Developments in South Perth have faced many stumbling blocks, but the high-rise precinct is taking shape.
WHEN Finbar Group bought the triangular block that would one day be the home of Civic Heart, the developer could not have foreseen the complications that would follow.
The listed company acquired the land from the City of South Perth in 2014, ahead of its purchase of the adjacent post office from Australia Post to stitch together a site of 8,208 square metres.
Finbar gained Joint Development Assessment Panel approval for a 294-apartment project on the site, bordered by Mends Street, Mill Point Road and Labouchere Road, in May 2015.
Planning approval for the proposal lapsed two years later, when Finbar went back to the drawing board to amend the plans.
These changes occurred amid an amendment to the town’s planning scheme, which Finbar requested in mid-2017, specific to the Civic Heart site.
The revised proposal, comprising 320 apartments across two towers, was knocked back at a JDAP meeting in late 2019, and again at a State Administrative Tribunal hearing.
Following this, then planning minister Rita Saffioti stepped in to override local authorities and approve the project, more than four years on from its initial approval.
The 38-storey, $428 million project has already changed the skyline of the suburb, as it approaches its expected 2024 completion.
Civic Heart is Finbar’s largest project, Western Australia’s largest strata scheme, and the single largest residential project in South Perth.
The project towers above nearby existing residential developments, with Finbar’s own Aurelia apartment complex the second tallest at 21 storeys.
South Perth has been a traditional home of luxury apartments, with supply dating back to the 1970s.
Multi-residential development gained momentum in the area in the early 2000s, with more than 200 apartments added in the decade following 2001, Urbis data shows.
New planning controls that allowed for greater density were key to this change, Mr Cresp said.
“The area is now entering into a new phase with larger buildings being proposed,” Mr Cresp told Business News.
In 2024, more than 380 apartments are expected to be added to South Perth.
Finbar Group has been instrumental in bolstering apartment supply in South Perth, with Civic Heart set to be its 15th building in the area, bringing its dwelling count there to more than 730.
“I think for everyone who was negative about Civic Heart when it was in the planning process, now they can drive past and see that it is very complementary to the heritage buildings that are there,” he said.
“At a pedestrian scale, even though it’s a big building … when you’re walking along the street, it addresses the streetscape nicely.”
Mr Pateman acknowledged that, had the state government’s State Development Assessment Unit been in place when Civic Heart was proposed, it would have made the process easier.
“But of course, that was only brought out during COVID,” Mr Pateman said.
In years to come, Civic Heart may be dwarfed by surrounding developments, with several approvals in the pipeline for significant residential projects.
The road to approval has not been smooth for such projects in South Perth in recent years, but momentum is building for the area to house a host of high-density developments.
A recently approved 51-storey hybrid timber tower on Charles Street by Victorian developer Grange Development Consulting will be the state’s tallest residential development.
And luxury apartment developer Edge Visionary Living is set to build its 29-storey Lumiere development on nearby Mill Point Road.
Several other developments have been approved in South Perth, against a backdrop of local policy changes.
Just 450 metres away from Civic Heart, Edge Visionary Living is preparing to start construction of Lumiere.
The $120 million apartment tower has undergone several design iterations since it was first conceived in 2015.
The development was initially approved in August of that year and attracted $85 million in sales within three months.
But the Supreme Court of Western Australia overturned that approval in 2016, after two local residents took the developer to court to argue that the development did not align with the area’s planning guidelines.
Edge was made to repay the money it collected in off-the-plan sales to buyers and subsequently amended its plans for the site.
A second iteration of Lumiere, comprising 44 storeys, was rejected at JDAP in mid-2016, before another version, of 34 storeys, was approved in October of that year.
Two months later, the Court of Appeals upheld the Supreme Court’s rejection of the first iteration of Lumiere.
Then, in February 2018, the Supreme Court overturned the JDAP approval of the 34-story (third) proposal.
Edge’s fourth version of Lumiere, a 29-storey tower, was rejected at JDAP in July of that year.
It was not until April 2020 that the State Administrative Tribunal overturned the rejection of the development, after an extensive mediation.
“I think our vision for Lumiere currently, despite its iterations, is pretty much back to where it was under our initial design back in 2015,” Mr Hawkins said.
“The buyers love it, they’re sticky, they’ve been staying with the project, which has been fantastic.”
Mr Hawkins reiterated the difficulties in getting the project off the ground but said South Perth’s local planning scheme had improved in recent years.
“The axiom ‘nothing worthwhile is ever easy’ certainly applies to Lumiere,” he said.
Mr Hawkins said the main reasons the development applications for the project were overturned related to provisions in the local planning scheme around commercial space.
He said he believed the City of South Perth had improved its scheme by removing the ambiguity linked to commercial space, but in other ways the scheme was less clear.
“The town planning scheme we originally had when we first started planning for Lumiere had a number of provisions in it that were quite confusing, particularly around the extent of the commercial space that you had to do for each development,” Mr Hawkins said.
“I think, through the last several years, those issues have been largely addressed and fixed within the new local planning scheme.”
He said while the current local planning scheme was clearer around what developers could build, it allowed for less flexibility.
“I think that’s a pretty common view of the current local structure plan [that] it has more stringent setbacks and areas you can build on,” Mr Hawkins said.
“The costs of going higher are now much clearer in the community benefits because you have a dollar figure for that, where in the past you had community benefits that you would demonstrate.
“Now, it’s a formulaic dollar amount if you go over a certain plot ratio and height. So in some respects it’s much clearer, but in other respects … it may be more restrictive in what you can do.”
