Controversy as Darling Harbour redevelopment plans continue apace

An artist's impression of Mirvac's proposed redevelopment of the Harbourside Shopping Centre at Darling Habour. Image: Mirvac.

By PETER HACKNEY

Pyrmont residents who stand to lose their city views have expressed dismay over the planned redevelopment of the Harbourside Shopping Centre at Darling Harbour.

Property development and investment group Mirvac plans to redevelop the shopping centre into a new complex of shops, bars, restaurants and offices topped by a 42-storey, 166-metre residential tower.

At an online meeting held by the Independent Planning Commission yesterday, Pyrmont locals said the redevelopment would rob them of prized city and water views.

88-year-old Barbara MacGregor told the meeting she purchased her Pyrmont apartment for its views of Darling Habour and the CBD – but that if the redevelopment went ahead as planned, her views would be limited to “the backside of a shopping centre”. 

“You can imagine my dismay when Mirvac first proposed a development that would rob me of my view, my amenity and, indeed, much of my enjoyment of life,” she said. 

Ballanda Sack, who represented homeowners at One Darling Harbour – a complex of 210 apartments located at 50 Murray Street – slammed the proposal as “an ambit claim made by a major developer on land set aside for public use”.

“Putting it simply, it’s a land grab,” she said. 

A view of the CBD and water from an apartment at 50 Murray Street – which will be largely obscured if Mirvac’s proposal is approved. Photo: realestate.com.au.

Government backs Mirvac

The NSW Government is backing the controversial proposal, which has been criticised for “effective privatisation of public land” by Graham Jahn, Director of City Planning, Development & Transport at the City of Sydney Council.

Anthony Witherdin, Director of Key Kites at the NSW Department of Planning, Industry & Environment, told the meeting the government supported Mirvac’s proposal, which was revised in October to create an “improved relationship to the waterfront and … minimise view impacts from 50 Murray Street”.

“The department is satisfied the proposed land use mix is acceptable,” Mr Witherdin said, citing the fact that 48 per cent of the complex would be residential and that the new office and retail components would generate employment. 

The ‘re-redevelopment’ of Darling Harbour

The proposed redevelopment of the Harbourside Shopping Centre follows a number of ‘re-redevelopments’ at Darling Harbour. 

In 1984, then NSW premier Neville Wran announced the state government’s intention to redevelop the area and “return it to the people of Sydney” in time the 1988 bicentennial celebrations. 

On 4 May, 1988, Queen Elizabeth II formally opened the revamped Darling Harbour, and its museums, shops, restaurants, hotels and bars – including the Harbourside Shopping Centre.

Since then, much of the precinct has yet again been redeveloped, prompting Sydney journalist Garry Maddox to write in 2019 that: “What was flagged as a major rival to the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as a landmark international tourist attraction lasted less than 30 years.”

One of the buildings razed and rebuilt since the Queen opened the ‘new’ Darling Habour was the award-winning Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Designed by renowned Sydney architect Philip Cox, the 1988 building was closed in 2013, then demolished, rebuilt and reopened in 2016 as the International Convention Centre Sydney.

The former Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, which opened in 1988 and was demolished in 2013. Photo: Maxim75 (Maksym Kozlenko)/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Cox’s criticism

Bemoaning the ‘re-redevelopment’ of Darling Habour, Mr Cox told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2019: “Darling Harbour following the Bicentenary in ’88 was a unique and world relevant urban space that had been developed which was very much Sydney and had a uniqueness about it and a freshness and a great contribution to the city. 

“I can’t say the present Darling Harbour does,” he said.

Also demolished in recent years has been the IMAX Theatre – currently being rebuilt as The Ribbon, to house a new IMAX Theatre and W Hotel; the SEGA World amusement park, which has been replaced by the Commonwealth Bank’s global headquarters; and the Sydney Entertainment Centre. 

The latter, a 13,000-seat venue once described by Elton John – who staged 46 concerts there – as his favourite arena, was demolished in 2016 to make way for the new Darling Square neighbourhood comprising more than 1500 new apartments. 

Bye, monorail

One of the biggest changes to the precinct has been the removal of the Sydney Monorail.

The monorail, which connected Darling Habour, Chinatown and the CBD, was a dominant feature of Darling Harbour from July 1988 until its closure in June 2013.

In its heyday, the monorail operated six trains simultaneously, with the carriages traversing Darling Harbour every few minutes. 

Five of the monorail’s nine stations served Darling Harbour, including one located at the Harbourside Shopping Centre. 

A Sydney Monorail train arriving at Harbourside Station in 2009. Video: ambanmba/YouTube.

What’s next?

Whether the latest planned changes to Darling Harbour are realised is contingent on the Independent Planning Commission. 

Commissioners Dianne Leeson and Wendy Lewin are expected to make a determination on the Harbourside Shopping Centre proposal by year’s end. 

If approved, Mirvac says the redevelopment will deliver approximately 2100 jobs in the short term, more than 4000 in the long term and cement Darling Harbour’s status as a Sydney drawcard.

“The new-look Harbourside Shopping Centre will provide locals and visitors alike with access to a range of open public spaces as well as improved retail, dining and entertainment options,” said Mirvac’s Chief Investment Officer, Brett Draffen, in a recent media release. 

“This is the final piece that completes Darling Harbour as a true destination for both locals and visitors, and we are very excited about the opportunity to transform this iconic site.”

Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.