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25 Jan 2022

Deadlock Over Heritage Property Between Government and Developer in New South Wales

Deadlock Over Heritage Property Between Government and Developer in New South Wales

Despite the NSW Government listing the property on the state's heritage register, development firm Oxford Investa Property Partners has submitted a second Development Application to North Sydney Council to destroy the current MLC office in North Sydney.

On the location, the developer plans to create a totally new structure. Despite the government's wishes for the structure to stay standing, local business Vault Heritage Consulting believes it should be dismantled.

Due to the aims of the NSW Government's own Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, Vault Director Malcom Elliot feels the building should be demolished.

"The heritage consequences must be assessed against other planning factors, including the relevant principles and purposes of the EP&A Act, which encourage the orderly and economic use and development of property," says the report.

The structure has been classified on the local history register for some time, but when the removal was originally proposed by Oxford Investa in 2020, it was added to the state's heritage registry in 2021. A renovation, according to the developer, would be prohibitively expensive, and the structure would have to be constructed nearly precisely to its predecessor.

The replacement was designed by Bates Smart, the same firm that created the original structure in the 1950s. In its place, the firm created a $500 million 27-story contemporary office skyscraper that pays homage to the original MLC building's essence. If approved, the building will be the first net zero commercial skyscraper in North Sydney.

"Bates Smart are acutely conscious of the significance and history of this groundbreaking piece of architecture," says a statement from the firm in the planning paperwork.

"Our goal is to create a new legacy for North Sydney in the twenty-first century by designing a building in the spirit of MLC that is as pioneering for the twenty-first century as MLC was for the late twentieth century."

The National Trust and Docomomo Australia have rushed to the MLC's defense, initiating a campaign to prevent it from being destroyed. After accepting recommendations from the Historic Council and the Independent Planning Commission, NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin classified the building as a heritage site in June 2021. The commission feels that the developer's cost estimates were exaggerated, and that the restoration would ensure that the property remained on the government's heritage list.

The newly presented DA emphasizes why destruction is the best option.

According to a letter submitted to the council by Vault Heritage Consulting, "the state cultural heritage significance attributed to the MLC Building, particularly the curtain wall façade and terracotta glazed bricks, will be reduced as the heritage fabric will likely need to be wholly replaced with new building fabric."