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For all the discussions, public exhibitions, consultations and amendments associated with each Plan review, the principles of the Plans were often disregarded by state and local governments during the heady 1980s, particularly when large-scale developments were involved. The pyramid city form concept, discussed above, was spoiled by the Hyatt hotel building of the ASER project in North Terrace, the State Bank Centre in King William St and the Southgate building in South Terrace. Many precincts lost their distinctive Adelaide character described in the Plan as buildings were replaced by glass and steel towers belonging to a global architectural world.
Journalist Peter Ward, a harsh critic of ACC, commented in 1992 that, ‘for the vision, we look to the first plan, published in 1974 and written by George Clark and Urban Systems Corporation. For the lack of progress see all subsequent volumes. It’s a depressing thing to write’.10 Former Alderman Mark Hamilton would disagree.
He regards the 1976–81 and 1986–91 Plans as the best, the latter ‘a leap forward in providing heritage protection and detailed statements of desired future character for each precinct in the city and North Adelaide’.11 Conversely, the RAIA and BOMA regarded those desired future character (DFC) statements as onerous design controls.
Plot Ratios and Bonuses While ACC tended to uphold the principles and desired future character statements for residential districts, in the core and frame districts (the central business district and surrounding commercial precincts) during the building boom of the late 1980s it often disregarded limitations on height and scale prescribed in the Plan. Principle 15 of the 1986–91 Plan describes the allowable size of a building as the basic and maximum plot ratios. Plot ratio is the amount of floor space permitted per given area of land, calculated by dividing the total floor area of a development by the area of the site on which it is located. The difference between the basic and maximum ratios is usually referred to as the ‘bonus plot ratio’. Bonuses, or additional plot ratio, were supposedly granted for public amenities provided in a project. These are specified in DFC statements for each precinct in the Plan and include appropriate entertainment or tourist facilities, public spaces, through-site pedestrian links, pedestrian canopies, setbacks to buildings at ground or podium level, community Adelaide Review, October 1992, p.5.
Mark Hamilton, personal interview, 17 July 2001.
The Role of Adelaide City Council facilities, visible art works, sculpture or fountains, conservation of heritage and energy-efficient design features.
ACC usually granted plot ratio bonuses for large developments in the CBD.
During the 1980s most of the large developments were office towers, which were relatively cheap to build and could yield a quick return on investment. Some members of ACC in fact believed the Plan was not intended to apply to largescale developments, and bonuses were therefore allowable for those because of the major investment involved. Former Lord Mayor Lomax-Smith retorted: ‘I never understood that argument because all a large site was, was a greater area over which you could make a greater disaster. The qualities were no different, it’s just that the mistakes could look worse. And that has been the effect, the mistakes are worse’.12 Former City Planner John Hodgson presented a more moderate view: ‘there was always an area of discretion because no proposal lines up totally with the Plan, and you have to exercise judgement as to whether departures from the Plan are of such significance as to justify refusal’.13 Llewellyn-Smith claimed that ACC upheld the plot ratio principles strictly while he was City Planner 1974–81 and that developers had to provide significant public benefits to earn a bonus for a project. His claim was corroborated by former Lord Mayor Steve Condous, who said that ‘Michael [Llewelyn-Smith] demanded that plot ratios were always adhered to. He would demand architectural excellence for a 5% bonus plot ratio … He wouldn’t give things away for nothing, whereas today they do’.14 The planning staff and ACC were subjected to more political pressure by the mid-1980s, as investment capital became more readily available and consequently developers sought to build larger and larger buildings: ‘It became so common for bonuses to be given by the council … that effectively plot ratios rose by default.
It was a significant change in the planning system, that the basic plot ratios changed without the owners having to do very much’.15 Property values rose as development potential became the criterion for valuing property, rather than plot ratios specified in the Plan. Developers started to submit ambit claims to find out Jane Lomax-Smith, personal interview, 28 July 2001.
John Hodgson, personal interview, 18 October 2001.
Steve Condous, personal interview, 6 August 2001.
