Five-storey housing plan floated for UniSA’s Magill campus

The Malinauskas Government wants UniSA’s Magill campus rezoned for “medium and high-density” housing by March 2026 – with concept designs to be drawn up as early as this year – raising questions over earlier assurances about the future of the site.

Jun 20, 2024, updated Jun 20, 2024
The local heritage listed Murray House on UniSA's Magill campus. The building is slated for "adaptive reuse" 
when the campus is transformed into housing. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The local heritage listed Murray House on UniSA's Magill campus. The building is slated for "adaptive reuse" when the campus is transformed into housing. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The state government’s land agency, Renewal SA, this week released a tender for a planning consultancy to masterplan the 11-hectare Magill campus in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs, with procurement documents describing the land as a “significant and high-priority urban infill project”.

The tender states that the project objective is to create a “high quality residential and mixed-use estate that includes a variety of housing options including townhouses and medium to high density housing (2 to 5 storeys)”.

The procurement also specifies a 15 per cent affordable housing outcome and an estate that will be “a catalyst which encourages development in the broader area”.

“The redevelopment of the Magill University Campus site presents an opportunity to deliver a ‘high quality’ residential development comprising of a mix of housing typologies that will complement the surroundings,” the Renewal SA tender states.

“The potential exists to utilise the high quality amenity on the site including mature trees to create an idealic residential setting.”

The government is also procuring an architect to investigate whether the local heritage-listed Murray House – the stone building constructed in 1881 marking the eastern entry to the campus – can undergo “adaptive reuse”.

Other university campus building could be slated for demolition. The tender specifies that the winning firm must provide “cost inputs” for their concept plans including for “demolition of buildings”.

Renewal SA last year purchased Magill campus and two smaller parcels of land to the east of St Bernards Road for $64.5 million as part of the government’s funding package to support the merger of the University of Adelaide and UniSA.

Magill Campus map

Renewal SA purchased land to the east and west of St Bernards Road as part of its Magill campus acquisition. Image: Renewal SA

The government is leasing the land back to UniSA at a cheap rate so it can remain there while developing a plan to shift courses.

The 10-year lease, which UniSA can terminate with three months’ notice, was signed last year.

InDaily asked UniSA whether it intends to stay at Magill for the duration of its 10-year lease. A spokesperson said in a statement: “UniSA has not changed its current plans to maintain its teaching and research presence at the Magill campus, as previously indicated.

“We have not commenced any planning in regard to relocating Magill programs, nor is this scheduled to commence in the short term.”

In response to concerns from local Liberal Party MPs that Magill campus could be transformed into high-density housing, Planning Minister Nick Champion told InDaily in August 2023 that Renewal SA will not begin master planning the site “for at least five years” and the campus will remain in university hands for 10 years.

He also accused Liberal Party MPs Vincent Tarzia and John Gardner of “harvesting… votes through raising community anxiety” and running “wild campaigns against density”.

“It’s a university site for 10 years. Master planning won’t begin for five years,” Champion said at the time.

But Renewal SA’s tender specifies that it wants two concept plans drawn up for the site by “early November 2024” with a final masterplan completed by “late April 2025”.

The masterplan would then be used to support a planning code amendment to rezone the land from its current community facilities zone to urban neighbourhood, which supports higher density housing options.

The rezoning process would commence in late April 2025 and be approved by March 2026, according to the tender.

UniSA Magill campus

UniSA’s Magill campus is home to significant and regulated trees and a creek. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“Proponents must confirm that they have the capacity to immediately commence preparation of the master plan work and complete the final Master Plan no later than April 2025,” the tender states.

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Asked whether the government has fast tracked its timeline to redevelop Magill campus, Champion said the government was taking a “holistic approach” by master planning the land parcels on both the east and west side of St Bernards Road.

“This will ensure any future development will be consistent across the entire area and factor in the community’s various needs,” Champion said in a statement.

“The masterplan will be refined over time as it responds to the community needs and design process.”

The smaller parcels of land on the eastern side of St Bernards Road will likely be available for development earlier than the Magill campus, although Champion said there “is no timeline” to develop this land.

The government’s leaseback agreement for the eastern land is only three years and, according to the Renewal SA tender, can be terminated “at any time should the site be required for redevelopment”.

Magill campus

UniSA’s lease over the eastern portion of Magill Campus (on the other side of St Bernards Road) is only three years. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Champion said the government would work with the Campbelltown City Council and the local community to plan the site.

“The Magill campus represents a unique opportunity to create a new community in a strategic location near transport routes, schools and services,” he said.

“Master planning will consider the necessary provisions for utilities and services as well as the broader impact and interaction with the surrounding suburb.

“Specific details on density and building height will be established through this master plan process.”

The sale of Magill campus generated significant community interest last year, including a flurry of submissions to the parliamentary inquiry examining the university merger and a petition that the Liberal Party says garnered “several hundreds of local signatures”.

Indeed, UniSA’s leadership was aware that its land sell offs at Magill and Mawson Lakes could be controversial and asked the Premier’s Office to omit details about them at a press announcement last year, believing it would generate “enormous community reaction which will be particularly unhelpful”.

Tarzia, the Liberal Member for Hartley, said his community has been clear with him that the eastern side of St Bernards Road should retain “as much open space as reasonably possible”, including the preservation of its playing field and soccer pitches.

“After a petition that gathered several hundreds of local signatures, you would think that the Labor Government would better engage with the community including local members of Parliament,” he said.

“Any development would need to respect the heritage aspect of Murray House which was built in the 1800s.

“We ask the Labor Government to rule out high density housing from the area. Congestion and road stress also calls for an updated Road Traffic Management Plan for the area.”

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