Source: Sydney Morning Herald 22 Dec 09
THE State Government is poised to waive planning rules so a developer can fill in part of the harbour to build the city's biggest hotel in what critics have dubbed the worst of ''Dubai architecture''.
Under the agreement negotiated by the Government's Barangaroo Delivery Authority, Lend Lease will construct a 150-metre-long peninsula extending into East Darling Harbour as a base on which to erect the 230-metre-tall hotel.
The authority's chief executive, John Tabart, also revealed that Lend Lease had been allowed to increase the floor space in the building by 15 per cent in addition to the 30 per cent rise allowed last year in an effort to make the project financially viable.
By allowing Lend Lease to build out from the existing shoreline, guests will be able to enjoy views to the Opera House.
Although the concept plan for Barangaroo does not allow reclaiming the harbour or building higher than 180 metres, the authority has approved Lend Lease's non-complying design on the grounds that it is so good it is likely to win planning approval when a development application is lodged.
Sydney has previously filled in its waterways for projects including the airport's third runway, but architects warned it was another thing to allow a developer to build a hotel in the harbour.
''There's not really any excuse for intruding on publicly owned water. The precedent that sets is not a very good one,'' said Peter Webber, a former NSW government architect and emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Sydney.
Philip Thalis, who won the original design competition on redeveloping Barangaroo, said it was ''privatising the harbour''.
''It's a catastrophic mistake for Sydney. It's like letting them do that at Circular Quay. It makes the Cahill Expressway look positively benign … It's the worst of Dubai 'look at me' architecture,'' Mr Thalis said.
But the chairman of the authority's design review panel, a former government architect, Chris Johnson, said the building had ''a good pizazz about it'', and while it was not good to fill in the harbour this was ''the exception to the rule''.
He said his approval was on the basis that the building was ''incredibly well designed and incredibly accessible to the public'', and that it should include viewing platforms and a series of other public spaces that could be ''a bit like the Ivy in George Street''.
The proposal was warmly embraced by former prime minister Paul Keating, who has fought successfully for the northern headland to be returned to its pre-settlement shape. ''The scheme is a scheme right outside the paradigm - this is what Sydney needs,'' he said. ''It needs to be grand to do the job.
''What Lord [Richard] Rogers [the architect] has offered is a fan structure that breaks the geometry of the grid and which has at its foot a hotel as an exclamation mark.''
Developer groups were enthusiastic about the plan to fill in part of the harbour.
''We do support the plan for the infill of the harbour,'' said Stephen Albin, NSW chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia.
The acting head of the NSW chapter of the Property Council of Australia, Glenn Byres, said: ''This is the imaginative, iconic design that the site deserved.''