Wollongong council's dramatic new plan to fix our failing CBD - Illawarra Greens

Wollongong council's dramatic new plan to fix our failing CBD

Wollongong City Council has admitted the CBD is failing in its current form, and is planning to dramatically overhaul rules for developers to fix problems which have emerged in the past decade. In a new document, the council has identified that there is too much retail space, empty shops, not enough quality offices, and a host of new but ugly and dysfunctional buildings which block the sun.
The new plan was welcomed by Greens Councillor Cath Blakey. Councillor  Blakey pointed to issues created by high-profile developments like the Oxford on Crown and Crown Wollongong, on Corrimal Street.
"The requirement for residential apartments to have commercial space on the ground floor has meant that we have seen a lot of mediocre buildings approved and now we have a blight of empty shops," she said.
Read the article by Kate McIlwain in The Illawarra Mercury, 18 February 2020.

Wollongong council's dramatic new plan to fix our failing CBD

Vacant space: The plan will get rid of \

Vacant space: The plan will get rid of "terrible" rules that allow apartment developers to leave empty shopfronts to languish in commercial precincts. Pictures: Adam McLean.

Wollongong City Council has admitted the CBD is failing in its current form, and is planning to dramatically overhaul rules for developers to fix problems which have emerged in the past decade.

In a new document, the council has identified that there is too much retail space, empty shops, not enough quality offices, and a host of new but ugly and dysfunctional buildings which block the sun.

The Wollongong City Centre Planning Review, to be debated next week, is the first major move towards changing planning zones, building height limits and floor space ratios in the city.

Too many commercial and retail premises have left Crown Street Mall struggling.

Planning rules for other suburbs of Wollongong are expected to come under the microscope later this year.

If adopted, the CBD plan could see an end to the bulky skyscrapers constructed in recent years, and a move away from the "shop-top" apartments which have fragmented Wollongong's main retail streets.

It will also pave the way for new precincts, allow for better cycling and pedestrian access in the city, and hold developers to much higher design standards.

Four years ago, the council adopted a vision entitled A City for People, which aimed to put people and livability at the heart of future CBD planning.

However, with the current planning rules still in place, not much has happened and, in some cases, new developments which were supposed to place more people in the city exacerbated the problems.

For instance, councillor Cath Blakey pointed to issues created by high-profile developments like the Oxford on Crown and Crown Wollongong, on Corrimal Street.

"The requirement for residential apartments to have commercial space on the ground floor has meant that we have seen a lot of mediocre buildings approved and now we have a blight of empty shops," she said.

"This has been terrible for the city, it looks like there's nothing happening at street level, like there's tumbleweeds rolling through."

The buildings along Crown and Corrimal Street, which were supposed to stimulate the city by injecting residents, have instead increased the number of empty shops.

Deputy Lord Mayor Tania Brown agreed, saying there were "shop-top" buildings throughout the city - from Cliff Road all the way to south Wollongong - which had taken the focus off the already struggling retail centre.

"It's a sad look for us with all the empty shopfronts," she said. "We need to preserve the commercial core and stop having the requirement for developers to build shops on the ground floor."

To fix this, the new plan suggests removing this stipulation, and also lowering the height limits in many places across the city to create a more people-friendly city.

According to the plan, developments along Crown Street would have a "low-scale street wall" to protect solar access for public spaces, like the mall, arts precinct and MacCabe Park.

A "spine" of taller buildings would be encouraged along the new commercial precinct (see below), however, obviously, the existing taller buildings atop Regent and Railway Streets would remain. Moving further away from the city centre, building scale would be reduced, to provide a "transition" towards the coast and suburbs.

Heritage rules could be strengthened to protect Wollongong's character, and building height rules will ensure "continuous views of the ridge-line of the escarpment from Flagstaff Hill" (notwithstanding the under-construction towers).

As the city develops further, the council has identified seven new "key sites" which would be subject to a more rigorous design process, including a design excellence competition.

These include the St Francis Xavier Cathedral land south of Market Square, the NSW Government office block on Crown Street, Burelli Street Woolworths, the Kenny parking complex, the SES headquarters and the tract of west Crown Street property which WIN billionaire Bruce Gordon has been sitting on for years.

MacCabe Park, pictured here during Viva La Gong last year, is central to the commercial precinct plan.

Plan for new Burelli Street office precinct

Wollongong faces a massive shortfall of commercial space in the next 15 years if the city continues developing in its current manner, according to a new plan.

To fix this, the council has proposed a "commercial core precinct" on Burelli Street, where apartments will be banned and developers are incentivised to build "A-Grade" offices.

According to the Wollongong City Centre Planning Review, Wollongong needs an extra 120,000sqm of office space by 2036, but only 34,000sqm of commercial floor space in the city centre is feasible.

MacCabe Park, pictured here during Viva La Gong last year, is central to the commercial precinct plan.

This, the plan says, is a significant barrier for the city to "release its full economic potential"; the council's goal is to create 10,500 extra jobs over 10 years and thousands of these will be in the CBD.

To fix this, Burelli Street will be turned into a "premium commercial street serviced by its proximity to the train station, retail core and MacCabe Park".

An area to be called "Market Street West" would also ban residential development and would be "intended to support a boutique office character with smaller tenancies and shared working spaces well connected to Keira Street and the station".

ther moves to encourage developers to build office blocks could include the establishment of a better bike lane network, and the investigation of how on-site paid car parking could be built into developments.

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the commercial core precincts were a vital part of the city's future, noting they would build on the office blocks which are already situated on Burelli and Market Streets.

As a whole, he said the planning review marked a turning point for the city centre, and was "a much more sensible plan that the old one which allows skyscrapers of up to 120m".

"It is hard to turn a ship around," he said. "But this is a really significant document which will shape the flavour of our city for decades to come, so I would encourage people to have their say when it goes on exhibition."

Wollongong CBD's failings
  • Current land use controls could result in a city filled with residential development, compromising long-term employment growth.
  • Retail is spread out too far, which results in empty shopfronts and creates inactive streets.
  • General development controls don't respond to the character and historic qualities of places in the city
  • Planning controls do not provide clear guidance for developers to deliver the intended built outcomes
  • Development controls do not promote a city skyline that enhances the unique natural setting (i.e. building heights are too tall)
  • Developers favour maximising building development controls over design quality, making for a less attractive city.
  • Lacks clear physical and visual connections, discourages walking
  • Arrival into the CBD is confusing and underwhelming
  • Public spaces do not reach full potential
  • Public spaces could be overshadowed by surrounding buildings.
  • Tree canopy is inadequate.

Source: Wollongong City Centre Planning Review