Why Harvey Norman failed to gain approval for new Ryde head office development

A mock-up of Harvey Norman’s proposal, as designed by Allen Jack + Cottier.

The plan to move Harvey Norman’s corporate head office to Macquarie Park, in Sydney’s northwest, has been interrupted by City of Ryde Council declining to support the planning proposal for the block of land earmarked for development.

Harvey Norman’s plan to relocate from its current base in Homebush to booming Macquarie Park was first revealed by Appliance Retailer in March 2013 when the company lodged an application with the Council to develop three sites it already owned, including a Domayne outlet.

The Council engaged property consultant SJB Planning to review the proposal, which included converting a smash repairs and an industrial warehouse into residential apartments, a 200-room hotel room and commercial facilities. The Domayne store would remain, with Harvey Norman’s head office to be developed on top of the existing building.

During this 5-month review process, Harvey Norman actively promoted the development, with largely positive articles in The Australian Financial Review and a website dedicated to explaining the proposal and its benefits to the precinct.

To develop the property, Harvey Norman needed approval to change zoning, height and floor space controls in order to develop the existing buildings into a combination of offices, hotels and a residential property.

Should Harvey Norman move to this area, it will become a neighbour to other large companies in the broader technology industry, including Optus, Foxtel, Microsoft and Sony Australia.

“The proposal has the potential to create more than 880 new jobs once completed, in addition to the existing jobs associated with the existing Domayne/ Harvey Norman store,” Harvey Norman stated.

“A new urban square and park will be developed. This will connect with the planned community centre on the adjacent North Ryde Station Urban Activation Precinct site and, surrounded by retail shops, [will] create a vibrant place for people to congregate. Opportunities to incorporate a new child care centre are also being explored.”

Despite these claimed benefits, SJP Planning recommended to the Council that the development not proceed because Harvey Norman’s proposal to build residential apartments does not align with the Council’s stated goal for the precinct, which is as an economic hub with employment opportunities.

The report prepared by SJP states that although Harvey Norman’s analysis of the impact of merging residential and commercial developments on this property was comprehensive, it was not persuasive enough to justify changing the Council’s original plans.

“[In] a planning proposal [seeking] to alter Council’s adopted strategy regarding the retention of the Macquarie Park Corridor for predominately employment generating uses, there should be some analysis of demand for, and take up of, commercial space, and why allowing for residential development would not undermine the current planning strategy, which has been developed for the medium and longer term,” the SJP report said.

“In this regard, while documentation on the areas provided is comprehensive, the submission does not provide sufficient analysis to vary the current strategic planning direction.”

Regarding the 880 new jobs Harvey Norman claimed this new development would create, SJP expressed doubts bordering on the dismissive:

“Residential uses once completed do not provide comparable supply of jobs when compared to ongoing commercial uses. It is considered that the basis for the job numbers are not adequately identified, and do not provide the same employment capacity when considered in the context of the preferred land use mix for the site.”

The Council accepted SJP’s recommendation to deny approval and its reasoning at its meeting on 27 August 2013 and informed Harvey Norman.

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