Sydney's Lord Mayor says designs for new Macquarie Bank towers will destroy Martin Place as a public space

An artist’s impression of the northern tower in Macquarie Bank’s proposal for Martin Place. Source: Supplied

  • Macquarie Bank has a proposal for a huge new development around Martin Place, a pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of Sydney’s CBD.
  • The plan breaches some conventions for building design in the area but is progressing through the state government planning process.
  • Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore says the new development will block views in the area, reduce the heritage value of Martin Place, and runs counter to agreed planning approaches.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore claims plans for two new office towers by Macquarie Bank will damage the historic Martin Place pedestrian precinct after the NSW government ignored two independent reports into the development which advised against allowing it to encroach on the area in contravention of local planning rules.

Last year, Macquarie sent the government an unsolicited proposal – the same method James Packer utilised for his hotel and casino development at Barangaroo – to turn the area surrounding its historic Sydney HQ into a massive integrated office development that connects the Martin Place train station with the new Sydney Metro station, which is due to be completed in 2024.

The bank’s plan takes control of developing the station area as well as the above-ground sites from the government, comparing its idea to New York’s World Trade Center station. Macquarie’s heritage-listed headquarters at 50 Martin Place sits at the centre of the concept.

But Moore and the council have accused the bank of flouting local planning laws and ignoring the council in its bid to push through the development.

At the heart of the dispute is a 1990s planning convention that keeps buildings back from the pedestrian thoroughfare. The norm is for the setback to be 25 metres, but the bank’s building will come forward 13 metres into the pedestrian thoroughfare, which Moore says will block views and cover key areas in shade.

The Lord Mayor has accused the state government of ignoring two independent reports backing the existing rules in favour of the bank’s plan. She said even the NSW Government’s own HQ at 52 Martin Place had to abide planning control which is now being abandoned in favour of Macquarie’s development.

“The State’s approval ignores the 25 metre setback control that has been in place for a quarter of a century,” she said.

“The result will block views to the GPO clock tower and reduce sunlight, daylight and wind protection to pedestrians in Martin Place and the surrounding streets and overshadow the MLC forecourt.”

Council modelling suggests the southern tower will block morning sun from the forecourt of the Harry Seidler-designed MLC centre, with the property’s joint owners, Dexus‎ and ‎GPT Group‎, objecting to the proposal.

Moore says the Macquarie plan could damage the heritage value of the precinct.

“This rubber stamped proposal threatens the significant heritage values of Martin Place, where some of our most important events and rituals are held, including ceremonies at the Cenotaph to honour those that fought and died in war,” she said.

While no official announcement on approval has been made by the NSW government, and the project needs Cabinet approval, the Department of Planning reportedly signed off on the Macquarie proposal last week after the Government Architect, Peter Poulet, backed the plan. A separate report commissioned by the Department’s said the office tower on the southern side of Martin Place should be set back at least eight metres from the public space, but its preference was for at least 12 metres.

Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts said the proposal to amend the Local Environmental Plan (LEP) for the Martin Place development as considered on its individual merits and is a separate matter to the overall project.

“It was not to approve any final design for a tower on the Macquarie Group site,” he said

“The proposed setback is in the context of the final design meeting a Design Review Panel’s requirements.”

An artist’s impression of the southern tower. Source: supplied

Macquarie Group, which last week announced an announced a net profit after tax of $A2.557 billion for FY18 to 31 March, up 15% on the previous year, argued against any setback on the grounds that it “could have negative implications for the commercial viability of the development” and limit the architectural possibilities.

The Lord Mayor said the Department of Planning’s decision also goes against written advice from the independent Planning Assessment Commission to maintain the 25 metre setback.

“The Commission warned that the proposed building envelopes could result in ‘very large, bulky development’ that could have a ‘significant negative impact on the urban outcome and be distinctly out of character with the surrounding buildings and their context’,” Moore said.

Anthony Roberts accused Moore of hypocrisy over her claims when it came to the 33 storey redevelopment of 60 Martin Place currently underway, having backed the project with a minimum setback of 4.8m to Martin Place.

“The Central Sydney Planning Committee (CSPC) unanimously supported the planning proposal and approved the DA for 60 Martin Place,” Roberts said.

“On both occasions The Lord Mayor Councillor Clover Moore was Chair of the committee and further moved to support the planning proposal for 60 Martin Place.”

A spokesperson for the City of Sydney said the council had “vigorously opposed” the bank’s push into the pedestrian thoroughfare, and accused Macquarie of “bypassing the established process involving both Council and the Central Sydney Planning Committee” and the Department of Planning of also cutting the council out of the decision-making process.

“The changes are not consistent with the City’s Central Sydney Planning Strategy which balances additional development with the need to maintain pedestrian amenity and conserve significant heritage,” the spokesperson said.

“They are not consistent with the shared vision of the State Government and the City for Martin Place to remain a pedestrian-focussed civic space at the heart of the city.”

They accused the Department of Planning of undermining 25 years of decision-making in the precinct when others had already invested more than $1 billion in private development in the area.

“The willingness of the NSW Government to accept Unsolicited Proposals seeking concessions is turning planning on its head. They are confidential transactions which are often based on unreasonable planning concessions being given,” the spokesperson said.]

Minister Roberts said Macquarie Group’s proposal aimed to deliver the new Metro Station at Martin Place within an integrated civic, retail and commercial development.

He said final approval still had some way to go, including further consultation over the final design.

“Detailed design of the building façade will also ensure the development is consistent with historic buildings in the Martin Place precinct. The Government Architect will contribute to the final detailed design,” Roberts said.

Business Insider also sought comment from Macquarie Group in response to the Lord Mayor’s claims, but we’ve yet to receive a response. We’ll add an update if and when we hear back from them.

* Editor’s note: This story has been updated following a response from the Planning Minister.

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