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Parliament lifts the lid on the Barangaroo view blue

He simply wanted to ensure that views from his $2bn tower – then billed as his gift to Sydney – would be protected, but the tortuous path negotiations have taken left rival developers sidelined and could prove costly for the NSW government.A NSW parliamentary order has opened the book on negotiations between Crown and Lendlease over the landmark Crown Sydney Barangaroo tower as the two sides hurried to lock in a deal in that year to control views of Sydney’s landmarks.The standing order 52 shows former NSW premier Mike Baird was called on to sign off on sight lines for Crown and Lendlease’s Barangaroo development ahead of a looming visit from billionaire James Packer, before months later backflipping on the deal.The documents show the state body overseeing the precinct, the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, pushed back on attempts by Crown and Lendlease to lock in language that would elevate their rights to views of Sydney over the development of neighbouring sites in the harbourside precinct.The sale of the views continues to haunt NSW amid allegations they were sold twice, first to Crown and then to Grocon, with the NSW government dragged to court twice in three years.The chaos around the landmark Central Barangaroo project, which saw developer Grocon sell its stake in the project to Chinese partner Aqualand after being frustrated in its own attempts to secure approvals, now leaves the harbourside precinct ­unfinished.The $2.5bn Central Barangaroo project, now being completed by Aqualand, is expected to be finished in the years after the completion of the Barangaroo Sydney Metro station in 2024. It will have six office buildings and a luxury apartment tower but will be much lower than originally planned.At the heart of the long-running disputes over the sight lines were attempts by the NSW government to recoup the costs of its plans to build the Barangaroo Metro station in the precinct.Despite agreeing with Crown and Lendlease to include them in negotiations over “optimising commercial development at Central Barangaroo” premier Baird announced plans to build the metro station in October 2016.This saw the NSW government lift the approved size of whatever was built over the metro station from 58,000sq m to 150,000sq m.Crown and Lendlease took the NSW government to court over the announcement, arguing it would allow for buildings so big that they would block sight lines from the Crown Barangaroo resort tower and Lendlease’s apartments.The developers argued the NSW government failed to discuss sight lines in the precinct. But the government said the 2015 talks it held with the pair showed the companies were aware there was never a guarantee of sight lines.The trove of documents released by the parliament shows that former NSW Premier Mike Baird was called on to personally sign off on the sight line deal, just weeks before Mr Packer secured another 105m for the height of Crown’s Barangaroo tower.The documents, covering a period in 2015, reveal the creeping demands from Crown and Lendlease – that they be handed rights to ensure views for the boardroom and luxury real estate being built on the Sydney Harbour foreshore.The settling of the wording came just days after Baird’s then chief of staff Bay Warburton was told Mr Packer would be visiting Australia.NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet executive director of cities branch David Tow emailed Mr Warburton on 18 February, 2015, after speaking with then Crown Resorts chief executive Rowen Craigie, who “advises that the following matters are expected to be raised by Mr Packer tomorrow”.“Discussions expected to be forward looking regarding delivery of the Crown Resort,” he notes.“He may ask for ‘unimpeded views’ across central, but also understands that a Metro station that activates the precinct is very good for Crown. He will probably note that the project is 12 months behind schedule and will need co-operation across government, led by DPC, to make up as much of this as possible.”The documents show Crown and Lendlease escalating their demands for the sight lines from the Barangaroo tower.An early version of the agreement says the Barangaroo Delivery ­Authority “has not agreed” to requests from the Crown and Lendlease to “impose a restriction or covenant on the title for Barangaroo Central”.However, this wording was dumped in future versions, shifting to discussions around acknowledging the retention of sight lines for Crown and Lendlease.The documents show then Lendlease chief executive of Europe, Dan Labbad, emailed Mr Tow, on February 24, 2015, pushing for wording to be ­included that would “preserve” sight lines “while at the same time ­improving the commercial development opportunities for Barangaroo Central”. Mr Tow’s emails note that ­Lendlease’s annexure was “problematic” and that the authority couldn’t “use the word ‘preserve’ ” in documents.“This has already been discussed internally at some length,” he said.The wording was ultimately submitted to Mr Baird via his aide Mr Warburton, who approved it on his behalf.“I am confident that these words would be approved by him, having reviewed them myself,” he said.Crown, Lendlease and Infrastructure NSW all opposed the release of the sensitive documents, noting they contained “confidential information that is commercially sensitive” that would reveal the tripartite negotiations that took place over ­Barangaroo.Construction on the Crown Barangaroo Tower kicked off in October 2016.However, in late March 2015 the NSW government announced the tower’s height limit would be boosted from its proposed lofty heights of 170m to a city-defining 275m.But the negotiations over sight lines came as the NSW government was floating the possibility of building a Metro station in Barangaroo.Mr Baird announced the plans to build the Metro station and an above-ground building of no more than 150,000sq m in October 2016, noting any construction would not block views from Observatory Hill to the harbour but making no mention of Mr Packer’s tower.The proposal incensed Mr Packer, who was concerned the building by a Grocon-led consortium would block views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from Crown’s gym and boardroom.In response Crown and Lendlease launched legal action against the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, which the NSW government settled in August 2019 after losing its first round in the case.The 2019 settlement was not released but saw the parties agree to a settlement over sight lines in Barangaroo.However, this all took place in the period developer Grocon was separately engaged with the NSW government over its own plans to build Central Barangaroo.The 2019 deal with Crown and Lendlease cut much of the height of Grocon’s proposed towers for Central Barangaroo.In response to the delayed start of the project and looming financial difficulties, Grocon quit its stake in Central Barangaroo in September 2019, selling its stake in the site to Aqualand for $73m.Grocon has taken aim at the NSW government, alleging their failure to settle the sight lines deal and then withholding consent for the developer’s plans cost it $270m.Grocon, which collapsed into administration in 2020, blamed its failure on the poor return it made on exiting its Barangaroo stake.Infrastructure NSW has argued Grocon was aware of the risks and Crown would use sight lines clauses to restrict the potential height on the site and any return from its development. But in court hearings last November, Grocon alleged senior managers at Infrastructure NSW colluded to delay disclosing details of sight line deals to Grocon boss Daniel Grollo.Mr Grollo alleges he was assured by Barangaroo Delivery Authority chief executive Craig van der Laan that sight lines would be issued “soon” in 2017. But this came after years of ­promises.Legal documents allege Mr Grollo was assured by Mr van der Laan in October 2015 that there were “no restrictions” around site heights and that there was a “work around with the covenants that exist ­between the Authority, Lendlease and Crown and this would not be an issue for ­Grocon”. He again alleges he was told sight line negotiations would be settled by August 31, 2016. Infrastructure NSW continues to defend claims by Grocon in relation to Central Barangaroo.In statement a month after the court hearings, it said that NSW government executives involved in negotiations with Grocon “conducted themselves appropriately at all times”.

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