Source: The Daily Telegraph
The original Toaster building at Circular Quay during construction. Picture: Bob Finlayson Source: The Daily Telegraph
IT’S the last remaining site in Sydney’s iconic East Circular Quay precinct – now a storm is brewing over a proposal to build what has been dubbed by angry opponents as the “Toaster on steroids”.
The proposal has been slammed by groups including the Heritage Council of NSW, which claims it could detract from the Opera House.
The site, next to the Cahill Expressway, is owned by finance giant AMP, which now wants to knock down the existing building and replace it with 100 luxury apartments.
Concept plans reveal AMP wants to take over public land to maximise the development’s size, and also make the complex up to seven storeys higher than is currently allowed for new buildings in East Circular Quay.
The City of Sydney council has not objected to the proposal – despite the fact it breaches the council’s own planning controls.
However the final decision will be made by the NSW Department of Planning, and not the council, due to its size.
The site is metres from the Bennelong Apartments building – nicknamed the Toaster – which millions walk past every year on their way to the Opera House. Construction of the Toaster in the 1990s caused a massive stir because it was seen as an eyesore.
Ian Walters, a 25-year Quay resident, is one of many upset locals: “The ordinary person’s view from The Rocks would show the proposed AMP building towers above neighbouring buildings like a sore thumb. It’s like the Toaster on steroids.”
The Heritage Council is also worried, claiming the proposal could “have a detrimental impact on the setting of the Sydney Opera House”.
It argued the development should be “limited to the permissible height limit” for East Circular Quay.
AMP and building partner Mirvac justified the supersized proposal on the basis they would build a “colonnade” for pedestrians.
The walkway would be built on council land, with AMP using the expanded airspace above the colonnade to build several floors of apartments.
And, while City of Sydney rules restrict the height of any new building to about 44m, AMP’s concept plans propose a height of up to 20m taller.
Town planner Briony Mitchell, who has been working with concerned residents, said AMP wanted to “have its cake and eat it too”.
“AMP wants to construct a tower development well in excess of the height agreed to in the early 1990s by then prime minister Paul Keating in consultation with the community, Australia’s finest designers and all levels of government,” she said.
“However, AMP is also trying to benefit from concessions made at the time to compensate companies for the height restrictions.”
The mandatory height limits were hammered out when the Toaster was being built after Mr Keating took a personal interest in ensuring any new high-rise developments did not detract from views of the Opera House.
A NSW Planning Department spokesperson said it was waiting on AMP’s response to submissions, adding: “Once this is received and the department has completed its assessment report, the application will be determined under delegation by either the department or independent Planning Assessment Commission.”
An AMP spokeswoman said: “We are not proposing to build any higher than the existing building and so the development would not have any further impact on surrounding buildings.”
The Toaster – opera or gothic horror?
IT started with an ideas quest in the early 1990s by Sydney planning authorities who were looking to “guide the future development of all privately-owned land at East Circular Quay”.
Not surprisingly, developers wanted buildings on the land to be as high as possible to capitalise on its spectacular location. If the developers had their way, the “Toaster” could have been seven storeys higher than it is today. Enter the then-PM Paul Keating, who was determined to ensure high-rise buildings did not compete with the architectural splendour of the Opera House
Keating hammered out an 11th-hour agreement with everyone involved to lower the heights of any redeveloped buildings in East Circular Quay, in exchange for giving them more public land to allow them to widen. Although the Toaster became widely derided, Keating later said it could have been much worse. “You know that building today, with seven more storeys on it, would really be a shocker,” he said.
The only building in East Circular Quay not redeveloped since was the Amatil building owned by AMP, now the subject of a new controversy amid claims it will simply be an enlarged Toaster.