Oxford Street’s heritage
Oxford Street’s character is built on its diverse use and activities, and its distinct heritage building forms. It has a largely consistent and intact streetscape. Aside from the taller buildings to the west of the precinct, Oxford Street is generally lined by three storey buildings, located on sites with narrow frontages, in buildings serviced by rear lanes and with generally consistent facades and street awnings. It is these elements that create its distinctive local character and visual charm. Most of the precinct is in a heritage conservation area, with 132 contributory buildings and 52 locally listed heritage places.
What is the issue?
Oxford Street, Taylor Square and its surrounding area is one of Sydney’s iconic places and has long been appreciated as a creative and cultural precinct both locally and internationally. For many years, Oxford Street has been an iconic destination for nightlife and shopping and is home to the annual Mardi Gras Festival and parade.
Sydney City Council is proposing a number of changes to revitalise the precinct, in their words:
“The planning proposal provides the potential to unlock the redevelopment of sites within the precinct, which may be constrained by the existing height controls, and increase cultural and creative floor space.
It does this by enabling buildings within the precinct to redevelop to an increased alternative height and floor space controls by allowing additional stories on existing heritage buildings.”
Not all sections of the community share this view of the two separate proposals.
The proposed changes include:
- Building heights of up to 80m would be allowed on larger sites focused on the southern side of the street and western end due to its proximity to Central Sydney.
- Additional 2 storeys on existing heritage buildings.
- Increase of the floor space ratio of the National Art School to allow a total of 20,256 sqm to “unlock the sensitive redevelopment of the state listed heritage site.”
- Change the planning controls to allow for an increased height of buildings facing Taylor Square, allowing 2 and 4 storey increases in height, if 10% of the total floor space is for a cultural or creative activity.
- Allowing a 5 storey podium building above 1-19 Oxford Street.
Why is the National Trust concerned?
The proposed changes to building heights, floor space ratios and infill development have the potential to drastically alter the distinctive character of Oxford Street and irreversibly damage the heritage significance of the precinct.
The National Trust acknowledges that Oxford Street has suffered an economic downturn in recent years, with the growth of larger shopping centres, increased online spending, the impacts of a noisy road environment, underused public spaces and lockout laws contributing to retail vacancies, fewer people and lower amenity on Oxford Street.
However, the proposed changes will not address the root cause of these issues. Although the proposal purports to ensure that a vibrant cultural industry is supported and encouraged, a building need only dedicate 10% of its space to creative and cultural activities to qualify for a two storey height increase. It must be questioned how this 10% of the existing building is going to create let alone support creative industries on the street.
The National Trust maintains that Oxford Street has the potential to once again be re-invigorated and that this must start with the street itself – potentially one of the great boulevards of Sydney linking Hyde Park and Taylor Square. Measures such as decreasing lanes on Oxford Street, activating street dining, installing public lighting and art, and greening the street would begin to address the root cause of the issue while retaining the distinctive heritage character of the Precinct and protecting its values. Simply adding floor space is not the solution, and will have a major heritage impact.
What can you do?
Your voice counts – we urge our members and the public to make a submission and ensure Oxford Street’s heritage character is not overcome in the quest for more developable space.
You can make a submission on the proposed changes before Friday, 5 November 2021. You can use our key points above to inform your submission.
Please note that there are in fact TWO proposals on exhibition by Sydney City Council:
Banner photo: Looking up Oxford Street from Hyde Park Corner, 1910, City of Sydney Archives, A-00039079