10 Sep 2020

16,500 new jobs, over 6,600 new dwellings and two major rezonings completed. The transformation of St Leonards Crows Nest is set into motion. But have they got the right balance between increased density and growth and community preferences?

The renewal of the St Leonards Crows Nest Strategic Centre has been given the go ahead following the release of the St Leonards Crows Nest Plan 2036. The State-led planning package includes both the final Plan and importantly, the final Special Infrastructure Contribution (SIC) Plan. The Crows Nest Metro sites plans and St Leonards South Planning Proposal which are in the strategic area, were also completed and lay the foundations for change in this part of the Northern Sydney. Now finalised, has the Strategic Plan missed the mark?

They key moves of the plan, changed from the 2018 draft, include:

  • The abolition of proposed significant sites; replaced with site specific controls.
  • A marked reduction in the scale of many planned mixed-use residential towers.
  • A doubling of the employment floorspace to 119,979sqm to deliver capacity for an additional 16,500 jobs in the precinct by 2036.
  • Introduction of maximum Floor Space Ratios (FSR) by site.

Once the metro station is built, St Leonards Crows Nest will be one of the best-connected centres in Sydney. This lends the precinct to becoming the ideal location for increased residential densities to support a 30-minute city. However, there is a disconnect between the community view on density and the need for residential growth. The dramatic reduction of residential potential begs the question, what is the plan to identify future suitable areas for medium term housing growth? Will local communities support future urban density changes in more sensitive lower scale areas? Time will tell.

Balancing the competing views and interests is the age-old conundrum for government planners to establish a plan which represents all views. Striking the balance of flexibility and prescription is a key challenge. In this context, the notion of setting a long-term strategy that indicates prescribed densities will create undesired future challenges.

The Plan establishes a clear logic and case for a ‘twin-peak’ skyline profile. Establishing street scale controls is essential to create the street-level character and human experience. However, the introduction of maximum FSR controls should never sit in a strategy document. This level of prescription is a step beyond what is necessary. The FSR should be an outcome, not the driver, established through detailed architectural modelling, which cannot reasonably be anticipated in a strategy. In this aspect, the right balance between stringent controls and flexibility for fluid growth has not been achieved.

Built form and planning controls

Indicative planning controls have been included in the final Plan and outline:

  • changes to zoning
  • increased building heights
  • expanded FSR
  • street wall heights and setback requirements

Special Infrastructure Contribution

The SIC for the area, which is the first for an infill precinct in Sydney, applies to residential development within Intensive Residential Use Land. The Government has developed a ‘flexible’ SIC infrastructure schedule (amounting to $116,581,576) and will focus on post-implementation delivery planning in collaboration with State agencies and councils to align with future planning proposals and rezoning.

A rate of $15,100 per additional dwelling will apply prior to 1 July 2021 and will be indexed by CPI annually. To help new development proposals adapt to the charge, the SIC will be phased over three years, with a 50% reduction in 2020-21 and a 25% reduction in 2021-22. The full rate will apply from 1 July 2022, and COVID response measures regarding the deferral of contributions payments continue to apply.

Affordable housing and build-to-rent 

No affordable housing target has yet been identified. It is recommended within the Plan that further investigation to support affordable housing targets is required. Once established, affordable housing targets will be applied in defined precincts prior to rezoning.

Aligning with recent Government announcements and moves to incentivise Build-to-Rent, an action is included in the Plan to explore these opportunities within the precinct.

Crows Nest Metro Station sites

The Crows Nest Metro Station sites have been approved concurrently with the release of the final Plan. Some significant amendments were made following consultation on the draft plan which have seen a 20% reduction in size of the building envelopes, reduction in the maximum permitted building heights and new design excellence requirements. However, increased job opportunities are facilitated through the revised non-residential FSR controls across the precinct.

An amended concept proposal for the sites is now on exhibition.

St Leonard’s South

The long-awaited St Leonards South Planning Proposal has been approved. The final Council-led plan reduces the residential yield by some 17 percent across the precinct.

The plan requires site amalgamation, substantial open space and a design excellence requirements to unlock bonus incentives. Any built form variations to the development standards are prohibited.

A Ministerial Direction will endorse the Plan and require all future relevant planning proposals to demonstrate consistency with the current strategy. Each relevant Council (North Sydney, Lane Cove & Willoughby) will be responsible for progressing planning proposals through amendments to their respective Local Environment Plans to give effect to the built form recommendations.

Further work will also be required to implement changes to each Council’s planning framework. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be for specific sites.

For further information on the St Leonard’s Crows Nest Plan and how this impacts your project, please contact Stephen White

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