More than 200 men, women, and children packed the Kogarah School of Arts today to talk about the proposed LEP changes soon to be passed by Kogarah Council. Over the course of nearly two hours they heard from speakers including young gun MP for Kogarah Chris Minns, local residents and members of Kogarah.org, an umbrella group formed to address the shortcomings associated with the LEP and educate more people into standing up against unwanted overdevelopment within their area.
Clearly the proposed LEP for Kogarah is all about overdevelopment, and badly planned overdevelopment at that… Issues such as 21m (7 stories) height limits nowhere near railway corridors, highrise up to 39m all through the shopping and business precincts, density increases along the already congested Princes Highway and Rocky Point Rd. among others, removal of waterfront buffers, and total lack of consultation and transparency by Kogarah Council has forced these people to come together and fight what they see as an indignity being wrought upon their suburban lifestyle by the very ones in power who were elected to represent the residents interests, not walk all over them.
No Kogarah councillors chose to be present.
The fact Kogarah Council has not included a biodiversity study seems grounds to make the LEP invalid, said one speaker, a former lawyer with the Land and Environment Court. Not only illegal but also a bold statement by a reckless council who chooses to flaunt the rules in their arrogant push to quickly and quietly steamroll this bloated LEP through while the doors are wide open.
I think there is a moment in time when it becomes blindingly clear that the ones we are meant to trust to do the right things for us we can no longer trust, and this moment is now for Kogarah.
Perhaps it underpins a broader social problem nowadays, when even the local council can’t be trusted to bring the best results for its residents, then who can we believe in? Are we at that point where municipal pride has not only flickered away like some 1900s candle, but been highjacked by the deeds of wayward councillors who have clearly forgotten their role in the community, the reason for their position, the pride in their own job?
That lack of public confidence translates into somewhat of a breakdown in society, or at least in society’s values. Is it too much, after all, to expect that our cities and our suburbs, our streets and our schools, won’t be stretched to breaking point by the unwanted development we now find ourselves being repeatedly jabbed with, forcing residents to either scatter like rats or come together in bands to try and salvage what we can of what we see as our right to control our own destiny.
Well today, in Kogarah, the people didn’t scatter… They came in silently, queued on the stairs contently, and crammed the little School of Arts to physically demonstrate their opposition to a flawed and greedy piece of legislation which would only bring gains to council, government and those set to benefit financially from the mass rezoning of land parcels. The average resident can only lose here. And so their voices were heard, in numbers…
I would like to congratulate those involved with Kogarah.org, and all those who took time from their Sunday afternoon to come out and fight for their suburb, to fight against the greed and insanity of this overdevelopment. To fight to have a voice in what happens to their environment, their surroundings, to fight for what happens all around them, for their community. Yes, we all still have a community and it appears nowadays we do have to fight for it. It just seems a shame that the ones we are fighting are the very people we chose to represent us in the first place.
Check the Kogarah.org website here for the facts. Get submissions to Council by Friday May 29.
By Inheritance 2015, inheritance.org.au
They call it ‘Urban Renewal.’ The politicians love it, developers love it, foreign investors love it, my average neighbour doesn’t really want to know about it, but I hate it. And here are a few reasons why…
Urban Renewal is the reason I have to sit in traffic for 25 minutes just to get from one side of my suburb to the other. By car.
Urban Renewal is the reason I have to stand on the edge of the road for 10 minutes and then play chicken to get from one side to the other.
Urban Renewal is why I am forced to look up at overbearing nondescript cheaply constructed boxes of up to 10 stories high in suburban growth ghettos with inadequate parking, natural lighting and open space. Meanwhile affordable blocks of land and perfectly good houses are being swallowed up and kids have to make do with honing their ball skills on Sony Playstations.
Urban Renewal is the reason the sun now sets in my mother’s backyard at 2pm, as it is totally eclipsed by the dark side of a neighbouring block of ‘townhouses’ (ie. units).
Urban Renewal is the reason my favourite row of Federation shops has just been chewed up by bulldozers and reincarnated as some ugly monolithic drab grey box with concrete cancer and render peeling off like snakeskin after only its first full year of inception.
Urban Renewal is why I have to park two streets away if I’m not home by 3pm and three streets away on bin night.
Urban Renewal is just another name for a marketing ploy that sees foreign investors take over our housing stocks and inject large sums of capital into the market to drive prices up and outpace many local buyers out of the possibility of owning their own home, most probably ever.
