The recent move by the Northern Territory Government to re-visit building height limits along Darwin’s Esplanade has been welcomed by the development industry and the Urban Development Institute of Australia (NT).
There are many reasons why taller buildings should be allowed along the Esplanade, and many of these, such as the opportunity for taller, more slender, attractive buildings with increased setbacks, have already been put forward by Government in support of taller buildings within the CBD generally.
There has been some discussion about view corridors from the CBD and impacts on harbour views from buildings erected on less valuable land behind the Esplanade. But to date I have not seen any discussion on the views of the CBD from our magnificent harbour – the perspective seen by our growing number of tourists arriving on large cruise ships.
If we are going to look at view corridors from the CBD, we should also be analysing the view from the harbour, including views to be enjoyed from aboard a large cruise ship. A spectacular and impressive array of high-character buildings along key sections of our CBD, including the Esplanade, must surely be a worthy objective if we are to impress our visitors.
I recently had the pleasure of taking in the view from the 18th floor of the new Paspaley building at the top of the Smith Street Mall. It is a truly spectacular view of a wide area of Darwin Harbour – albeit a different perspective to the one to be enjoyed from along the Esplanade.
Because Darwin is situated on a peninsula, harbour views are available from many CBD buildings located on various CBD streets and facing various directions. Hence I find it hard to understand why there appears to be a fixation on protecting views of the harbour only along the Esplanade, with no mention of protecting other views. Hopefully an analysis of views along “view corridors” will include all of the views in all directions.
By deciding to arbitrarily limit the height of buildings along the Esplanade, yet allowing buildings in parts of Mitchell Street to reach for the skies, decision-makers have enhanced the value of the affected land in Mitchell Street. But those buildings will be at least partially obscured when looking onto the CBD from the sea, so any visual statement they can make about Darwin from that perspective is limited.
Land along Darwin’s CBD Esplanade has been highly valued in the past - up to $5,000 per square metre. If a developer pays such a high price for land along the Esplanade, this value, as well as the cost of erecting the building, will necessarily dictate a high final cost for the apartments provided in that building. If the market at the time of completion of the building is not expected to enable the developer to achieve prices which will cover costs and enable the project to be profitable, the development will not occur.
A basic mathematical calculation will demonstrate that the financial viability of the development will hinge on how many apartments can be included, which in turn depends on how many floors the building will include (that is, its height).
Development of high rise buildings carries high risks at any time, but in Darwin’s current market it would be a very risk-averse developer who embarked on a CBD development project which relied heavily on sales of expensive apartments! But making the building taller and allowing commercial realities, architectural creativity and engineering standards to determine heights, is a formula which is much more likely to deliver both financial success for the developer and a more affordable, attractive product for the consumer and the community.
While on the subject of costs, it is worth noting that because of relatively poor access to public transport, and lifestyle choices of many apartment dwellers, developers in Darwin are still being required to deliver significant car parking space. This can cost up to $80,000 for the standard two carparks per apartment. Our developer colleagues operating in Melbourne or Sydney, where the population has excellent access to public transport and other amenities close by, and where residents lead different lifestyles to ours, have few constraints imposed on them with respect to provision for car parks. This factor alone is a significant contributor to the high building costs in Darwin.