How Rich Lister Bruce Gordon stared down residents over $400m towers
Bruce Gordon, owner of WIN Television and Nine Entertainment’s largest shareholder.

How Rich Lister Bruce Gordon stared down residents over $400m towers

Billionaire Bruce Gordon has secured approval for a $400 million redevelopment in Wollongong despite anger among some residents angered over the prospect of their beach views being blocked by the planned 120-metre-tall building – the tallest in the NSW south coast city.

Mr Gordon’s Birketu unveiled plans for the WIN Grand in late 2021, which proposed to redevelop several blocks in the middle of the Wollongong CBD, with residential towers, office space, health facilities and retailers.

The WIN Grand would give Mr Gordon, 93, another lasting footprint in Wollongong, with the mogul saying it is part of a 30-year vision to lift the city’s image.

The Rich Lister owns regional TV station WIN and the local St George Illawarra Dragons rugby league team. He is also the largest shareholder in Nine Entertainment, publisher of this masthead.

Planning approvals have been held up by the heights of the proposed buildings and become a hot topic in Wollongong, with some residents angry about the development’s three main buildings, which could disrupt their views.

But the NSW planning authorities gave the green light for the project late last year. “Birketu welcomes the Southern Regional Planning Panel’s approval for the proposed WIN Grand development in the Wollongong CBD,” a WIN spokesperson said.

“The assessment process was intensive and comprehensive and followed considerable engagement with Wollongong City Council, the design review panel and other stakeholders. Feedback from these sources was incorporated into the design and the development application.”

‘Smacks of colonialism’

Opposition to the WIN Grand among residents came to a head in late November last year, when a panel considering the project hosted a teleconference to hear their views. Feedback centred on the proposal’s three main buildings, which would be 119 metres, 75 metres and 58 metres high.

“This smacks of colonialism,” said one resident, upset that the buildings would disrupt the view from the beach to the escarpment which borders the city. “The excessive height of this proposal is at best insensitive and at worst a blight on our unique local landscape.”

Others living in a neighbouring building were angry the structures would get in the way of their ocean views. “Besides Bruce [Gordon] loving Wollongong, a lot of other people including ourselves love Wollongong,” one said.

“We will have 90 per cent of what is a lovely view to look at [gone], and one that we paid pretty heavily for with our life savings.

“We’re not getting any younger either. Who is going to look after the little people’s interests?”

“That block does need to be redeveloped, no one is arguing that … some of the features are fantastic, but it needs to be compliant,” said another resident, who pointed out that the heights contravened existing planning regulations.

“The impact of our view loss needs to be studied by an independent consultant, not by somebody paid for by the developer.”

The NSW Southern Regional Planning Panel ultimately overruled concerns around the heights of the buildings.

“The panel was of the view that the eventual design outcome would be superior to a fully compliant design, taking into consideration the applicable controls, the size of the site and its relationship with the CBD and adjoining public open space, and the minor nature and extent of the non-compliances.”

‘A game changer’

Despite the scattered opposition, Wollongong’s Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery told The Australian Financial Review he backed Mr Gordon’s plans for the CBD.

“WIN Grand is the largest ever development for the Wollongong CBD, which will renew and revitalise an entire city block,” Mr Bradbery said. “It’s a game changer and a significant vote of confidence in Wollongong’s ongoing transformation.

The developers and architecture team which went back and forth on the planning approval include ColonySix, Urbis, BVN Architects, Urbis, Colliers Wollongong and Waples Marketing. No date has been set for construction to begin.