Urban Renewal is a quick way of propping up the local and state economies by giving people the false impression that it is boom time in the building industry and consumers have got way too much money to burn on housing.
Urban Renewal is the reason there are no more backyards in my neighbourhood. No more trees, no front yards, no side yards, no sparrows, no fairy wrens, no caterpillars, no Green Grocers, no Brown Bakers, no Black Princes, definitely no Yellow Mondays and no butterflies. There is a lot of concrete though, and concrete cancer, and the odd dwarf shrub for border embellishment.
Urban Renewal, funnily enough, assumes everyone wants urban renewal… I don’t. I like my suburb the way it is. That’s why I chose to live there.
Urban Renewal is why there are torrents of rainwater flooding down the gutters of my street from duplex driveways every time the heavens open up. There is nowhere else for the water to go.
Urban Renewal is the reason property developers cruise my suburb in black Audi Q7s eyeing off their next blue ribbon investment that will make them another big brown envelope full of money.
Urban Renewal is a sweeping term that demands blanket slash and burn mentality. Nothing is left of my old neighbourhood – no heritage, no community, no environment, no funky warehouse conversions, no links to the past, no resonating cultural vibes, nothing.
Urban Renewal is a way of turning one block of land into two, three or four and then charging more for each subdivision than the original.
Urban Renewal is why I have to basically fight my way to drive into my local shopping centre/school/health care service. I then have to virtually compete in hand to hand combat in order to find a parking spot, and defy all odds Indiana Jones-style to get my choirs done and return to the car in time before I get a ticket or worse, have to battle through peak hour.
Urban Renewal is the reason I try and stay away from driving anywhere on weekends now. It’s just not worth the effort.
Urban Renewal is why I am too scared to invest all my hard earned savings into the house of my dreams, as who knows what will be built next door to the house of my dreams the minute I move in.
Urban Renewal is why I try not to get too excited about a beautiful old heritage building in my neighbourhood. I find it makes it a lot easier when the thing is replaced by a gaping big hole in the ground next time I jog by.
Urban Renewal is a fallacy that would have us believe the only way to make our suburbs pretty and safe is to knock everything down and build everything new again, this time with dinky shops on the bottom and multiple stories of residential dwellings on top (and lots of basement parking to store our black Audi Q7s). That way we can all be proud of our suburbs. Give me a break.
Urban Renewal is probably the reason why I have to put my child’s name down three years in advance to get her into some overpriced childcare facility. Same with school. It’s probably why I have to get to the train station at 5am to get the only parking available. It’s probably why I have to stand in the train too. And wait at the pharmacy, and the ATM. And get to the park three hours early to reserve a picnic table on a Saturday morning. And line up ten-deep outside the Vietnamese bread shop that does those special pork rolls I like. In fact it’s probably responsible for every little part of my life that I find shitty and annoying.
So thank you, Urban Renewal, you are making such a difference to my life, and will continue to do so, I’d imagine, for some time yet…
Sydney is disappearing… The city we know and love is being lost before our very eyes, sold off and torn apart, opened up and ripped into pieces.
Inheritance the blog was created to document this change and show some of the things we are losing across our city and our state. Inheritance Society and NSW Heritage Network were incorporated to allow like-minded individuals to come together and share their collective views and work towards turning the tide around.
Disappearing Sydney has now been created as a Facebook group to share photos and alert people visually to the loss throughout their own areas.
If you have a camera or a smart phone, you can be part of this group and make a contribution simply by uploading your own photos of buildings and places that are disappearing, sharing them with a wider audience.
It is not fair nor right that our city is being treated this way. Much of the high-rise development that is being pushed by local and state governments is a direct result of offshore foreign investment. Our state government in particular are willingly selling off prime assets and promoting NSW as being ‘open for business’, indulging in high density building frenzies and population growth spurts just so they can stand tall at the next election and claim how viable the economy has become.
But we have our eyes open. We are weary of the fact that they have become addicted to excessive residential building as a tool for injecting large scales of money quickly into the economy. We are aware that they have created an artificial housing boom by promoting foreign investment into exclusively new building projects, a boom that has left many of our next generation of Australians wondering how they will ever be able to afford their own piece of the pie.