Changes to the City of South Perth’s local planning scheme, namely the introduction of its activity centre plan, has allowed for greater density in the riverside suburb.
The plan to guide developers wanting to build in the area bound by South Perth Peninsula, Richardson Park and Perth Zoo took more than four years to be implemented.
The activity plan was born from the South Perth Station Precinct Plan, a framework aiming to guide development in the precinct surrounding a proposed train station.
There was a renewed draft vision for the area and a proposal to extend the geographic boundaries for the planning framework in 2017.
In mid-2017, the City of South Perth council resolved to prepare an activity centre plan as a priority action. However, it took nearly two years for the draft plan to be presented to the public.
The road to implementation included heated discussions in the council chambers and years of community opposition.
The city council approved the draft South Perth Activity Centre Plan and a scheme amendment to be advertised for public feedback after a 2.5-hour meeting in March 2019.
It came about six months after the council decided to postpone formal advertising to amend the draft plan.
The Western Australian Planning Commission approved the SPACP in December 2021.
Construction of Civic Heart is expected to be complete by mid-2024. Photo: Michael O’Brien
City of South Perth chief executive Mike Bradford said the SPACP needed to be drafted after the WA government identified the area as a district centre under the state’s Central Sub-Regional Planning framework.
“As such, an activity centre plan was required to be prepared for future population growth,” Mr Bradford told Business News.
Developments within the SPACP area will be subject to plot ratio limits, and height limits in primary, tier one and tier two categories.
A high-building typology has a primary height limit of 50.7 metres, compared to a tier one limit of 77.1 metres and 123.3 metres in tier two.
Under the SPACP, all sites could have some additional height above the primary building limit to encourage variety in the built form.
However, community benefit contribution requirements apply where development is proposed above the primary building height or plot ratio limits.
“Importantly, the additional height and/or plot ratio must not have a significant adverse effect on the occupiers or users of the development, the inhabitants of the locality or the likely future development of the locality,” the plan said.
“As this formula is based on the value of the land and the additional amount of floor area being sought, it ensures that developments seeking a greater amount of additional floor area must provide a larger contribution.”
The WAPC approved the plan in December 2021, more than four years after council voted on the framework as a priority action.
“Given the significant change high-density development would have on the existing character of this area of South Perth, extensive community engagement was needed to guide future development,” Mr Bradford said.
“The state’s planning framework also required extensive technical reports in support of the SPACP.”
The adoption of the SCACP has led to more planning documents, with Mr Bradford saying a new scheme was the most significant change for the city’s planning since the activity centre plan.
“The city adopted its first local planning strategy in February 2021 and has since developed a new local planning scheme, which is anticipated for minister approval in early 2024,” Mr Bradford said.
“Draft Local Planning Scheme number seven will implement and deliver on the objectives of the local planning strategy and create a modern planning framework for the city.
“In support of these new frameworks, the city is also currently reviewing its local planning policies to provide detailed guidance for future development applications.”
The city said a potential South Perth train station had always been incorporated for strategic planning for the area since 2007, but Mr Bradford said it was the responsibility of the state government.
The idea had been discussed in state parliament with the support of Transport Minister Rita Saffioti, who in 2018 said a future South Perth train station was inevitable.
Approval for Grange Development Consulting’s proposed $350 million, 51-storey, hybrid timber tower surprised some observers.
Ahead of the JDAP meeting, the City of South Perth recommended against approval of the development on the basis that it did not meet the required design excellence criteria.
But the development was supported by a panel of experts, who commended its alignment with global sustainability standards and allowed it to be approved under the tier two planning guidelines.
In his submission to JDAP, Grange Development Consulting founder and managing director James Dibble described the South Perth Activity Centre Plan as “the most consulted on structure plan in WA’s history”.
He said the planning regime played a significant role in the company’s attraction to the area.
“Under the activity centre plan controls, it was one of the only locations in WA that was actually viable at the time,” Mr Dibble told Business News.
“The challenge with construction costs is that your NSA [net sellable area] rate needs to be in the order of $12,000 to $12,500 per square metre to make anything viable because of the increase in construction costs.”
James Dibble says South Perth was one of the only areas that stacked up economically for Grange’s plans. Photo: David Henry
Mr Dibble said South Perth’s proximity to the Swan River and public open space made it ideal for a development of this nature, which emphasised the principles of humans being close to nature.
He said the development, dubbed C6, would be one of several residential towers in the area.
“It won’t be a tall tower in a sea of low-rise buildings,” Mr Dibble said.
“When people were talking about height of C6, it was kind of perplexing because the planning scheme clearly articulates plot ratio.
“It’s [the plot ratio] more than twice the CBD, so there’s got to be a logical expectation that’s going to be where residential dwellings are going to be built in high-rise form.”
Grange plans to build the tower by late 2026, depending on the level of pre-sales it can attract.
The recent approval of C6 drew some pointed comments from opposition planning spokesperson Neil Thomson.
“It’s more of questioning about the approval of that tower, rather than being directly opposed to it,” Mr Thomson said.
“The issue there was that the state’s Design Review Panel didn’t support it because they didn’t believe it had met the standards of design excellence.
“Now the issue for the City of South Perth is they’ve done a lot of work with their scheme.
“I understand there will always be concerns and that’s why you have a consultation process through the development of those local planning schemes.
“If our system has to work, the strategic planning framework, through those local planning schemes, must be progressed and then it should be up to those independent JDAPs to assess the merits of a proposal based on the scheme, not going outside the scheme.”