Location of proposed Queensbridge Tower relative to existing Freshwater Place (note: distance between buildings at nearest point was increased from 8 m to 10 m by Minister)

A reader sent me this plan (1st exhibit) of how the proposed new 71 storey Queensbridge Tower (cream) will sit in relation to the existing 62 floor Freshwater Place building (grey). While the plan shows they’ll only be 8 metres apart at the closest point, it’s important to note the developer has increased this to 10 metres by sliding the entire Queensbridge Tower south-east by 2 metres.

Ten metres doesn’t seem a lot to me. It’s about the width of a tennis court or about half the length of a cricket pitch. It wouldn’t feel like much if you’re looking out the window of your level 50 bedsit at the neighbours in the adjacent building, or they’re looking at you. It wouldn’t just be the neighbour directly opposite either, since those above and to the sides would get a view in too.

Then again there are many examples of both high-rise and low-rise buildings that are at least as close. Here’s a ten metre wide street in Copenhagen (2nd exhibit) with four to five storey apartment blocks.  Here’s one of the many even narrower streets in Paris (3rd exhibit), with buildings of six and seven storeys.

I’ve lived in streets this narrow before (e.g. Palmer Lane, East Sydney) and amplified sound in particular can make it trying. However with the benefit of air-con and thick glass it would be much more amenable.

24 Skindegade Copenhagen (click to look around - H/T Small Streets)

As long as the buyers know what they’re getting, I’m inclined to let them decide how close is too close. There’ve been too many cases in the past of paternalists driving up costs – and even excluding some groups entirely – by insisting on minimum standards they feel others should live at.

In this case buyers of the proposed Queensbridge Tower will know what they’re getting because Freshwater Place exists and should be shown on the developer’s interior renderings. However the buyers of Freshwater Place didn’t have that advantage and that’s led to some controversy.

They’re concerned about loss of views, light, air and privacy. Many say they did not expect a development of that size on the adjacent site.

Of course they should have done their due diligence and gotten the appropriate advice about what might happen on surrounding sites. After all, theirs is a 62 storey building that’s been constructed right to the boundary, so they should’ve anticipated other developments.

They don’t in any event have a right to a view. No one does, otherwise the first building constructed could sterilise the development potential of adjacent sites. From the look of the plan I expect the units in both buildings will still get adequate light and air.

But as I noted in discussing the Wills Court and Highbury developments recently, humans aren’t perfect. We’re renowned for our inability to correctly judge risk. We’re poor at seeing and responding to the long-term costs of present delights. We’re even worse when we’re young, as many inner city apartment buyers are.

3 Rue Volta, Paris (click to look around)

Assessing possible future unknowns is very hard for some buyers, perhaps a lot. It’s easy for a buyer to plunge ahead and commit to a first apartment with a lot of light and even a view, but be unable to imagine, or unconsciously selectively ignore, the high likelihood it will literally all disappear one day.

The Capital City Zone applying in the city centre might also have added to the complexity. It reduces certainty because it gives the Minister a lot of discretion. That has advantages but probably also makes it harder for buyers to make sensible and rational decisions.

I don’t think this case is as severe as the Wills Court one. In that instance some residents will get all their light and air from a 32 storey, 5m x 6m light well, if the contiguous Highbury development goes ahead as originally proposed. A light well that small is likely to lack breezes, create a cacophony of noise, and not actually deliver much light to lower floors.

In the Queensbridge-Freshwater case the separation between buildings is much greater and it’s open at both ends. However as with Wills Court, it seems the QBH developers are acting within their rights. The Minister has approved the proposal.

The main issue here I think is about consumer information – ensuring buyers are aware of what they’re getting for their money. A lot of that is the task of the agents marketing the building.

Queensbridge buyers need to be careful too. As a result of the separation between the two buildings being increased from 8 metres to 10 metres by the Minister, Queensbridge Tower will now be built very close to the southern boundary. Buyers of apartments on that side of the building will need to understand clearly that adjacent sites could be redeveloped with buildings just like theirs.

It would also help if the Minister were to prepare some advice on what’s a reasonable distance between facing living areas for different types of buildings. This would help buyers make informed decisions about what sorts of trade-offs they’re prepared to make – e.g. between price and privacy – when choosing a dwelling.