We are aware they have watered down heritage and environmental laws to allow full exploitation of real estate potential across the state. And we are aware that our society and our lifestyles are being irreversibly altered and constantly threatened by this excessive race to grow the economy at all costs, in the most aggressive way possible, not by creating new industries and fostering smart technologies, but rather by simply injecting more people and pushing more concrete into the sky.
Indeed we have witnessed the shameless selling out of future generations. Rather than growing to become part of society and working towards a common goal of home ownership, many are left scratching their heads and saying “how will I ever own my own home?”
So much of our heritage is being lost to the building boom and we are constantly watching priceless treasures disappear forever, denying future generations a sense of place and perhaps a sense of understanding of our cultural identity – the visual links of layers of architecture laid down over decades.
All this disappears every time a developer decides to buy up in an area and flaunt lax heritage laws by bulldozing everything within site. Like great trees in the forest that have taken many years to grow and only a brief minute to cut down, so too are our heritage assets so carelessly sacrificed. And what remains is merely a testament to the greed of rapid economic expansion at any cost. What we are left with is an altered sense of culture and identity, a collective mindset that is severed , one that has difficulty reconciling the place of its own heritage in a rapidly changing world. What governments often try to make people forget is that all of this is also completely unsustainable within the context of life on this planet over the coming decades.
Heritage is important… Tangible evidence that people were here before us, often doing the things we do, living their lives, building our society to what it is today. For us to turn our backs on all that and simply bulldoze everything in sight for the quick growth of economy is unjustifiable. Inheritance and Disappearing Sydney seek to address these issues that confront us, not just for now but for generations to follow, because we want to endow these generations with the same chance of discovery that we have had ourselves. We want the cycle to continue. And we want them to be identified and feel a sense of belonging. For without our heritage we certainly are nobody…
We begin the year on an island. Which is not an unusual circumstance for a heritage advocate… But don’t let me lead you to believe this is another negative news story. No, we are starting on a positive note for a change (hopefully)!
Fatima Island, on a bend in the Cooks River at Tempe, is a small vegetated mudflat that has been disintegrating by the year. Now it has come to the attention of the Cooks River Valley Association who have duly raised awareness with Marrickville Council.
The island will be immediately recognisable to the many commuters who travel by train into the city every day along the Illawarra Line. As the city bound train crosses the bridge at Tempe the island comes into view from the east – I can clearly remember over my years of commuting to the city, looking out and seeing the little island sitting there, often populated by waterbirds oblivious to the rapid urban development encroaching all around… Fatima Island, and closer to Central, Sharpie’s Golf House sign, the first electrified advertising sign in Sydney, taken down in a blatant act of heritage vandalism several years ago – these were the two landmarks that stand out in the memory of my daily commute whilst peering out of the train window.
Although Sharpie’s Golf sign is long gone, sadly never to reappear, Fatima Island is still clinging on to the riverbed in its isolated vulnerable form. It is in fact the last remaining of a series of natural sand bars, and provides vital pest-free habitat for waterbird species including pelicans, ibises, cormorants and seagulls.
The island’s sandstone retaining walls, made of reclaimed convict hewn blocks, were built in 1901 as part of a public works program, but the naming of the island came about 50 years later. Remembering a monastery stood just across the river near Tempe House, The name ‘Fatima’ has it beginnings in a local Catholic Rosary pilgrimage in 1951 on the banks of the Cooks River to honour Our Lady of Fatima, channeling the Portuguese icon of the same name. At the time, Pope Pius XII asked Catholics across the globe to pray to the Virgin Mary ‘with greater fervour of the heart as is demanded by the increasing urgency of the need as well as the conversion of Russia back from communism.’
The wall has recently all but washed away due to factors such as boat wash, human visitation, de-stabilisation and natural erosion. The island is now only a fragment of what it once was, trees have fallen over and top soil been stripped away, and the next phase would be its complete loss in time.
Marrickville Council seems to be listening to concerns of local groups including Inheritance. In response to our submission and at a recent council meeting the feedback has been positive, and it now seems that Marrickville Council will be allocating $25,000 for a remediation works study on Fatima Island. This will go some way to restore what is esentially a significant bird habitat, a known piece of local heritage and a quirky piece of nostalgic landform with links not only to the Catholic Church, but the local Portuguese community and 1950s cold war!
Something as unique as this is surely worth protecting. And it is indeed heartening to see a council actually acting on behalf of a community for a change.
