Melbourne University starts moving on Royal Women’s Hospital site

The former Royal Women’s Hospital in Carlton. Photo: Melanie Faith DoveAfter letting it sit idle for six years, one of the city’s biggest landowners, Melbourne University, has moved to rezone and redevelop the former Royal Women’s Hospital site.

The Carlton-based university has initiated the first stage of a planning scheme change via the City of Melbourne for half a city block bordered by Swanston, Grattan and Cardigan streets to build an “innovation hub” called the Carlton Connect Initiative.

“The university is proposing … to build a sustainability and innovation hub, which will include a mix of research, development and education facilities in addition to community, commercial, residential and retail spaces and student housing,” planning documents say.

The planning amendment, if approved by the new government after this month’s state election, will reclassify the site to “capital city zone”, allowing unlimited height and liberal development constraints similar to Melbourne’s CBD.

The three existing buildings on the site rise up to 47 metres but “as a result of the amendment, the building height of the new development will range from 25 metres to 59 metres”, planning documents state.

Melbourne University has nearly completed refurbishing the A.J. Cunningham Wing of the former hospital on Swanston Street for teaching and research before it ultimately demolishes or adds to it with another structure.

Project director Charlie Day said the size of the development meant completion was likely to be a “decade-long process”.

It would “bring together academia, industry and government research labs”, he said.

Under the Carlton Connect plans, the most prominent building – the 13-storey, brown, brick-and-glass 3AW Community Wing that made up the core of the former women’s hospital – will be refurbished, making up the second stage of a five-stage project.

A third stage will see student housing developed on the north-east portion of the site, while a fourth will see another large building constructed on the corner of Grattan and Cardigan streets. The final stage will demolish the A.J. Cunningham Wing.

The Women’s Hospital moved off the site into a new $250 million building in Flemington Road constructed by Baulderstone in June 2008, which has the capacity for more than 7000 births a year.

The university said Carlton Connect’s research activities will focus on energy, food security, water, cities, climate change, and building more resilient communities through innovation.

Planning amendments can take up to six months to get ministerial approval once public submissions close. Time frames “vary widely”, a council spokeswoman said.

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