To its backers it’s a “jewel box” that could bring a little luxury to the foreshore of Sydney’s most famous harbour. But, to its detractors, it’s an “ice cube on stilts” that has no place in the 19th century heart of The Rocks.
What has been billed as the $30 million “remediation, restoration and adaptive re-use” of the area’s historic Campbell’s Stores includes plans for a new standalone four-storey building – a less-known aspect of the proposal that has alarmed community groups and heritage experts.
The structure, dubbed “Bay 12”, would loom as high as the neighbouring Park Hyatt Hotel and be built next to the 165-year-old warehouses, which would be refurbished into a “world class waterfront dining precinct” by 2018.
Bay 12 would be as tall as the neighbouring Park Hyatt Hotel.
“It is anticipated that the proposed building could be used for a luxury retail brand,” the application by the Tallawoladah consortium states. “However, the final use will be determined at a later date.”
The plan has secured the blessing of the site’s owner, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA), which signed over landowner’s consent in the days after Premier Mike Baird announced the agency was to be scrapped.
But opponents say the “glass box” was an unsympathetic proposal that has snuck under the radar. Its month-long public submission period, which closes on Friday, coincides with the lead-up to Christmas.
“We think this is just being done for the sake of making more money for someone, it’s simply that,” said John McInerney, chair of the area’s residents action group.
“We’re saying in this particular location Australia’s heritage is more important than their making a lot of money.”
An apparent contradiction also caught the eye of the National Trust, which noted the application describes the structure as a “clear, contemporary counterpoint to the original heritage” which would nonetheless be obscured by a fig tree “limiting its degree of intrusion to the character of this zone”.
“This amounts to saying that it is ‘different’ but, mostly, it can’t be seen,” said the trust, which criticised the development description on the Department of Planning and Environment’s website as giving “no indication whatsoever of a proposed new building of its size, scale, massing and materials at this iconic site”.
“It is of great concern to the trust that a proposal of this nature for such an important location has progressed this far with little public knowledge,” it said.
A spokesman for Tallawoladah said the proposal has been promoted through the usual channels and follows extensive consultation and independent assessments.
“The building has been designed by one of Australia’s most important architects, Richard Johnson, and will be a showpiece building for Sydney, replacing a diseased tree that was going to be cut down anyway,” he said.
“We are investing heavily in the repair of the crumbling Campbell’s Stores buildings to ensure the heritage of this significant site is maintained.”
A SHFA spokeswoman said the redevelopment of Campbell’s Stores would be guided by a conservation management plan endorsed by the NSW Heritage Council.
“Prior to the lodgement of the application the developer also engaged with stakeholders including local residents,” said the spokeswoman.
“The refurbishment will provide much needed heritage restoration of the Campbell’s Stores, at no cost to taxpayers, to protect and enhance the state-significant building for future generations.”
SHFA “continues to exercise its functions” until they are transferred to other government agencies, she added.