BY ANNIE GONINAN
On Monday night, Sydney City Council’s Transport, Heritage and Planning Sub-Committee voted on the recommendation to put to Council a planning proposal to list the Bidura Children’s Court building as a heritage item.
As well as amending the Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2012 to reflect this listing, the planning proposal also seeks to amend the height and floor-space ratio development controls that apply to the site, so that they are in line with Council’s own Development Control Plan.
The recommendation was carried, with five councillors voting in favour (Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Philip Thalis, Robert Kok, Jess Scully and Linda Scott), and four against. Deputy Mayor Jess Miller was absent for the vote.
Those who voted against the proposal were the two Liberal councillors, Christine Forster and Craig Chung, along with two independents: Angela Vithoulkas and Kerryn Phelps.
[op cut] Before the vote was taken — and after the developer’s consultant planner, solicitor Alice Spizzo, had addressed the meeting — Cr Phelps asked what advice Council’s legal team could give in respect to a letter from the developer’s lawyers, which had been sent to all of the councillors. She asked if the vote could be held over for a week pending further legal advice. However, it was pointed out to her that this was just a vote on a recommendation, and not the final vote on the proposed listing.
As reported last week in the City Hub, the State government amended the development controls for the Bidura site, against Council’s wishes, before the Glebe property was sold by tender in 2014. As a result, the controls listed in the Sydney Local Environment Plan (SLEP) are now at odds with those listed in Council’s own Development Control Plan, which still lists the site’s maximum height as 18m or 5 storeys, with a density (floor-to-space ratio or FSR) of 1:1. The revised height control for the site in the SLEP is 27m or 8 storeys, with an FSR of 1.5:1.
During the debate Cr Vithoulkas asked why Council was now considering amending the site and density controls given the developer had paid for the site with the SLEP controls in place. But Council’s Director of City Planning, Graham Jahn, and Cr Thalis refuted this argument, with Jahn pointing out that market transactions are not for consideration under the Heritage Act.
Councillor Thalis noted that, “This site was prepared for sale by the state government with boosted development rules, but this does not guarantee that a Development Application (DA) would be approved,” he said, adding that when selling property all real estate agents included the words ‘subject to council approval’ (or S.T.C.A.) in relation to any future development plans.
“The first DA was rejected by the NSW Land and Environment Court and now Council is within its rights to seek to amend the controls,” he said. “These are rights which we are responsibly and properly exercising.”
Thalis noted that the case of the Sirius building in The Rocks had brought the values of modernist buildings, like the Bidura Children’s Court, into sharper focus. Noting that the developer’s second development application for the site is now the subject of a new court case in the NSW Land & Environment Court, he said, “I think this court case is the most important after the Sirius case. I speak very much for the community who want to see the building adapted. They do not like to see distinctive elements of local character — they would say of ‘heritage’, and our experts support them in that — simply trashed.”
The recommendation now goes before the Central Sydney Planning Committee (CSPC) at its meeting this Thursday night, starting at 6pm in the Council Chamber, Town Hall. The CSPC is made up of the Lord Mayor and two councillors (Crs Thalis and Scully) and four state-appointed members. If it clears this next hurdle, it will then be put to the full Council to vote on the proposed listing and changes to the development controls.
Cr Thalis looks forward to public support for Council’s recommendations. “We will need a big and informed turnout at Thursday night’s CSPC to hear the community’s voice in support of this excellent Council initiative,” he said.