Monday, April 7, 2014

Objection to the Draft LEP for a change to the building heights in Newcastle East

New South Wales Department of Planning

SUBJECT:  Draft Revised LEP Clause 7.9(4)
The extreme number of documents issued for public comment, including a mere two week exhibition period for the City Centre SEPP, by the Department of Planning & Infrastructure is outrageous to the degree that the department appears to have arranged this in an effort to minimise sound and reasoned comment from the general public and organised interest groups.
  It appears from an initial reading that the department has been successfully swayed by the GPT submission to change the Newcastle LEP (2012) by radically increasing heights on properties owned by GPT and NSW Urban Growth, who have a financial interest in these sites.
The SEPP and proposed amendments to the City Centre DCP appear simply to mirror the “renewal” proposal by GPT and Urban Growth. Both these bodies are property developers with a clear conflict of interest, including a pecuniary interest in redevelopment of the CBD. Urban Growth is a public sector entity. Therefore, the NSW government should have taken an arms- length approach to the new planning instruments. They should have been subject to a genuine independent review.
Further, Newcastle City Council’s planning staff and its independent Urban Design Consultative Group appear to have had no role in oversight of the draft SEPP or the GPT/Urban Growth plan.
The GPT/Urban Growth plan and the draft SEPP fly in the face of sound and still relevant principles of planning documents produced by Newcastle City Council, some with ministerial approval, over almost two decades, including its 1998 Urban Strategy, the c1990 DCP 30, LEP 2003, City Centre LEP 2008, LEP 2012 and even the 2013 Newcastle Urban Renewal Strategy produced by Hunter Development Corporation, notionally for the Department of Planning.

Newcastle - An urban historic city
Newcastle's "Old Town" area below the Cathedral is rich with heritage buildings, lanes and interesting shopfronts on a human scale without the need for additional heights to further overshadow the spaces.  The area has been protected by a heritage conservation area for many decades.
Further, views of the CBD’s eastern precinct from Nobbys or Stockton reveal a highly significant urban cultural landscape with relatively low, human scale built development that respects the topography of The Hill (east of Darby Street) with Christ Church Cathedral at its apex. The proposed   high rise towers would constitutes a gross and crude visual intrusion into this historic urban landscape. There are plenty of opportunities for redevelopment that respect this urban character. The SEPP, however, does not. It is interesting to note that even the 2007 GPT proposal paid far more respect to the principles of previous planning instruments and largely respected the historic urban character of the eastern CBD.
The influx of a nineteen storey tower block on the former David Jones car park site has an unacceptable impact on the heritage significance of the conservation area and surrounding heritage items.  Similarly, the fourteen storey tower on Wolf Street presents an unacceptable intrusion on this sensitive area.  Both sites should be substantially scaled back to twelve and eight storeys respectively (or fewer) to reduce impact.
The Newcastle LEP 2012 encouraged high-rise to occur in the west end of the city where there is a greater opportunity for redevelopment incorporating views over the city and the harbour. 
The Hunter Regional Committee of the National Trust (NSW) objects to the removal of Clause 7.9(4) of the Newcastle LEP (2012) as this clause specifically protects view corridors to and from the Cathedral, an iconic building in Newcastle.  The deletion of this clause removes all legal protection of views to and from the Cathedral.
This draft LEP should be reconsidered and re-written to delete the potential of high rise development impacting on this portion of the Newcastle "Old Town" from interfering with view corridors to and from the Cathedral.
We also oppose the proposed maximum height increase on the Hunter Street block between Darby and Auckland Street from 30n to 45m.The rationale for this appears to be to allow for the University’s ambitious plan to redevelop the western (Auckland Street) end. The 30 m maximum height was partly designed to visually protect the nearby, State Heritage Register listed City Hall. In the past the University have argued that existing buildings on the northern side of Hunter Street opposite the university site already exceed the 30 m height development standard. However, it needs to be recognised that the LEP is a strategic instrument and any future new development on the northern side would be expected to comply with the maximum 30m height.
In conclusion:
The SEPP claims to be driven by claims about “economic” revitalisation. This is at the expense of sound, accepted urban design and heritage considerations.” Economic” appears to be a euphemism for GPT and NSW Urban Growth’s desire for maximum development and profit opportunities. Further, there appears to be no genuine independent oversight by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure of the urban design implications of GPT/Urban Growth’s proposals.