Main image John Veage, the Leader.
Residents of the St George area are certainly feeling ‘growing pains’ of late. It seems each time you turn around you see another block of units going up. If you are lucky you may be able to catch a glimpse of the builder’s fence of doom surrounding a heritage cottage before it is swiftly disassembled, smashed up and torn down. In its place inevitably rises something far bigger and of greater scale and bulk, sometimes ludicrously so, to the extent that neighbours’ views are extensively impeded, solar access is significantly reduced and general streetscape ambience is destroyed. Nowadays it is not strange in the St George area to see a small cottage sitting side by side with a newly completed six storey block of units. As I’ve said before it is no longer a case of the development fitting in with the street, it is now becoming a case of the street fitting the development.
Residents’ concerns are being totally ignored at both council and state government levels. It seems that growth of the building industry is the ultimate goal at any cost, and the St George area appears to be an epicentre of overdevelopment at the moment, just as the formerly leafy suburbs of Kuring-gai have become over the past few years. If you want to see the impacts of unrealistic population growth and what happens when the building industry is slated as the next economic windfall after mining, come and have a look at some of these areas. A walk around Hurstville or along the Princes Highway Rockdale will put you in no doubt as to where the future of this city is headed.
Recently a number of Development Applications and approvals have raised alarm bells for groups of surrounding residents who try to cling bravely to some semblance of what their suburbs represent, of the lifestyles and the atmosphere they have invested into over many years, often an entire lifetime. They have made the choice to live here for certain reasons, under certain conditions, and that inevitably comes down to quality of life, being part of a community, living in suburbs that aren’t dominated by highrise but instead offer a variety of building styles; free standing homes with gardens, trees and open space, respect for heritage. This is all being stripped from many suburbs of St George at breakneck speed. And unfortunately many unit developments are based around financial targets that mean fitting as many individual dwellings onto the land parcel as possible, which is in direct conflict to preserving open, low rise, garden suburbs and healthy community lifestyles.
Planning Gone Mad…
In Kogarah recently a DA was lodged to redevelop a freestanding building at 44 Montgomery St with a total of 31 units, half being studio sized, on a site with a frontage of only 12.19m. Despite not complying with council minimum standards for site width, floorspace ratio, height, setback and carparking, the DA was somehow approved by council. The nine storey building will be shoehorned onto a site so tiny and with such limited vehicular access that a car lift will need to be installed to get cars in and out of the pokey basement. The owner claims that such lifts are commonplace in Europe – maybe in the centre of Paris, yes, but in the backstreets of suburban Kogarah, really? The local Chamber of Commerce has made strong complaints to council, who clearly are out of touch with their constituents. This comes at a time when peak train services are being culled from the bustling railway station of Kogarah – that’s right, not increased, culled.
In Carlton on the site of an old plant nursery at 399-403 Princes Highway big growth has been announced for a structure that towers six storeys over the surrounding mostly single storey houses in an area governed by a DCP that allows only two stories maximum. Neighbours rightly believe this kind of development doesn’t belong in their quiet suburb, and would set an unsuitable precedent for future growth of the area. Railway transport is nowhere near this development, neither are grocery shopping centres or other facilities. Moreover, they argue, is why should a developer be allowed “to exceed planning controls, not by 100 percent, but by 200 percent?”
At Sans Souci and Ramsgate several large blocks of units are either rising or have been proposed along Rocky Point Rd, with little or no regard for residents’ wishes. Cottages are disappearing with their gardens, and being filled with multi-storey apartments… The site of the Darryll Lea chocolate factory is one such example, with plans recently revealed to convert the industrial site occupied since 1963 into residential highrise after the confectionary business moves out in September 2014. It is then that 430 dwellings will be squeezed onto the 3.3 hectare site in buildings of up to 12 storeys high, producing a sweet financial result for former owners of the bankrupt business the Lea family, but perhaps a sickly aftertaste in the mouth for nearby residents and commuters who have to battle traffic along the busy thoroughfare every day. Again the rail corridor is nowhere near this site, only adding to congestion on the already ‘Rocky Roads.’
Nearby at Ramsgate Beach another plot, a former caravan park on the Grand Parade known as the Grand Pines and famous for offering caravan and cabin holiday rentals on the shores of Botany Bay within site of the city, is being turned into a 51 dwelling townhouse complex. Quite a tight fit for a narrow site in quiet suburbia, and like the others, nowhere near railway transport.
