A full Council on-site inspection on Saturday (May 16th) took the first step towards questioning the effectiveness of our Northbridge Town Centre Masterplan.
The Northbridge Town Centre Masterplan (NTCMP) was designed with a clear objective – to prevent the future overdevelopment of Northbridge and to provide a community vision as to how our suburb would evolve. As outlined in the report regarding Business Centres, this was a device and process endorsed and replicated throughout the City of Willoughby.
In the late 1990’s, Developers had a veritable free reign on what they proposed and Councillors had no real guidelines in place to refuse them. A “Plan” was needed to set the foundation as to how our suburb transformed into the future and how this precinct remained commercially viable. The commercial precinct was changing and highrise developments were appearing. The Northbridge Town Centre Masterplan was developed and put into action.
Step forward a decade or so, and Northbridge is a different place to what it was back at the beginning of 2000. A younger demographic has populated the region, attracted by the amenity of the area – in part, put in place by the foresight of those who came before them.
A Development Application was submitted to Council by a well respected and long term commercial entity within our suburb. Their application was the development of a fifth storey on top of their building for meeting rooms and staff amenity use. The issue – it would exceed the height limit imposed by the current Masterplan and Council Legislation. This issue may, on the surface, appear trivial, but the precedent set, if approved by Council, could be, far reaching.
The Council Officers Argument
The argument in favour of the development rests partly with the following:
- the added height will be similar to that of the adjoining building – Castle Gardens,
- that the proposed increased height will only be fractionally higher than the Lift Well currently in place,
- it is an established building and, therefore, the development codes do not apply. (????)
- No precedent is being set – it is a site specific issue.
The Argument Against
- In using the adjoining building (Castle Gardens) as their benchmark for height – the applicant and Council are in fact using one of the very buildings that contributed to the Masterplan being developed. The Northbridge Town Centre Masterplan (NTCMP) was designed to set the limits of future development to ensure the amenity of the area and prevent the replication of past mistakes. It will be ironic, therefore, that the height of the very building that the NTCMP was designed to prevent replication of will be used by our Councillors to over-rule the Masterplan developed;
- A Lift Well is different to an additional storey;
- If Council deems that the development codes in place do not apply to established buildings in Willoughby – what does limit their height and expansion? This will be a loophole for any enterprising developer to explore.
- this may be the first time that the Northbridge Town Centre Master Plan has been contested. If Council does not support it – then it raises many questions regarding the MasterPlan process – their effect and usefulness in determining the development of our City into the future.
The precedents (there are several) become a developers dream when a Council votes unanimously to no longer uphold and, therefore, weaken our community and Council endorsed Planning codes. With little apparent regard for the Community and City vision in place – Councillors may soon, unanimously vote in favour of establishing a loophole for which Developers can manipulate and avoid compliance with the legislative codes in place. In doing so, Councillors will have confirmed their disregard for community planning – your community vision will matter little. Are they opening the door to having their decisions contested more readily by higher alternative planning authorities?
Should the Community Plans be reviewed? Maybe – but only after gaining resident and community input. They should not be revised under these conditions.
For further comments – see Building heights under threat