Going higher in timber: Hume gets approval for Southbank 10-level CLT extension

In February 20, 2017

Melbourne will get its first 10-storey commercial tower built out of cross-laminated timber, sitting on top of an existing six-storey commercial office building.

Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne approved Hume Partners Property’s application for the structure, which will be built out of locally sourced timber and which Hume Property managing director Scott Davies said could have a build time of 12 to 14 months.

The approval of the tower, which will contain 220 serviced apartments, demonstrates the commercial benefit for developers of timber. Using traditional steel and concrete would only have permitted an extra six levels, or 140 apartments, Mr Davies said.

“We wouldn’t have received the level of interest among the hotel operators if it wasn’t for the fact that we could deliver up to 220 rooms,” he told The Australian Financial Review on Wednesday. “There was demand for more, not less. Six storeys, or 140 rooms, were considered unviable by the majority of operators for the location given the underlying demand.”

He declined to say how much the Bates Smart-designed building had to change as a result of the sudden imposition of density controls in September 2015. The developer had been in consultation with state government and planning authorities before the new rules were introduced and lodged its planning application, conforming with the new rules within three months of their introduction, a government spokesman said.

The project is also a shot in the arm for the state government’s bid to develop a local manufacturing industry that can supply CLT, a product that is carbon neutral, fully recyclable and can be cut to required size and shape off site for quick and efficient on site assembly.

“This is all about promoting innovation, supporting jobs in Melbourne and Victoria and growing our state’s world-class tourism offerings,” Planning Minister Richard Wynne said.

The sector has grown from its start in Australia pioneered by Lendlease’s 10-storey residential Forte and Library at the Dock projects in Melbourne.

Less onerous requirements

However, timber projects already under way, such as The Gardens, a 101-apartment affordable housing project in western Sydney’s Campbelltown and a 47-unit development in Adelaide’s Kent Town, are relying on imported timber, typically from Austria.

New Zealand company XLam received Victorian funding to support a facility that could manufacture CLT, which comprises sheets of timber that are glued and pressed together, in the border town of Wodonga. It will open this year with the capacity to produce 141,000 square metres of CLT annually and it will supply the timber for 55 Southbank Boulevard.

Mr Davies said there was no quid pro quo that gave it planning approval in exchange for taking locally sourced timber.

“Our proposal for CLT resonated with both the Melbourne city council and [planning department],” he said. “But it wasn’t a prerequisite of theirs or it didn’t give us any special treatment. In this day and age, every application needs to meet certain environmental requirements proposed by local and state government authorities. It gave us the ability to tick that box very comfortably and persuasively.”

The viability of CLT gained a boost last year when the National Construction Code introduced less onerous requirements for timber towers of up to eight storeys.

The development will raise the current 32-metre height of the current building to 73 metres, with the addition of two levels of plant and ancillary equipment below the 10 levels of timber.

Mr Davies declined to disclose the value of the project at the intersection of Southbank Boulevard and City Road.

“What we can say is that the cost of construction in CLT is at a small premium to concrete and steel. However, savings in time to some large degree offset that,” he said.

He declined to name the likely builder or operator of the hotel, but said given the likely faster pace of construction he hoped it would open towards “the latter part” of 2018.

Existing commercial tenants will remain in the building while construction takes place above them.

Hume’s preference was to hold the asset, but it took “an open and flexible view” on selling it, he said.

Going higher in timber: Hume gets approval for Southbank 10-level CLT extension by Michael Bleby.  Available from <http://www.afr.com/real-estate/commercial/development/going-higher-in-timber-hume-gets-approval-for-southbank-10level-clt-extension-20170207-gu7xul> [Feb 8 2017 at 11:30 PM; Updated Feb 8 2017 at 11:30 PM]

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