Michael J Llewellyn-Smith, personal interview, 30 July 2001. He and several councillors interviewed by the author allege that the planning staff continued to uphold principles of the City of Adelaide Plan, but the elected members of ACC were more willing to grant bonuses for less return to the public than had previously been the case.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide how much more than the basic plot ratio they could wangle from ACC. Hugh Stretton believes the regular practice of allowing developers bonus plot ratios inflated land prices, reduced the possibilities of low density development in the city and ‘diminished the chances of a range of desirable developments that relied on cheaper land. Aesthetically, I think it made the city look nastier than it could have been. And it discredited land use planning’.16 It also put at risk unlisted and even some heritage-listed Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the core and frame districts because the value of the sites as potential development became greater than their commercial value if retained in their existing form.
Design Panels By the mid-1980s the number of development applications began to increase, putting greater pressure on the staff and elected members. In 1983–84, for example, the Planning Approvals Committee considered an average of half a dozen development applications at its fortnightly meetings. By 1987 the Planning and Environment Committee usually considered two or three times that number — on February 2, for example, the agenda included 25 development applications and 3 letters of intent — and the complexity of the projects was far greater. To lighten ACC’s workload, approval of non-controversial applications was delegated to the Planning Approvals Committee in 1986. The total annual planning applications peaked at 1,109 in 1989 and declined to 835 in 1992.
The annual value of new buildings tells the story of their increased size and cost.
ACC received 40 building applications in 1983 for a total value of $12,861,000, whereas they received 46 building applications in 1990 with a total value of $129,028,000. The peak years for new buildings were 1987–90.17 Adelaide’s former Victorian streetscapes of a human scale were transformed one by one into modern urban caverns walled by office towers, beginning with Grenfell St, then Pirie and Flinders Sts, as bonus plot ratios were granted regularly for features such as pedestrian canopies and podiums or retaining facades of buildings. Shiny towers sprang up alongside heritage-listed buildings, perhaps nowhere more incongruously than the 18-storey Australis building (now SA Water House, 77 Grenfell St) alongside the two-storey heritage Bertram House at 73 Grenfell St. By the end of the 1980s, an oversupply of office space was apparent in the published vacancy rate of around 20 per cent. By 1993, the vacancy rate was Hugh Stretton, personal interview, 11 April 2002.
Corporation of the City of Adelaide, Annual Report 1992, p.28.
The Role of Adelaide City Council still high.18 Speculative developers who had no stake in design or long-term quality often built the new buildings. The Southgate (now Optus) building at King William St and South Terrace, approved in 1988, was an example. It was financed by the Japanese consortium Kumagai Gumi, the same group that partly financed the state government’s ASER project, and designed by Adelaide architect Rod Roach. The developer had secured no tenant before commencing the project, and the building remained vacant for nearly five years. While a prominent architect designed the Southgate, the generic buildings of the 1980s could not match the signature buildings of the inter-war era that made a statement about the companies that commissioned them. Nor did they compare to the restoration of buildings in east Rundle St undertaken by Mancorp Pty Ltd on the periphery of the East End Market from 1993 (see chapter 6).
ACC mostly shied away from design issues, although individual members commented on the poor design of a building from time to time. John Hodgson commented that when he was appointed City Planner in 1988, ‘nobody seemed to be concerned about the standard of architecture …which was pretty parlous’.19 Two strong lobby groups, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (SA Branch) and the Building Owners and Managers Association, opposed changes to the 1986–91 Plan that they regarded as ACC interference in the design of future buildings in Adelaide. In April 1986, forty architects marched on the Adelaide Town Hall to protest against the changes. Their spokesman, John Cooper of the former SA Institute of Technology (now University of South Australia), said the plan review ‘gives “absolute design and aesthetic control” to the elected members and employed officers of the council. Such a control is invidious and will, in all probability, stifle the future of Adelaide’.20 ACC established design panels during City Planner Hodgson’s term, but only after the building boom had done its damage.21 They failed to have the desired effect because the architects on the panels tended not to criticise their colleagues or to assess the proposed projects based on their impact on the character of a townscape.
The DFC statements in the Plan were vague enough to allow ACC considerable The national glut of office space was reported to the 1993 Council of Capital City Lord Mayors. Adelaide had the fourth highest rate of empty office space at 18%, trailing Perth at 31%, Melbourne at 26% and Sydney at 22% (City Messenger, 28 July 1993, p.5).
John Hodgson, personal interview, 18 October 2001.
Advertiser, 25 April 1986, p.9.
