Opinion Piece – There is room for an inn – The Daily Telegraph

By July 26, 2019News

By Christine Forster, The Daily Telegraph Friday 26th July 2019

News that the state’s planning department has recommended against the new hotel tower proposed by Ritz-Carlton at The Star in Pyrmont will come as a disappointment to the Sydney tourism sector, which is desperate for new hotel accommodation.As revealed by The Daily Telegraph, officials from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment met with representatives of The Star on Thursday and formally advised they would recommend against the development in their report to the Independent Planning Commission.State significant developments such as the $500 million Ritz-Carlton Tower are referred to the IPC if the local council opposes or if there are more than 25 objections from the public.

There is a precedent for the IPC to overturn such a recommendation, but the decision is a massive blow to the proponents, who have been working with the department on the plans for the tower for four years.

According to the Department, the proposal has “not been subject to any strategic planning process or community consultation,” a statement which echoes the assertions of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore.

In an opinion piece on these pages yesterday, the Lord Mayor claimed there was “largely unanimous” community opposition to the new hotel tower.

Aside from the obvious point that opposition cannot be “unanimous” if it has to be qualified as “largely”, there is evidence in the public domain that contradicts both her and the findings of the department.

According to documents published on the department’s website, there were 138 submissions in response to a 28-day public exhibition period for the Ritz-Carlton project, which closed in September last year. During that period, The Star ran multiple community consultation sessions, and nearly 5000 people visited the information display of the plans and model.

At the end of the period a total of 110 submissions were received from the public. Of those, 83 were objecting and 25 expressing support, with another two simply commenting. That means nearly 23 per cent of the 110 members of the public who wished to have their say were in favour of the Ritz Carlton proposal.

Such a process can hardly be described as a failure to consult and such a result can hardly be characterised as “largely unanimous”, whichever way the Lord Mayor would like to twist the figures.

In handing down its decision, the department said it does not accept the proponent’s justification that the tower sits within a “global waterfront precinct”. This seems a curious finding given the site is bang on the foreshore, within a few minutes’ walk from Darling Harbour.

On the positive side, the department “acknowledges some economic and other public benefits would arise from the proposal”.

But it added that “these benefits are not considered sufficient to outweigh the impacts identified in relation to the proposed tower and its inappropriate relationship to the immediate and wider area”.

In fact, it’s estimated that the project would create 1000 jobs in the construction phase alone, at a time when lack of confidence in the residential sector is hurting the construction industry. It would also fill some of the chronic supply gap in Sydney’s hotel sector, where occupancy rates are hovering at a consistently high 85-90 per cent.

According to figures from Destination NSW, international and domestic visitor nights in Sydney are expected to increase from around 103 million in 2016-17 to more than 170.7 million in 2026-27. As the Lord Mayor acknowledged, “there is an urgent need for hotels in the city, to attract tourists and to maintain our status as the global city of Australia.”

And despite her suggestions otherwise, this project was never about expanding the existing casino, it was just about adding a world-class hotel and residential tower in a strategic location close to existing tourism infrastructure.

There is no doubt that the Ritz-Carlton Tower is big, but Sydney is a global city and it should have tall, iconic buildings.

The city also needs a balanced and pragmatic approach to assessing those development proposals, not the agenda-driven politicking that Clover Moore brings to the process.

In my seven years on City of Sydney Council I’ve listened time and again to the Lord Mayor bemoaning her lack of planning authority over state significant sites such as the Ritz-Carlton Tower. She did it most famously with Barangaroo, carping about the height, scale and design of the buildings, the cars it would supposedly attract, and the alleged lack of open community space.

And yet Barangaroo is now a hugely successful and bustling new precinct, home to thousands of workers and attracting overseas and local visitors to its restaurants and parkland. If the planners had listened to the Lord Mayor as they considered approving this globally significant redevelopment it would never have happened. I hope for the sake of our city that the Ritz-Carlton gets a fair hearing as it moves into the next phase of the planning process.

“There is no doubt that the Ritz-Carlton Tower is big, but Sydney is a global city and it should have tall, iconic buildings. The city also needs a balanced and pragmatic approach to assessing those development proposals, not the agenda-driven politicking that Clover Moore brings to the process.”

Christine Forster is a Liberal councillor in the City of Sydney