http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/ ... 28570.htmlResidents v university in the battle for Carlton
June 10 2003
By James Button and Royce Millar
Carlton residents have fought Melbourne University's plans to expand into their suburb for more than 30 years, so when they see a planning permit with the university's name in it, they know how to organise.
Sue Chambers heaves a huge two-ring binder onto a coffee table in her Faraday Street home. The binder holds 450 pages of statements from planners, architects, academics and residents, and a petition bearing nearly 3000 signatures.
The expert advice is all pro bono, says her husband Don.
He points out the window. "Mate, they're lining up to knock it down."
Just across the road, in the direction Mr Chambers is pointing, the developer Becton wants to build an 11-storey housing complex offering rental apartments for 940 students.
The university says the project, which will stretch over most of the block bordered by Swanston, Faraday, Cardigan and Elgin streets, is critical for housing its expanding overseas student population.
The Carlton Residents Association, of which Sue Chambers is president, says the buildings will rip the heart and character out of Carlton. The stage is set for one of the fiercest planning disputes of the year.
Two days before Christmas, Planning Minister Mary Delahunty approved the Becton plan for four buildings on the site, including an H-shaped complex with an entrance on Faraday Street.
Melbourne City Council, the National Trust and residents immediately appealed. Tomorrow the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal begins hearing the appeal.
The dispute mainly revolves around the height and quality of the proposed College Square on Swanston Street. At 36 metres, the buildings would be similar in height to the Women's Hospital just to the south.
To Paul Briggs, Becton's development director, the "finely executed buildings", designed by leading Melbourne architect Daryl Jackson, will be top-class student housing.
The university agrees. But to one of its own architecture professors, Kim Dovey, the buildings are "bloated and overbearing", an "intimidating presence". To another, Philip Goad, they are comparable to "the now vilified Housing Commission blocks in Lygon Street".
The argument is within the university and perhaps within state cabinet. Bronwyn Pike, the local MP and Health Minister, has expressed concerns about the project, telling The Melbourne Times that the residents have a strong case and urging the university to compromise.
Then there's a dispute within the dispute - between Ms Delahunty and the Melbourne City Council. Last year the council approved a height limit of 17.5 metres for key areas beyond the central business district.
Just before the state election Ms Delahunty announced her support for the council's limits in most areas. But she deferred a decision on a few locations, including the Swanston Street site. In December, she agreed to a 36-metre limit for the site.
So the council is unhappy - not just about height, but also design. Cr Catherine Ng, chairwoman of the council's planning committee, calls the Becton plan a "design of outstanding ugliness, as cheap and nasty as they can get. Do we have to go through the building vandalism of the 1960s again?"
Such comments anger Becton's Paul Briggs. He points to the buildings' diverse materials, blades and fins, and its "Cyclops eye" - a void generated in the middle of the buildings. "You don't get any of this stuff in the '50s and '60s. I can't help but feel a little bit frustrated when you see some of the emotive stuff coming out of the architecture school in the university."
The university and Becton teamed up in the late 1990s, when the developer refurbished the old VicRoads buildings on Lygon Street, creating apartments for 1100 students, almost all of them from overseas. Premier Steve Bracks applauded, and few locals objected: the buildings were away from heritage areas. But the new proposal is on a block that the university and residents have fought over since the late 1960s.
Everyone accepts the need for some redevelopment of the site, which is now largely a vacant block covering a car park and ringed by terrace houses, two of which will be demolished and 14 restored under Becton's plan.
Professors Dovey and Goad support a seven to eight-storey building, in keeping with the Potter and Asia Centres on the campus side of Swanston Street.
But Mr Briggs says the "financial gymnastics" of the project require an 11-storey building. Since students can afford only low rents - about $120 a week in shared accommodation, $190 alone - investors will not pay high prices to buy the apartments. So more have to be built to make the project feasible.
Accommodation would be run by the YMCA and include a restaurant and 24-hour security at its one entrance. Mr Briggs says it is designed so that a "mum and dad in Thailand will feel their son or daughter is well fed and safe". To Sue Chambers, it sounds like a "gated community".
It's a dispute between the global and the local, between the ambitions and needs of Melbourne University and the traditions of Carlton. Ms Delahunty would not comment yesterday; a spokesman said the matter was best resolved by VCAT. The university is also keeping quiet.
One person who is speaking is Fabrizio Succi, owner of Lygon Street's Ti Amo cafe. He thinks a building of this size will mean "what is unique today will be gone tomorrow".