression of the Cockle Bay redevelopment, which features a 183-metre office tower, retail precinct and park.

An artist's impression of the Cockle Bay redevelopment, which features a 183-metre office tower, retail precinct and park.Credit:GPT Wholesale Office Fund, AMP Capital Wholesale Office Fund, Brookfield

Town Hall Square does not yet exist. But the City of Sydney has been slowly acquiring a parcel of properties across George Street from the Sydney's Town Hall, which it is hoped will eventually constitute a rare open space in the city.

And the size of the Cockle Bay tower is such that, according to shadow studies, the proposal could increase the shadowing on a future Town Hall Square for up to 15 minutes in the late afternoon in autumn and spring.

But the Department of Planning has recommended the project's approval. That is on the basis that it is "unreasonable to protect solar access to the future [Town Hall Square] after 4:00 pm."

The recommendation triggered a furious response from the lord mayor, Cr Moore. In a minute adopted on Monday , Cr Moore said the Department’s position was a “shocking admission about one of the most important future public spaces in the global city of Australia – especially in light of the NSW government’s recent announcement about the introduction of a ‘Minister for Public Spaces’.”

In a draft strategy released three years ago, the City of Sydney Council resolved, in effect, to allow taller developments through the CBD, provided sunlight protections for a number of open spaces were preserved.

Town Hall Square was one of a number of spaces to be protected in the strategy, along with places such as the Botanic Gardens, Martin Place and Prince Alfred Park.

But the government has refused to put the strategy on public exhibition – citing concerns over the strategy’s proposed cap on CBD residential development. The stand-off means developers are not required to adhere to the strategy.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Department said the “future Town Hall Square is overshadowed by existing buildings at various times throughout the day”.

An artists' impression of the proposed Town Hall Square, for which the City of Sydney has been slowly acquiring properties.

An artists' impression of the proposed Town Hall Square, for which the City of Sydney has been slowly acquiring properties.Credit:City of Sydney

“On the most affected day (September 9) it would receive significant direct sunlight between 12.30pm and 4pm and is therefore capable of providing a high-quality open space," the spokeswoman said.

The Cockle Bay tower has been proposed by a consortium of GPT, Brookfield and AMP Capital. According to the shadow studies, the tower would contribute to a maximum of about 6.8 extra hours of shadow on Town Hall Square per year.

A spokesman for the consortium said the tower envelope had been adjusted to limit shading of Town Hall Square to a "very small period of time".

"High quality public space with solar access is a key component of our proposal, which will include a new public park over the Western Distributor that will enjoy sunshine throughout the year," the spokesman said.

Because there were more than 25 objectors to the tower, including the council, the Department last month referred the proposal to the Independent Planning Commission. The commission, which will have the power to determine the proposal, will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, March 5.

In her mayoral minute, Cr Moore noted that “until now” developers had abided by the draft solar access provisions included in the planning strategy.

She said Town Hall Square was “one of the few locations in central Sydney that enjoy sun until 6pm in summer.” That was because the existing heritage buildings such as the QVB, Town Hall, and St Andrew’s Cathedral had prevented high-rise development in the area.

“The draft control put forward in our Central Sydney Planning Strategy was for no further overshadowing in the afternoon than what currently exists until sunset,” Cr Moore said.

Premier Berejiklian last week said she would appoint a minister to “champion” open space.

Planning schemes have triggered multiple recent clashes between the government and council. For instance, the government approved a new Macquarie Group tower at Martin Place, which was opposed by the IPC and the council on the basis that it was not set back enough from the public square.

Cr Moore is also concerned about the intensity of a development proposed at Waterloo near a new metro station.