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Submission on Proposed Sirius Redevelopment

Sirius was built as social housing and for the residents displaced by the redevelopment of The Rocks in the 1970s. Through the leadership of Jack Mundey and Nita McCrae, the Rocks Green Ban was placed, and in turn this led to saving the Rocks and constructing Sirius. Becoming known as the Battle for the Rocks, the history from which Sirius emerged will forever be part of its fabric, recording the values and ideas of a different era. 

The building and the people – members of the Millers Point community have long been involved in the campaign to save both. The community within Sirius was displaced, and with it was lost the links to families that had lived in the Rocks since the early years of the Colony. 

It may not be feasible to bring back previous residents of Sirius, and their displacement has changed forever the socio-economic makeup of the Rocks community. Myra Demetriou, the last resident of Sirius once asked, ‘Are we to live in the only major city in the world without social housing?’ 

It has been proposed that a proportion of major residential developments in the city be allocated to social housing. In view of its history, this would seem doubly important in the case of Sirius. Alternatively (or additionally), one or two units could be set aside and used in a residency program and associated with nearby arts organisations (performance or visual arts – MCA, Sydney Theatre, Sydney Dance, Bangarra, etc.). In recognition of the role of women in leadership and advocacy in this area, these residencies could focus on women in the arts. 

It is appreciated that the proposed development retains and extends outdoor public spaces in the site, and within these spaces we would like to see recorded some of the history that led to the building of Sirius. Some of this history might also be suitable for the Phillip Room, and in view of its significance, there should be some public access to the Phillip Room. 

The Millers Point Community Resident Action Group acknowledges the significance of retaining the existing building in the proposed redevelopment of Sirius, and further acknowledges that the proposed extensions demonstrate a high level of design excellence. However, it would be our preference for the Sirius building to be restored without additions or major modifications. 

If the building is to be modified and extended, the Millers Point Community Resident Action Group records its support for the following elements of the proposed development:  
• the way the existing building is clearly visible and the additions are differentiated, 
• the way the proposed additions maintain and follow the outline of the existing building so that the new development has the same stepped appearance as the existing building in both plan and elevation, 
• the retention of the pedestrian area at front and rear (even though the front courtyard is reduced) 
• the new staircase through the building from Cumberland Street to Gloucester Walk, providing a new connection between pedestrian spaces 
• the Gloucester Walk commercial spaces, which should increase pedestrian activation of this walkway 
• the vehicle entrance being a minor element only at the front of the building. 

The proposed development increases the overall height of the building by several metres. The height is also increased on several of the lower sections that were already higher than the maximum height allowed for other buildings throughout the Rocks. Alfred Street and the Cahill Expressway mark a boundary beyond which all buildings to the north are restricted in height. The exception to this restriction was the Sirius building, and this exception was agreed by all parties more than forty years ago to allow for the lifting of the Rocks Green Ban and the erection of Sirius to house residents displaced by the Rocks redevelopment. In this case it appears the increase in height is proposed only to maximise the return to the state government for the sale of a public asset. 

What must not be allowed is for this increase in height and the redrawing of the height of the new Sirius to be used as a new benchmark for what is allowed as maximum height for buildings in the Rocks, Millers Point and Barangaroo that are built on land to the north of the Alfred Street Line. If new buildings creep above the existing height restrictions, new buildings will loom over the heritage precinct of the Rocks, the Observatory will lose more of its openness to clear sky, and Central Barangaroo will rise higher than the maximum height long promised to the people of Sydney, in the process cutting off large sections of Millers Point from the visual connection it retains with the harbour which is an important aspect of its maritime heritage. 

If an increase in height is allowed for the Sirius redevelopment, then the envelope defining the maximum height of buildings in this area must clearly outline why Sirius should be allowed to break the current height restrictions and safeguards must be put in place to ensure the increased height does not provide a precedent for future development in the Rocks, Millers Point or Barangaroo.

Prepared by John Dunn for MPCRAG