Darwin residents and visitors could soon be banned from a section of the CBD foreshore under plans by Chinese-owned company Landbridge to build a luxury hotel development and residential dwellings beside the Waterfront precinct.
The Northern Territory Government has not intervened, despite such a restriction of access not complying with the NT Planning Scheme.
Chief Minister Adam Giles signed a binding agreement with Chinese-owned port operator Landbridge for a luxury hotel at the Darwin waterfront.
The Government has gifted 2.9 hectares of the former Toga land for the hotel project as well as an “18-month call option over an additional 1.5 hectares of the former Toga land on commercial terms”.
Taxpayers will also pay $10 million towards servicing the site for the luxury hotel. Mr Giles said they would not be providing support for the hotel’s ongoing operations.
Construction of the $250 million hotel project will begin next year on the former Toga land at the waterfront, with completion expected by 2020.
“The agreement will deliver the Government’s objective to meet unsatisfied demand for luxury accommodation in Darwin through a vibrant, integrated development of world-class standard,” Mr Giles said.
It has led to warnings from key planning and architectural groups, as well as the Darwin Council, that it could set a precedent for other private developments along the city’s popular foreshores.
Landbridge is proposing to build a new 220-metre seawall between the cruise ship terminal and Jervois Park, near the Deckchair Cinema.
It wants to restrict public access along the length of that section of foreshore, and re-route pedestrians and traffic behind the hotel.
Several key Top End stakeholders have scrambled to make late submissions protesting against the restriction after discovering the detail buried in Landbridge’s lengthy subdivision application, which is now before the Development Consent Authority.
‘Public access must be maintained’
Councillor Bob Elix said the council supported the development, but that public access must be maintained to the water.
“It’s public land, and the public have accessed that area since Adam was a boy, and once you start cutting off public access to these community areas then you’re opening yourself up for criticism,” he said.
“If you gave it to one, there’ll be others coming along with exactly the same request; I don’t know of any particular development but you can rest assured that they would come forth.”
The hotel proposal was born out of the former Country Liberals government seeking expressions of interest for a private development on public land to build the Territory’s tourism industry.
The agreement signed between the Government and Landbridge has not been made public.
The subdivision application makes mention for the first time not only of plans to ban public access to the foreshore, but also that its development will include “townhouses and residential complexes” in addition to the luxury hotel.
The NT Government appointed MasterPlan NT to prepare Landbridge’s subdivision application, which has noted that people fish, exercise and walk along that section of foreshore.
“Landbridge’s position is that, although access to the foreshore will be unavoidably restricted, the Precinct Plan recognises the importance of the area and provides strong pedestrian connections throughout both the hotel site and broader waterfront precinct,” its subdivision application said.
Stakeholders ‘may have been misled’
The foreshore in Darwin, which is popular with residents and fishermen.
The Planning Department’s Development Assessment Services unit noted the proposed restriction of public access was “contrary” to the NT Planning Scheme.
But in its comments to the Development Consent Authority, the unit’s planner, Amit Magotra, said the authority could still give it the go-ahead if Planning Minister Nicole Manison did not intervene.
“No response was received from the minister at the time of writing this report,” Amit Magotra said.
The Planning Institute of Australia NT was critical of the way the public access restriction was added to a subdivision application.
“PIA NT is concerned that a number of potential submitters may have effectively been misled by the piecemeal application process and the shorter exhibition times associated with a subdivision application,” the institute’s submission said.
Architect Joanna Rees, of the Australian Institute of Architects, urged in her submission the hotel be required to include a public pedestrian and cycle path along the seawall of the waterfront.