Has Perth reached a turning point when it comes to high-rise?
It is perhaps beyond the pale to question the maturity of the reactionary forces that try to stop progress in Perth.
But while it may be unfair to suggest that those against high-rise lack a mature understanding of the inevitable changes coming to our city, such opposition nevertheless seems out of step with broader opinion, particularly considering the public’s level-headed approach to 3 Oceans Property’s $450 million Iconic Scarborough development.
Irrespective of the final outcome, it seems clear that Perth has finally woken up to the fact that tall buildings have a place here.
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Iconic proposal is huge and, by Western Australian standards, high. Two towers, one of which is to be 43 storeys, is real high-rise, especially on a coast where previous state governments have limited development to a measly eight levels.
It also comes at a time when a new swimming pool and leisure centre have been built at Scarborough, without any concerted activism concerning the purity of the beach environment.
However, unlike the controversy around similar-sized developments in South Perth, where activists forced a council backflip on approvals, the Iconic seems to have broad public support. Of 400 submissions to the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority, 219 were in support.
I haven’t looked at any of these submissions but the volumes suggest that there was not a flurry of cookie cutter objections from people using an activist-provided template, as we have seen with other proposals in the property sector and in other fields.
Furthermore, the opponents, whoever they were, did not seem to crow about their victory as we have seen in the past. Perhaps it was because they were not an organised opposition seeking to exaggerate their influence but, instead, just individuals having their say as democracy allows.
Or the opposition was as stunned as the rest of us that the MRA had shot down this idea.
That Iconic is the brainchild of a Chinese developer provides even more evidence that Perth is finally awakening from its low-rise conservatism.
Foreign investment, especially from China, has been a convenient excuse for opponents of various developments in Australia. In this case it does not appear to have been an issue at all, thank goodness. There’s plenty to be wary about any foreign nation acquiring strategic infrastructure, but it is good to know that high-rise apartment blocks and hotels near the beach don’t count in that asset class.
Under the circumstances, the MRA’s decision to knock back the development does seem extraordinary. However, I will acknowledge that even special vehicles such as that body, designed to relieve certain areas from the constraint of local government decision making, still has rules by which they have to abide.
All of us assume that, given the state government’s response to the MRA’s decision, Iconic will go ahead in something like the format of the current proposal.
The comments on stories our own website highlighted the level-headedness of the debate around this high-rise. It is regrettable it has not happened in regard to other recent proposals.
"No wonder diversifying the economy is a challenge in this state," one commentator said.
"We need to be more competitive and have more attractive policies for investment.
"Tourism in WA is one of the significant sectors that is currently under performing compared to other states.
"We need to work harder on it.
"If rules are the barrier, then they need to adapt to changes and if the know-how is the challenge, then let's invest on expertise to create this industry.
"This state is a great place, and has endless resources to make it an international destination for successful people."
And then this: "In all development issues we must acknowledge the cost (lost productive land as well as huge infrastructure expenses) and the ugliness of suburban sprawl against the acceptance of more height," said another reader.
"I hope that the MRA might accept that the height overrun is a worthwhile trade-off for the extra open space at street level and the opportunity for community building in this beautiful place. What other developer has offered so much?
"Traffic is an issue which requires public transport transformation. Perth is extreme in single user car trips."
Of course, not everyone was a fan, but the point is that these views were, generally, well put.
In the interests of fairness here is an opponent’s comment.
“I’m surprised (given the MRA’s record) but delighted that this proposal in its current form was rejected,” the comment reads.
“There is absolutely no call to build at this height along Perth’s foreshore.
“The Observation City complex was an appalling blot on the landscape visited on Scarborough and the beachfront, and the fact of its existence shouldn’t encourage more towers along the coast.
“Revitalise retail and residential development with exciting and relevant street-level structures.
“The local plan provides for more-than-adequate building heights to support such projects, and for the MRA to ride roughshod over it would have been totally inappropriate (as it has been an may other parts of our city).
“The developer is complaining about a lost profit opportunity, neither more nor less.
“Save the towers for the CBD and keep our iconic coastline low.”