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Developers question Marshall's ban on old RAH apartments

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South Australia’s development industry is questioning Liberal leader Steven Marshall’s pledge to stop private apartments being built on the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

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Just one week after the hospital was vacated, the old RAH has again become a political football, with the Liberals partially releasing its policy on the seven-hectare parcel of land, and the State Government readying to dump its once preferred private proponent for the site’s redevelopment.

Marshall dripped out part of his policy on the weekend, ruling out private residential on the site but remaining open to “institutional (university accommodation) and hotel accommodation”.

Marshall is also calling on the State Government to “hold off entering into a disastrous deal for 1300 apartments on the site”.

“Our full plans for the site will be released in the lead up to the election,” a spokesperson for Marshall said.

However, the moves have the development industry confused, not only about the definition of “institutional” accommodation but also about how the Liberal vision would ensure the precinct’s success.

The CEO of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (SA), Pat Gerace, said the success of urban places was dependent on the presence of people, including at night and on weekends.

“For these things to work you need people there,” Gerace told InDaily. “Places all around the world are attractive because there are people there. A space is energised by people. To have people living (on site) bring that – anything other will make that busyness temporal.”

He said residential development was also crucial for businesses setting up on or near the site.

“Mixed use brings that vibrancy on a continual basis,” he said.

“It would be a shame to have a district that ends up being a wasteland after five. (To avoid this) you need a core group of people who are living there.

“What will be the measure of the success of this project in five years’ time? It will be for people to say it’s a place I’m happy to go to on a weekend or in the evening.

“What are we achieving by saying no to residential?”

The Property Council was circumspect about the Marshall plan, with executive director Daniel Gannon saying only that: “The most important threshold for this site is that we meet the demands of the day-time and night-time economy.”

Marshall has been lukewarm about the plans for the site that the Government has been negotiating with developers Commercial & General and John Holland, although he hasn’t ruled out residential apartments until now.

Urban Development Minister Stephen Mullighan said Marshall had now articulated six different ideas for the old RAH site.

He said that in November last year, Marshall told FIVEaa that he supported a mixed use for the site and had not ruled out apartments.

Previous positions by the the Liberals included a 2009 idea to rebuild the RAH on the present site, and a push by Marshall to hand over the site to the private health sector or for medical tourism.

“Whilst Mr Marshall retains his title of the most negative person in the State, the Government will get on with the job of building South Australia with exciting new developments like the redevelopment of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site and Festival Plaza,” Mullighan said.

The Government, though, has its own issues with the redevelopment, which is planned to include a five-star hotel, more than 1000 lease-hold apartments, public institutions, a possible art gallery, and the return of almost a third of the site to the Botanic Gardens.

As InDaily reported last week, the relationship between the Government and its preferred proponent has soured.

The Government is unconvinced about the return it will get on the deal and is seriously considering, instead, handing over the site to its own development arm, Renewal SA, to manage with multiple developers and institutions such as the art gallery and the universities.

Late last year the Adelaide City Council passed a motion expressing “profound concern” at the inclusion of residential apartments in the State Government’s vision for the North Terrace site.

Park lands advocates argue allowing private residential apartments to be built on the site runs against a “public land, public benefit” principle.

Gerace said today there were plenty of open park lands available for people to enjoy and the old RAH site was a rare opportunity to create a “unique” new precinct for Adelaide.

The State Government is unlikely to give up the idea of residential on the site.

Mullighan said last week that now matter how it decides to proceed with the management of the development, it would retain the central elements of the proposal it has been negotiating for the best part of a year.

“It will be that mixture of uses … returning some of the site to the Botanic Gardens, adaptively reusing and keeping the heritage buildings that line North Terrace, the development of a research and a development precinct to support activity on the site – and also, as we’ve had for many, many years, the continuation of residential living on the site,” he said.

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