Another site nearby at 183-189 Rocky Point Rd. intends taking over a petrol station and three heritage shopfronts, bulldozing and remodelling with 65 residential units, much to the despair of surrounding neighbours who will have to look over their back fence at a concrete wall six storeys in height. The DA started life as a 41 apartment complex five storeys high with retail component, but the local Ramsgate DCP allows only four storeys. Interesting that what is proposed now is a six storey monolith comprising 65 units, many of small scale with no cross-ventilation, eight commercial tenancies and basement parking.
But this scenario is mirrored all along Rocky Point Road, such as the 18.85 metre tall block at 124-144 Rocky Point Rd known as the Jameson. This site has been under construction for several years already and has been constantly evolving even as it is being built. Just recently the developer lobbied to apply for extra single bedroom units to bring the total from 70 to 77. The alterations were passed by Rockdale Council officers without the councillors being involved. In actual fact it is surrounded by single storey homes and the odd two storey shop, nothing on the scale that we are seeing come up here. The nearest railway transport is literally miles away and bus services in the area are already overstretched. Traffic is gridlocked at certain times of the day and about to get much worse on this main north-south artery.
Like the wild, wild west…
I haven’t even mentioned some of the really massive developments going up around Rockdale, Hurstville (such as the former Dominelli Ford caryard known as Highpoint with 320 units proposed for completion 2015-16), Kogarah (such as the former Kogarah Mecca theatre site known as Grand Central comprising 92 units due for completion next year). And then there is the former Amcor Packaging site on Forest Road Hurstville now known as East Quarter, a series of massive towers taking over the landscape. All of these projects are selling off the plan, many to offshore investors in China keen to park their money somewhere ‘safe’ like Australia. Their gain may be to our childrens’ detriment, but who in power is really concerned about that…?
New precedents are being set, and quiet, suburban streetscapes are being radically transformed all over the area. Perhaps this is a sign of things to come under the Premier’s new planning reforms being passed through the NSW Upper House now, perhaps it is a sign of developer-biased decisions made in councils that turn healthy profits and show total disregard for community values, perhaps it is just the fate of a city that has chosen to grow at such a rate that it has forsaken its own residents in favour of accommodating many more new arrivals, at levels that simply are not desirable nor sustainable at any measure of the imagination.
Like a wild west gold rush these forces are being played out to the detriment of all around, and like a wild west gold rush some will get rich very quickly, but the effects of the methods and the physical scars will be felt on the surrounding environment for many years to come, and probably never will be fully reconciled.
Following gallery all images by Inheritance. Please click on the image for a slide show. Please read the captions as they describe even more obtrusive development in the area.
Title image at top of page is new development on Princes Highway, Kogarah. Image by Inheritance.
But wait, there’s more! Please find the time to watch these disturbing ACA videos. This describes some of the frightful planning decisions being enacted on Rocky Point Road, and is what can now happen to anyone if they just happen to find their home next door. Click on both images below, thank you.
There’s something almost surreal about standing and looking over an object that fits into its environment perfectly, that enhances its surroundings simply by being there, that seems like it has been there forever, but is set to disappear from view, for the whimsical short term gains of a clearly ignorant and questionably shady council.
Three jetties in the Shire (one at Gunnamatta Road, Cronulla, as well as the Scylla Bay Boat Ramp and Wharf, Como, and Burraneer Jetty at Lugano Avenue, Burraneer) have been earmarked for removal by the pathetic Sutherland Shire Council due to maintenance costs the council is simply not willing to wear. This is the same Liberal dominated council headed by (until recently) Mayor Kent Johns who is reportedly under investigation for accepting political donations for his Federal Campaign from property developers in exchange for reciprocal favours, at the same time rezoning large tracts of the Sutherland Shire to allow massive and unprecedented high rise developments, getting rid of the ombudsman who oversees corruption and even going so far as to protect developers from legal action against any wrongdoings. See the details here.
For the locals of these areas, the jetties represent something more than just a form of aesthetic beauty. There is a function performed, a duty as it were, to the people of the Shire. Somewhere boats can tie up, kayaks can launch, a lazy line can be cast, and a sunny afternoon squandered happily away. There is nothing quite like sitting on the edge of a rickety jetty, dangling your feet over the edge, and mulling over a quandary or two while admiring the view of the world listening to softly lapping waters. Australia is a country designed for these jetties, and their loss makes us all a little poorer. Certainly our bays and hamlets would seem rather naked without them.
