Sometimes there can be little wonder that planning and heritage protection within our suburbs is in a state of ruin, when you just take a look at some of the people in council who are actually running the show. We’ve recently learned of Parramatta Council’s ill-conceived approval to bastardise the convict-built heritage of Lennox Bridge. Back in August we lifted the lid on the former Mayor of Auburn and councillor, Mr Ronny Oueik, and his enduring attempts to demolish his own heritage-listed Federation mansion known as Camden Lodge. Now the case of his right hand man, the deputy mayor of Auburn, one Salim Mehajer, a young 26 year old property developer with expensive tastes in cars and some very questionable driving skills.
In October it was reported that this upstanding member of society took his $250,000 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti out for a drive in Lidcombe, lost control of the vehicle and veered onto the footpath striking two pedestrians, Nhu Hua, 68, and Teyet La, 40, who suffered serious injuries requiring surgery at Westmead hospital. The deputy mayor was convicted of negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm in Burwood Court, but parts of the story were changed after he revealed having to swerve away from another car, a fact he didn’t tell police earlier, saying rather he was distracted by the flash of a bystander’s camera. Despite the possibilities of severe punishment including stiff fines and jail time, Mehajir walked away with a relatively minor 12 month suspension for negligent driving and 150 hours of community service. No doubt his cause was helped by several personal references by dignitaries including councillors and state members, and being represented by former judge and Royal Commissioner, Greg James QC. He was actually commended by the Judge for his outstanding contributions to society.
This poses the question, does he deserve a place on council after all this? Is he a worthy representative of our community? And in a broader sense, do we want or need high flying property developers running our councils? Surely there are pecuniary interests at stake here, or at least a massive conflict of interest. On one hand, the council are supposed to assess DA’s and govern planning decisions based on community needs and unbiased procedure. Being the director of a property developing company while being sworn in as deputy mayor or councillor for that matter is not going to give unbiased decision making, because they have a stake in the building and development industry, they are in fact making money out of pro-development decisions, and that is not in the best interest of our communities. There is no way a developer should be on the council just as a convicted felon shouldn’t be in the police force.
Former Mayor of Rockdale John Flowers who is now a state MP is another pro-development politician. During his time at Rockdale Council he was involved in the so-called ‘Destinations’ failure which set Rockdale up as a new Gold Coast style tourism centre complete with marinas and parking over the beach dunes. Residents breathed sighs of relief when that was finally deemed dead and buried, but not content with merely harassing Rockdale residents alone, as a state government MP he is at it again, spruiking the merits of high rise in areas such as Botany Bay, where he believes buildings such as the gaudy Novotel are the way forward, and that the number of 60’s and 70’s blocks of 2 and 3 storey units in the area are a result of ‘‘planning paralysis’’ and ‘‘urban decay’’ (what he really means is they are not overdeveloped). Many of us find them more attractive and certainly more appropriate in scale and size to the modern day alternatives.
In his inaugral parliament speech he supported measures by his Liberal government to assist developers state-wide, allowing them to appeal to a Joint Regional Planning Panel if their DA was initially denied. This panel would consist of independent analysts including, you guessed it, developers. NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard sang the praises of the pro-development stance. ‘This means rezoning proposals which have merit — for instance those which are well-located, planned and will assist housing supply — may be supported after an independent review.’’ We see it another way… that even though a development has been knocked back due to being inappropriate, over-sized or unwanted by the community, it will still get through via this back door. Meanwhile, under Hazzard’s white paper reforms, we as residents won’t even get the right to know when a development is going up next door to our own homes.
Community members need to stand up against these self-interested developer-councils, pro-developer state government, and their developer lobby group buddies such as Urban Taskforce. They are taking us all for a ride. With the O’Farrell government’s white paper on planning undergoing public consultation as we speak, we need to oppose the ridiculous planning laws now being proposed and enforced upon us. There are many community groups around the Sydney area who are fighting long and hard battles against the various waves of this tide of bad planning. As a direct result of the green and white papers, a conglomerate known as the Better Planning Network (BPN) has recently been formed with the aim to combine us all in our fight at a state level. Here is an email link that contains a letter opposing the planning reforms. Please look and fill it out, it only takes a minute, and we will only win with many voices.
Main title image. Deputy mayor of Auburn Salim Mehajer, SMH.
Almost two years ago in January 2010 an iconic Melbourne art deco building, Lonsdale House, built in 1934 from two previously standing Victorian warehouses of varying size, was handed over to the wrecking ball and lost forever. Owners of the site, Myer applied to demolish the building in order to allow a new entranceway to their new Emporium super shopping centre, and the City of Melbourne graciously agreed, despite a howl of public protest and the formation of supporter websites, petitions and the inauguration of the Melbourne Heritage Action group. Even having its famous stylised towers appear on the cover of Robin Grow’s Melbourne Art Deco history book couldn’t save Lonsdale House; now that famous tower lives only in photographs and fading memories.
Author and president of the Art Deco & Modernism Society, Robin Grow, was bemused at the time… ‘‘They just gave it up. They said they were more than happy for it to be demolished,’’ he said. ‘‘If the City of Melbourne isn’t prepared to defend buildings that are subject to heritage overlays then what is the point in having the heritage overlays, it is outrageous, What we are getting is replacing a classic building appreciated by people all over the world with another set of shops, What’s this going to look like in 10 years?’’
So what’s the replacement, why the need to tear down an irreplaceable piece of unique 20th century architectural history? Well, quite shamefully, it was actually demolished in order to widen the service lane for Emporium retail deliveries. And what has risen in its place is another gaudy glass box screaming at passers-by to come in and buy from the cavernous retail sprawl so similar to anywhere else in the world. So an icon of Melbourne, a tourist attraction, a building worth pointing out, is gone … replaced by more inane glass and scaffolding shopping boxes.