Tape brings plans unstuck

It is hard enough getting developments through the planning system with its red tape and green tape barriers, but a new hurdle is emerging from Canberra: heritage tape.

It is hard enough getting developments through the planning system with its red tape and green tape barriers, but a new hurdle is emerging from Canberra: heritage tape.

A few months ago, a seemingly innocuous technical report appeared on the website of the federal Environment Department that analysed views from Old Government House in Parramatta.

The report went on to describe a one-kilometre-long arc from Old Government House that established where significant views from the house would be affected. The problem is that all Parramatta's city centre is within the significant view zone. A further arc was drawn half a kilometre long to define "highly significant" impacts on the views from the good governor's front verandah. These spiderweb-like arcs have now trapped a 26-storey building in the highly significant area and the Commonwealth, under the Environmental Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act (EPBC), has taken over planning approval by making it a controlled action.

The technical report now becomes the planning rules, with its dictates on building shape, colours and height. Just imagine if this type of heritage tape spread like a virus through the planning system, such that views from all heritage buildings up to one kilometre away became part of planning controls.

The Urban Taskforce has battled the Parramatta example to ensure it doesn't set a precedent at various levels of government. Developments would need to consider expert technical reports that said the original occupant of a heritage building a kilometre away would have preferred round buildings or no buildings as they gazed from the front door.

The irony is that Governor Macquarie, who lived in Old Government House from 1810 to 1820, built more than 250 buildings in 10 years at a rate of one new building every two weeks. Macquarie was the father of the Australian development industry. He wanted to see Parramatta grow and would probably have been proud to see even a 90-storey building from his verandah as Parramatta City Council is proposing.

Developers have big barriers from red tape and green tape in trying to get planning approvals. We need to stop heritage tape before it spreads throughout the planning system.

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