Rethinking proposed development in Clocktower Square

Plans to redevelop Clocktower Square in The Rocks have sparked concern from the National Trust (NSW). The proposed eight-storey luxury hotel is higher than allowed in this significant precinct and would dominate the skyline and overpower the precious surrounding historic context.

What is the proposed development?

As reported in the Daily Telegraph recently: “A heritage protection battle is brewing over plans to redevelop one of Sydney’s most prominent shopping centres into a luxury high rise hotel precinct with fears it could ‘dominate’ its historic surroundings.”

An application has been made to redevelop 35-55 Harrington Street, The Rocks. The proposals involved the demolition of the existing five-storey building (referred to as the ‘Clocktower’ building) and the construction of a new eight-storey hotel accommodation building with two levels of retail/commercial, five levels of luxury hotel accommodation and a rooftop entertaining and pool space.

The height of the proposed building at this site represents a major change for this part of The Rocks, and crucially, it seeks to raise the building heights beyond what currently exists and what is currently allowed. It is the National Trust’s view that the increased height does not balance the negative impact to the surrounding streetscape, the heritage character and important viewlines.

Clocktower Square in The Rocks.

Why is this location so important?

The Rocks is an extraordinarily significant precinct, containing more than 150 individual statutory heritage listings.  While the subject site was redeveloped in the 1980s and is not listed as an individual heritage item on any statutory heritage registers, it is located within The Rocks, one of Sydney and Australia’s most significant early colonial landscapes.

The National Trust recognised the significance of the precinct in 1978 when it listed The Rocks Urban Conservation Area on its heritage register, noting:

“The Rocks Urban Conservation Area is important both architecturally and historically as one of the earliest areas of European settlement in Australia. The urban qualities of The Rocks are a combination of streets, buildings and open spaces tied together by a very strong topographical setting. The ground falls steeply to either side [of The Rocks ridgeline] giving important harbor views and demanding many dramatic cuts into the ridge. Much of [The Rocks] character is a result of The Rocks topographical nature.  This nature allows for many extra views of the harbor … and is an important contribution to Sydney Harbour itself.”

The heritage value of The Rocks that was first recognised by the National Trust more than 40 years ago – it is imperative that all proposals for change within The Rocks recognise this immense value and respond sympathetically to its heritage significance.

Why is the National Trust concerned?

Cambridge and Gloucester Streets looking south from the Argyle Cut, The Rocks [Rocks Resumption photographic survey] 1901. Image: NSW State Archives Collection.
As a close neighbour to The Rocks, the National Trust has long advocated to ensure development in the area respects and remains sympathetic to the immense heritage values of this precinct.

The existing onsite 1980s ‘clocktower’ building does not have any heritage significance and its scale, bulk and design do not contribute positively to the surrounding conservation area.  However, the proposed development will increase the heights of the subject block beyond what is currently allowable for the site. These increased heights represent a significant, large-scale change to the approved heights for this predominantly low scale area.

We note that the Heritage Council NSW (March 2022 minutes) noted similar concerns, stating “noncompliance [with existing height requirements] without clear justification would be a detrimental precedent for The Rocks”. The National Trust agree with the above statement, and feel that this increased height and bulk would have an unacceptable and long-term negative effect on the most precious Rocks precinct.

The National Trust finds that the proposal is inconsistent with the values and management principles set out in The Rocks Heritage Management Plan (HMP), which states: The place that is ‘The Rocks’, including its setting, associations, associated evidence and the meaning that it holds for residents, workers and visitors, is an irreplaceable resource. There is, therefore, nothing more important about the heritage management of The Rocks than an overarching obligation to conserve it. The existing place is the only one that there will ever be.

Protecting heritage

The National Trust has long argued for the history of our cities to play a meaningful role in their future. The Rocks is currently imagining, planning, and building projects that will enhance or detract from the character for generations to come. The National Trust is advocating for development within The Rocks Urban Conservation Area in a manner and for a purpose that reflects and celebrates that heritage and character.

The proposed development states that its vision to “represents a significant opportunity for urban renewal and to set the benchmark for future development in The Rocks.”  The National Trust notes that this precedent should not detract from public, private and significant historic viewlines and nor should a precedent be to repeat past mistakes of overdevelopment and excessive heights in such a fundamentally sensitive and significant area.  Rather, it should seek to apply excellence in heritage management to the proposal and to all forms of future work.

We urge the government to knock back this proposal and protect The Rocks for future generations.


The National Trust (NSW)’s mission is to advocate for the conservation of built, cultural and natural heritage. Find out more about our advocacy work.

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NSW Editor


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  1. I totally agree that the proposed 8-storey development would dominate the Rocks and be an incongruous and unwelcome addition to the charming, much valued, existing heritage community.
    The Trust has our absolute support in its endeavours to persuade the Government to disallow this proposal

  2. So little of this type of areas are left. I hope for the sake of future generations that this big hotel is not allowed to go ahead. Our children s children, need to be able to see the old world as such.

  3. I remember when that building was built and was saddened then and now it will be worse!
    Why is the ‘bottom line’ (money) always the winner.? Why are the people who say yes to these changes not humane?
    Is there not some feeling of shame among them?
    The clock is so out of place the way it is now anyway.
    Let us keep some history for visitors and for ourselves and our future generations, however they think!!!!
    Makes me so angry and ‘sick in the stomach’ upset!

  4. As soon as you approve taller clock towers it sets a precedence for other buildings? Keep it as it is.. we don’t need a tall clock tower if it is out of character with surroundings… electronic devices are carried by everyone!

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