‘Fresh opportunity’: Second tower flagged for Festival Plaza

EXCLUSIVE: Planning Minister Nick Champion says he is willing to consider approving a second tower at Festival Plaza, describing current plans for a three-storey building directly behind Parliament House as a “lost opportunity” for the precinct.

Sep 16, 2022, updated Sep 19, 2022
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Champion told InDaily that developer Walker Corporation is “considering making an approach to Government” to replace its planned three-storey retail building with a second Festival Plaza tower.

He said if the developer lodged a formal request, the government would consider it, provided the tower was “a very significant piece of architecture” that connected Parliament House with the precinct.

Construction is due to begin next year on the three-storey retail building, which is part of the $663 million Walker and government-funded Festival Plaza redevelopment.

The redevelopment, slated for completion in 2025, also includes a 29-storey office tower called Festival Tower, a car park and redesigned public space.

Walker Corp originally proposed a two-storey retail building, but a third level was added ahead of the state planning body approving plans in 2020.

A seven-metre-wide public walkway would separate Parliament House and the retail building, prompting concerns from Heritage SA that the new building could “diminish” Parliament House’s state heritage listing and obscure its views.

Walker Corp’s current plan for a three-storey retail complex behind Parliament House and next to a single Festival Plaza tower. Image: Johnson Pilton Walker

Champion said the retail building had a “number of deficiencies” as it would separate Parliament House from the plaza.

“It (the retail building) is very close to Parliament, it obscures the Parliament. It has gone up one storey which makes it bigger again, but it has no relationship to the Parliament and indeed now Festival Plaza and the Parliament will be separated by this building,” he said.

“In fact, in order to access the plaza or that building you would have to walk out of Parliament, go around, walk down the street and then into the plaza.

“I think that’s a lost opportunity for civic space, for connection to Festival Plaza, for the Parliament as a whole as a heritage building and significant civic institution, but also citizens who want to access Parliament and the plaza.

“It seems to me that that’s not a great arrangement for the state.”

The Malinauskas Government has no power to veto the retail building as its construction is set in stone under a contract signed last year between the former Marshall Government and Walker Corp.

These are choices that we’re going to have to live with for a very long time once we’ve made them

But Champion said the contract also allows Walker Corp to gain access to air space above the retail building and request development rights to build a second tower.

Former Treasurer Rob Lucas ruled out consideration of a second tower, but Champion indicated the Malinauskas Government was open to the idea as a replacement for the three-storey building.

“They (Walker Corp) have indicated to Renewal (SA) that they’re considering making an approach to government,” he said.

“I think it is anticipated in the arrangements, in the contracts the previous government entered into that this was always going to be something that the state would have to consider at some point in the future.

“The question is, if there’s a proposal for a second tower, that proposal gives you a fresh opportunity to look at the interactions between the Parliament and this new building, and look at the interactions with the plaza as well.”

The proposed pedestrian walkway between Parliament House and the retail building. Image: Johnson Pilton Walker

Champion said in other states and countries, modern buildings built near parliaments often formed part of their “parliamentary precincts”.

He said if Walker Corp was to propose a second tower, the government should “carefully consider whether or not we should add to our parliamentary precinct” to ensure parliament “works effectively and has a good interaction with Festival Plaza”.

He added that he would only consider such a tower if it was “a very significant piece of architecture”.

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“The state does have very strong rights – almost unfettered rights – in regards to consideration of a second tower,” the minister said.

“One of the things I’d ask of parliamentarians and the community is we do have an opportunity to think more carefully about our civic spaces if a second tower is proposed – that is an opportunity to have a re-think about the interaction between the parliament and the square.

“If the three-storey building goes ahead – and that is at the moment is part of the contract – it seems to me that that opportunity will be lost.

“These are choices that we’re going to have to live with for a very long time once we’ve made them.”

Planning Minister Nick Champion. Photo: InDaily

A Walker Corp spokesperson said in a statement that it respected the government’s concerns.

“We are working with them to ensure we deliver an exceptional outcome on this important site and one that meets their approval,” they said.

InDaily asked Walker Corp to confirm it was considering requesting development rights to build a second tower in lieu of the retail building but did not receive a response.

A Renewal SA spokesperson said the agency was aware of Walker Corporation’s interest in building a second tower, but it was yet to receive a formal request for development rights.

“Without specific development designs, we are unable to speculate on the overall impact of a second tower,” they said.

“However, an additional tenanted building within the Riverbank Precinct would increase the number of people that use Festival Plaza daily, adding to its vibrancy and activation.”

The spokesperson said any additional construction works at Festival Plaza might impact access to some areas of the precinct and delay the completion of the overall redevelopment.

They said changing the current design would require planning approval.

The former Labor government gave Walker Corp exclusive rights to develop the precinct in 2012.

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