The Urban Renewal of Sydney is at risk due to Heritage listing decision

The NSW Government’s decision to accept the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) recommendation to State Heritage list the MLC building at North Sydney imports new risk and cost to investment decisions in Sydney.

Adding a Heritage listing to a building after the site has been up-zoned and authorities have encouraged the new owner to spend millions of dollars on design plans is very disappointing and very costly.

The IPC process was flawed.  The Commissioners appear to have simply rejected the submission from the owner’s professional quantity surveyor regarding the costs associated with rectification of the building.  Instead, the IPC accepted the lazy approach adopted by State Heritage Council who did not even bother undertaking a physical inspection before concluding that the QS assessment of costs was too high. No actual cost evaluation was undertaken by either the IPC or the State Heritage Council. This reflects very poorly on both bodies.

The IPC has accepted the Heritage Council’s advice that while after the 2013 review of post WWII “Modernist Buildings”, there was no decision to list this building, they (the Heritage Council) always intended to get round to considering it at some stage.  This is no way to sensibly manage privately owned assets, yet it was enough to convince the IPC.

Today’s decision flies in the face of the NSW Government’s decision to fast-track the approval for the Metro Station development associated with Victoria Cross Metro station – adjacent to this very site.

It also reveals rank hypocrisy at the Heritage Council.  The Government was happy to see the Ryde Civic Centre demolished and re-developed – despite its prominence, cultural history and architectural merit; but the same body has chosen to heritage list this privately owned building, which is not prominent in location, has never been a place of local significance, does not feature a curved frontage, and is, frankly, ugly.

Many government leaders, including the Mayor of North Sydney, encouraged investment in this very site for the purpose of its redevelopment.

Government actively sought, at every stage of the assessment process, to encourage the current owner to proceed with investment decisions. This is not surprising given the current owner’s (Investa) $600 million proposal would have delivered in the order of 2,200 jobs and considerable improvements to the streetscape and functionality of the North Sydney CBD.

The decision by the Minister for Heritage, Hon Don Harwin MLC, today renders the purchase of a site in Sydney for development akin to an exercise of Russian Roulette.

Not only does NSW have the slowest and most complicated planning system in the country; the highest fees and charges; and now there is a green light for activist architects to misuse the very concept of heritage to pull the rug out from any reasonable development plan. This decision represents a very dangerous precedent which is making investors very nervous.

Download PDF Version.