Treasury Square lacking proper design controls

Katie Johnson

The City of Melbourne has moved to apply dedicated urban design controls to Treasury Square after it was found it was the only site within the central city without them.

The site has been a point of contention with East Melbourne locals since the land was sold to private developers Cbus and Mirvac in 2020 after little consultation with the community.

The motion, raised by Cr Rohan Leppert at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on November 30, requested that Minister for Planning Richard Wynne urgently address the anomaly and “apply urban design controls to Treasury Square”.

The move calls on the council’s CEO Justin Hanney to write to the minister to give effect to the resolution.

East Melbourne Group heritage and planning convenor Greg Bisinella said that the group supported the motion as it would ensure the site is development within a proper and consistent urban design framework.

“This parcel of land is not so unique that it should be treated differently to the CBD planning regulations,” Mr Bisinella said.

“Such a significant site must fall under planning controls that will ensure a positive planning outcome. As it stands Treasury Square is the only developable site in the central city not covered by a dedicated urban design control or policy.”

All developable sites in Melbourne, Southbank and Docklands are subject to an urban design control or policy, ensuring developments make a positive contribution to the public realm.

Under the controls, developments must promote a positive pedestrian environment, integrate with surrounding buildings and fit into the character of the street.   

None of these requirements currently apply to Treasury Square, which was subdivided by the City of Melbourne and rezoned as Capital City land to allow building to occur.

Developer Mirvac and superfund Cbus property won the bid for the land in May last year after VicTrack put it up for sale.

There was huge interest from national and international organisations as the site was marketed as an opportunity to own up-market real estate with a value of more than $2 billion.

The current plan is to build three towers on the 1.4-hectare slice of land spanning Flinders Street railyard to Wellington Parade South.

In Feburary, Residents 3000 president Rafael Camillo told Inner City News that the council should be more focused on protecting and creating public space.

“The perspective of residents is that it could be better used as a public space and for the long-term future of Melbourne it’s important to protect open land,” Mr Camillo said.

“If we start getting massive towers all around the park it will overshadow the space that makes Melbourne special.”

In the long term, rail lines east of the Russell Street Extension to Batman Avenue are expected to be decked over to form what could be Federation Square East.

A new pedestrian and cycle link between the city, parks and the Yarra River has also been proposed.

In the original submission to parliament the City of Melbourne said the possibility of this connection made the site “very significant and strategic”.

“A generous pedestrian connection north-south from Flinders St through the site would connect the south-eastern end of the central city to the Yarra River corridor, and link Treasury Gardens and Birrarung Marr,” it said.

Although there is pressure for the developers to obey local planning guidelines, Mirvac and Cbus have complete freedom when it comes to what to build.

Early plans outline that the development will likely take the form of residential and commercial buildings.

Mr Bisinella said that while EMG supported the council’s push for more consistent controls, they would have preferred the protections of the Design and Development Overlay (DDO) covering East Melbourne apply to this site.

“We have followed this [development] from the start and have been appalled at the way it has been framed and implemented,” Mr Bisinella said.

“We would have preferred greater protections for the site to ensure overshadowing and residential amenity are better protected.” •

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