City of Sydney calls for NSW gov’t to better protect Millers Point

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The Sirius Building designed by Tao Gofers for the Housing Commission, nearby Millers Point.

The Sirius Building designed by Tao Gofers for the Housing Commission, nearby Millers Point. Image: Allshots Imaging/Creative Commons

The City of Sydney has called for the New South Wales (NSW) government to provide greater protection for the heritage area of Millers Point in Sydney, through changes to current planning laws.

The city has requested an amendment to the Local Environment Plan (LEP) that would protect heritage buildings in the area by removing the current floor space ratio (FSR) of 2:1, and instead setting the existing height and floor space of each building as the maximum.

An investigation carried out by the NSW Heritage Council found the existing controls enable development that is inconsistent with the heritage significance of the Millers Point area. 

“The study found the current FSR control allows additions that are between one half and four times the size of the existing buildings, across around 60 percent of the heritage items in Millers Point,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said.

Under the NSW planning legislation, the FSR control takes precedence over the built form controls in the City of Sydney’s development plan. The FSR control also allows additions that are inconsistent with the conservation management plans that have been approved by the NSW Heritage Council.

Under the amendment, variations to the requested maximum FSR for heritage would be allowed subject to consideration of a conservation management plan and impacts on the item and area, while buildings that are not heritage items would be allowed a FSR of up to 2:1 subject to consideration of the impacts on the area and nearby items.

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said the floor space and building height controls do not protect the important examples of nineteenth- and twentieth-century architecture in Millers Point.

“By changing the LEP, we can protect Millers Point’s irreplaceable history, while providing consistency and certainty for future homeowners in the area,” Moore said. 

Millers Point was developed between the 1810s and 1930s and has been well preserved. According to the State Heritage Register it is this “completeness and intactness” that gives the area its national and state heritage significance. Housing in the area includes terraces and apartments that were developed as social housing – some of the first public housing to be built in Australia.

However, the area has been under threat of redevelopment because of its land value and proximity to the Barangaroo development

In March 2014, the NSW state government announced plans to sell 293 existing public housing properties in Millers Point and The Rocks. Among the properties for sale are the terraced workers’ cottages along High Street and the apartments in the Sirius building, a Brutalist tower designed in 1979 by Tao (Theodore) Gofers. The proceeds of the sales – anticipated to be in the region of $500 million – are to be used to fund the development of more public housing in Sydney.  

Moore has been an outspoken advocate for Millers Point’s social housing and is against the sale of the buildings into private ownership. “I was outraged these social housing buildings were sold into private ownership, but now we must ensure further development maintains the unique heritage of the area,” she said. 

The sell-off has been met with resistance from residents’ groups, the National Trust and the Heritage Council, which has recommended the Sirius building for state heritage listing. The Heritage Council’s draft statement of significance described the building as “a rare and fine example of the late Brutalist architectural style especially in its application to social housing.”

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