James Packer's Barangaroo tower receives final approval despite critical PAC reportImpression of Crown Sydney at Barangaroo. Image: Wilkinson Eyre Architects

James Packer's Barangaroo tower receives final approval despite critical PAC report

The path has been cleared for construction of James Packer’s $1.5 billion casino and apartment complex at Barangaroo, but only after a critical independent planning report recommended a number of changes to the project.

The changes, which have been accepted by the government, include a larger park area near Crown’s complex and a wider foreshore walk to accommodate the casino podium and allow the public access to the water’s edge.

But the independent Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), which released its determination on the hotel and casino and other changes to Barangaroo on Tuesday, also made clear it would have recommended more substantial adjustments had the NSW Parliament not already locked in support for the casino.

James Packer's Barangaroo tower has received its final approval. Photo: Pat Scala James Packer’s Barangaroo tower has received its final approval. Photo: Pat Scala

The three-member PAC panel said it had “a great deal of sympathy” for the criticism expressed by the City of Sydney and others that the construction of Crown’s casino and hotel was taking place on land previously reserved for a park.

But the PAC said “the NSW Parliament effectively settled the issue about the location of Crown Sydney” when it legislated for the location of a gaming floor on the site in 2013. As such, the PAC said it could not recommend moving the building.

The changes to the project that have been imposed by the PAC’s determination include a wider foreshore walk, a larger “Hickson Park” area to the east of the casino, and a small increase in the number of affordable apartments to be provided as part of the project. An extra 25 units will be provided by Crown within five kilometres of the site.

The three members of the PAC who made the decision were experienced public servant Lynelle Briggs, Canberra-based architect and consultant Annabelle Pegrum, and planning consultant John Hann

The decision by the Planning Assessment Commission was needed after previous plans for a hotel jutting out into the harbour were scuppered.

As a result, Lend Lease proposed construction of a hotel on land previously slated for a park, Crown struck a deal with Lend Lease for the right to build a casino on the site, and Parliament legislated for a gaming floor.

But construction of that casino – as well as about 30 floors of luxury units – required changes to the approved consent for the site. The PAC was therefore examining changes both to the land use in the area, as well as the design of the hotel and casino complex.

The design of the building was fiercely resisted by the City of Sydney, which argued the private tower and its bulky base would “dominate and overwhelm” what had been reserved for public land.

“There is clear failure in the assessment to consider site suitability and the broader public interest,” Graham Jahn, the council’s director of planning, development and transport, told the PAC at a public hearing in April.

Artist's impression of the proposed Crown Sydney casino at Barangaroo Photo: Crown Resorts Artist’s impression of the proposed Crown Sydney casino at Barangaroo. Image: Crown Resorts

Other critical submissions came from former government architect Peter Mould, who said no reason had been given for adding so many floors of apartments, and from the NSW President of the Australian Institute of Architects.

“The only possible explanation for this change is increased profits without any accrued public benefit,” Mr Mould said. “In fact, there is considerable public disbenefit.”

Mr Carter said: “What would history think of us all here today, if we chose a casino over a public park for this significant place on the harbour,” said Mr Carter, who characterised the public preference for a park as a “no brainer”.

However the design of the casino received strong support from industry groups such as the Sydney Business Chamber, the Tourism and Transport Forum, and the Urban Taskforce.

The PAC’s report released on Tuesday also offers a window into the high-level negotiations over the site. The PAC first provided its advice to the Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, on June 1.

Mr Stokes then provided the advice to the government agency, the Barangaroo Development Authority. The BDA said it had a number of concerns with the PAC’s recommendations, and said they would have “a material prejudicial impact on the still open public tender and financial implications for the state.”

But the PAC rejected the BDA’s criticisms, and Mr Stokes accepted the PAC’s advice.

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