See John Hodgson, ‘Review of the Planning System’ (Adelaide: Department of Environment and Planning, 1987), p.13, for his earlier proposal for a Design Review Board for the City.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide Bertram House next to SA Water House, Grenfell St. Courtesy John Emerson
latitude in assessing development proposals. For example, in the 1986–91 Plan the DFC statement for the F17 Hutt St North Precinct in Adelaide reads, ‘although the Hutt St North precinct should be primarily commercial in nature, it should retain its significant quantity of former residential building stock as the basis for its environmental image’.22 Much of the residential building stock in Hutt St was in fact lost during the decade partly because of the vague wording of the DFC statement for the precinct, which implies that an unspecified number of the former buildings could be demolished, and they were. Planners preferred flexibility and resisted prescriptive statements because ACC could refuse a good development application that did not meet all of the requirements of the Plan. That kind of flexibility encouraged ACC to stretch the limits of the Plan and, as Stretton noted, ‘when they had been doing it for a while, then it seemed to many people unfair if they didn’t do it for everybody’.23 Whatever the motivations for approving projects that did not comply with the Plan, ACC’s decisions resulted in a permanent change in the Adelaide’s character.
A sample of the more egregious breaches of the principles of the Plan includes:
• the Commonwealth Bank building in King William St, approved in 1984, and the demolition of the Majestic Hotel and adjacent Warner (formerly Majestic) Theatre, which were considered for listing on the Register of the National Estate.
The Commonwealth Bank’s headquarters replaced the hotel and theatre. It was positioned at an angle to King William St, spoiling the grid pattern favoured by the city planner at the time • the State Bank Centre, approved in 1986, in which the heritage-listed Commonwealth Bank chamber in Currie St was demolished and the replacement office tower exceeded height limits for its precinct by 11 storeys, spoiling the integrity of a heritage streetscapes • the REMM-Myer complex, Adelaide’s largest single undertaking, approved in 1987 with the Premier’s encouragement. A bonus of 2.51 (23,370 square metres) above the allowable basic plot ratio of 4.93 was granted. Three heritage-listed buildings in North Terrace were demolished, leaving only their facades. A yellow fiberglass-clad five-storey office complex and clock tower atop the masonry building frontage was out of character with the heritage facades in North Terrace.
The developer argued the yellow addition, set back from the buildings’ upper edges, could not be seen from North Terrace, but that is only true if the viewer is 1986–91 City of Adelaide Plan, p.115.
Hugh Stretton, personal interview, 11 April 2002.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide directly in front of the buildings on the southern side of North Terrace and not across the street24 • a 12-storey office building at 2-20 Chesser St and 91-99 Grenfell St, approved in
1987. A plot ratio bonus of 2.99 (5,500 sq.m.) was granted for pedestrian cover, retention of character facades (as a podium), landscaping and public uses. This was the first of several multi-storey office buildings which destroyed a precinct of great charm, with narrow lanes and two-storey brick and stone buildings, in the heart of the city • a 9-storey office tower at 92-108 Pirie St, approved in 1987, which was grossly out of scale with its neighbours. A bonus plot ratio was granted for pedestrian canopies and landscaping, an unwarranted concession for a building which extended the destruction of the Chesser St precinct • the Health Commission office building and shops at Hindmarsh Square, Pulteney St and Rundle Mall, approved in 1986 and amended in 1987, which replaced two-storey bluestone shops of significant streetscape character. The ten-storey reflecting glass office tower did not integrate with the new two-storey candycoloured shops around it • the two East End Market sites, a long saga in which ACC in 1987 originally approved an 11-storey hotel and luxury apartment complex on the northern site that would have been out of character with the heritage shops and Botanic Hotel in East Terrace. The hotel’s height was subsequently reduced to nine storeys at the recommendation of the CAPC. The site was sold at great profit with the planning approval, but the development did not proceed.
In overdevelopment of the site, a massive apartment complex looms above the shops at the northern section of the former markets with no setback of the building as proposed in a conservation study commissioned by the state government in 1990.
The southern market site at East Terrace between Rundle and Grenfell Sts was the focus of three multi-million dollar proposals from 1987 to 1992 consisting of office, residential, retail and entertainment buildings which were abandoned because of financial losses. State government intervention ultimately resulted in a residential project in the market grounds, with heritage buildings at the In an example of changing values, two years earlier ACC had refused permission for Myer Stores to erect an entrance canopy and under-awning sign at Goldsborough House in North Terrace because of the impact, relatively minor and temporary, on the heritage building. Report of PAC 4 March 1985 to Council 25 March 1985, item 4.