“Astounding betrayal”: Sydney at war over Ritz-Carlton

Plans for a $500 million Ritz Carlton Hotel tower rejected by Sydney planners have been resurrected by the NSW premier in a move described by the city’s lord mayor as “an astounding betrayal of public trust”.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has ordered a review of the planning rules used to stymie the development, saying she wants to send “a strong message that Pyrmont is open for business”.

The 66-storey Ritz-Carlton tower, designed to complement The Star’s existing Sydney CBD operations, was rejected in July when city planners found its height and form failed to align with surrounding buildings or “contribute positively to the skyline”.

NSW planning minister Rob Stokes backed the decision, saying it was the result of “an exhaustive process” which reflected widespread local opposition to the scale of the Star development.

The tower would house more than 200 hotel rooms and 204 residential apartments and create an estimated 754 jobs, re-establishing the Ritz brand in Australia following the closure of its two previous Sydney hotels a decade ago.

The proposal now goes to the Independent Planning Commission, but the premier has announced a separate Greater Sydney Commission review of planning rules governing the suburb.

Lord mayor Clover Moore wants Star to ditch the residential component of the proposed tower – which is more than eight times higher than current planning controls allow – and instead focus on delivering the six-star hotel.

She said of the premier’s stance: “You may as well tear up the rule book.

“It appears that the certainty that the City of Sydney’s earlier planning process gave to the residents for Pyrmont, which influenced their decision to live there, is under threat. It is an astounding betrayal of public trust.

“As residents in Pyrmont have expressed to me, their suburb is a successful example of urban renewal, guided by master plans and local environment plans with established parameters for redevelopment. But the Star Casino’s proposal undermines this community’s vision for their area.”

Ms Berejiklian says the review panel would be tasked with delivering recommendations on what types of developments were appropriate in the inner-city suburb characterised by a mix of Victorian terraces, turn-of-the century warehouses, entertainment venues and new waterfront development.

“With a growing population, we know there will be more development in Pyrmont in the future,” she said.

“With that will come opportunities to build more transport links including a potential metro station.

“This review sends a clear signal that our government believes the Pyrmont area has a bright and exciting future as a key part of the NSW visitor economy.”

Tourism Accommodation Australia NSW has welcomed the review, CEO Michael Johnson describing the hotel development as “iconic”.

“You really need new six-star hotels to attract the high-end traveller and ensure Sydney keeps its status as Australia’s gateway city,” he said.

“As a global city we are always judged on our highest levels of accommodation and the Star Entertainment Group’s Ritz-Carlton development at Pyrmont will help place Sydney in a stand-out position.

“To have such an iconic hotel rejected in the first place was extremely disappointing and we welcome the strong action by the NSW Premier and await the results of the review into planning rules for the Pyrmont and Western Harbour precinct.

“This is a great opportunity to have a new iconic hotel in our city supporting local jobs, the economy and the hotel and tourism sector.”

Star Entertainment, which owns casinos in Brisbane and the Gold Coast as well as Sydney, this week reported profits from its high-rolling VIP program down 35 percent over the year, the group seeing an 8.4 percent fall in profit after tax to $224 million for the year to June 30.

The company argues limited high-end hotel accommodation in Australia is among the elements hindering revenue generation from wealthy Chinese tourists.

The Greater Sydney Commission – headed by Lucy Turnbull – will report to the government by the end of September.

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