Poor sales and local anger impact on Civic Heart
A decision by prominent Perth property developer Finbar to substantially scale back the size of its Civic Heart project in South Perth is a major victory for local residents, who have vigorously fought the proposal over the past two years.
Finbar has now conceded that its design for a $400 million 39-storey tower with 600 car bays on Mill Point Road is out of character for the location. It says it intends putting forward a more modest proposal that adheres to City of South Perth planning regulations.
The original proposal on a collection of council owned land was valued and marketed back in 2013 was for an iconic city building of between 17 and 20 storeys that would enliven the city heart with retail, entertainment and space new employment.
Vicki Redden of the South Perth Peninsula Action Group says it wasn't until after purchasing the land from council that Finbar instead proposed a 39-storey monster that would have bought traffic chaos and a complete change to the character of South Perth, with few benefits to the community.
She says: “Finbar can't blame the current South Perth Council. The original proposal for Civic Heart did not comply with the Town Planning Scheme, something that "WA’s largest most trusted apartment developer" should have been aware of.”
At about that time, the current state government introduced joint development approval panels (JDAPs) to approve developments over a certain value. Vicki Redden says the majority on the panels are people set to benefit by development approvals being granted. She says they really should be renamed “developer approval panels.”
But it was the proposal by Edge Developments for 74 Mill Point Rd North that riled residents.
When a 29-storey building was proposed for the beautiful tree-lined street at a height that was four times taller than any existing building, neighbours rose up in protest. Objections from existing residents were loud and clear at the DAP review into the project.
They gained the professional support of property lawyers, planners, engineers and even a former planning minister, who were unanimously opposed. Yet, in May 2015, the joint DAP approved the proposal, despite the fact that historic plane trees were in jeopardy, the traffic would become gridlocked on the constrained streets of the peninsula and the amenity of a well established residential area would be destroyed.
It took a judicial challenge to the Supreme Court by local residents to overturn the decision and to make everyone aware that local government scheme requirements were being ignored and that the JDAP decisions was unlawful.
In the meantime, the City of South Perth had already started work on making its scheme more defined and less open to distortion.
Amendment 46, reinstating a 26-level height limit, was supposed to do that but was fought hard by the property industry lobby groups who did not want their vision for South Perth constrained in any way.
Then came the final crunch. A diving property market post-mining decline and a choked flow of Asian money, stopped sales virtually overnight. The entire projections for increased dwellings and commercial space in South Perth had been met by just three buildings.
Finbar blames uncertainty and the coming scheme amendment changes for making it difficult to sell apartments at Civic Heart.
Finbar says it will announce details of a revised Civic Heart project within months, stating that it is likely to be a smaller development. In the meantime, the development company says it will refund deposits to the buyers who had signed contracts to buy a total of 137 apartments at Civic Heart.
But Vicki Redden says the developers had shot themselves in the foot. “Their greedy proposals were too much, too tall, too many cars, too much traffic for South Perth.”
Vicki Redden stresses the importance for members of the South Perth community to attend the upcoming planning forums and have their say about what they envisage for their suburb.
Best planning or "intelligent urban planning" does not rely on high rise to obtain a good development. She says too few members of the South Perth community were aware of what was happening between 2007 and 2009 and “the wool was pulled over our eyes.”
It is, she says, absolutely essential that the community plays a significant role in developing South Perth’s next local planning strategy, ensuring that the developers and their greedy and privileged mates are not making the decision to suit themselves.
South Perth Peninsula Action Group Inc.