Following a long-term push by a Kuwaiti-backed construction company, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VACT) has decided to loosen height restrictions for buildings situated on a key plot of the Port Melbourne waterfront.
Victoria's planning authorities have given the go-ahead to the construction of apartment towers between five and 19 storeys in height at Waterfront Place just next to Station Pier on the shores of Port Melbourne by winding back covenants that place a curb on high-rise developments.
The covenants, which serve as a legally binding contracts on a land title document, block any alterations to Waterfront place that would have "hurt the area's amenity."
The decision has been opposed by local residents as well as the Port of Melbourne Corporation, who complain that proposed high-rise developments will be inconsistent with the character of the surrounding neighbourhood.
According to opponents, the construction of high-rise towers at the Waterfront Place site will overshadow the foreshore area. The property itself is currently occupied by a one-storey high gymnasium, as well as an abandoned childcare centre that was wracked by a fire.
Beacon Cove at present consists primarily of low-rise residential buildings as well as a handful of apartment complexes rising to a height of seven storeys.
The efforts of Action Group Australia, a building company owned by billionaire Kuwaiti sheikh Mubarak Abdullah Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, have prompted VCAT's decision, with controversial plans for a residential and retail hub in the area that have been pushed for nearly six years.
VCAT said it was drawn into the dispute between Action Group and local opponents because of "neglect, bureaucratic obfuscation, polarised planning attitudes, economic factors and physical depredation" of buildings currently on the site.
The Victorian planning adjudicator ruled that the development would not compromise the area's amenity. It also gave the right, however, to rival developer Mirvac to block any developments that were not of the same basic character and scale of buildings already on the site.
Despite local opposition, Action Group Australia's project enjoys the support of Port Phillip Council, which would amend the planning scheme to place a height limit of 10 storeys on developments.
VCAT's changes remain contingent upon ratification by the freshly elected Labor government, who said prior to assuming office that they would support the position of Port Philip Council, yet would make efforts to prevent overshadowing of the foreshore.