Heritage they are of course. Standing for many years and serving their purpose with quiet esteem, requiring very little to maintain in return, and beautifying the outlook like nothing else can. The Burraneer jetty stands watching the return trip several times every day of the 74 year old M.V. Curranulla, the Cronulla-Bundeena ferry, the oldest commuter ferry in fact in Australia working to a regular timetable. The jetty returns the favour, giving the passengers something to look at too, adding unquestionably to the maritime heritage of the bay and the Port Hacking River.
It appears as though this particular jetty suffers from sag due to insufficient and rotting piles holding its weight. A few more piles added and a bit of straightening would solve this problem, a far better alternative than the destruction of the wharf.
The other, at Gunnamatta Road, Cronulla (over 100 years old and formerly known as the ‘Hospital Bay Wharf’ built for taking quarantine cases from coastal vessels) doesn’t appear to have condemning maintenance issues at all. This one has received the most public attention, and may have garnered enough support to be saved yet, attracting a petition of 850 signatures in only 14 days, despite the council ignorantly rejecting and insisting the submissions be lodged electronically.
A third jetty, the Scylla Bay Boat Ramp and Wharf, at Verona Range, Como, is also proposed to go, but this one would at least be replaced under council plans.
At the time I investigated the Burraneer Jetty, it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining through an azure blue sky onto glowing waters. The Bundeena ferry chugged closely by as it had for many decades. I admired the reflections from crowded rock pools and sandy shallows up to the splintered hardwood timbers of a timeless whitewashed jetty.
While over at Gunnamatta Road, the view from the hill above was sublime. Stepping down the 1912-built steps carved out of sandstone onto the wooden landing is like stepping closer into a scene from paradise. Postcard-perfect, soaked in sunlight and there for us all, free of charge. A beautiful piece of man-made infrastructure that enhances its surrounds immeasurably while allowing the user to actually immerse himself and become part of the scene – such a rarity in any form.
A local was nearby, an old-timer looking over the scene. “Are you a local?” I asked.
“Since 1939” was the reply. But he seemed oblivious to the imminent loss of the wharf…
“That’s the wharf they want to get rid off” I commented.
“I hope not… This place is magnificent” was the reply.
If only he knew.
All images below by Inheritance 2013. Click on one for slideshow.
SMH story: Sutherland Council favours those with Liberal connections
SMH story: Rainbow Connections
SMH story: Cloud over ex-minister’s campaign donations
SMH story: September 21, 2013
SMH story: September 22, 2013
SMH story: September 26, 2013
SMH story: October 2, 2013
A Black Friday for New South Wales
Mark Friday 28 June in your diary as the day NSW planning was delivered into the hands of developers… This is the day that public submissions on the O’Farrell government’s Planning White Paper closed, the last day, in fact, that members of the public had any real say in the future of planning policy in the state of NSW. From now on, you are out of the picture. You won’t get a say on what developments happen within your suburb, let alone what developments occur next door to your home, for most of us the biggest single investment of our lives.
Don’t be led to believe this has been a fair process in the making, or even that this is the natural course of things. On the contrary, it has been rushed through the consultation phase giving us only a few weeks to get our collective heads around the plethora of heinous changes plotted within its pages, the stormfront of battery that’s been brewing behind fluffy clouds soon to come down and wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public…
To accommodate the planning needs of a growing state today and over the next 20 or 30 years, what we require is not a system that is exclusively developer-biased or economically focussed, but a system that strives to accomplish balance. Balance between the need for accommodating more people, growing families, and relentless levels of immigration. Balance between how we want our cities to look and feel, and how many people we can actually fit into these finite spaces without altering the look and feel of them beyond all recognition. Balance between how many cars we can fit onto our roads before they reach total gridlock; balance between how many children we can squeeze into our schools before one child’s education suffers; how many beds we can fit into our hospitals and nursing homes before they reach breaking point; how many commuters current and future transport systems can effectively deliver before the wheels fall off completely.
Balance is what we need. A sustainable balance of heritage values and new development, a balance that seeks to integrate and establish new and exciting modern architecture into the existing framework of our heritage streetscapes without detracting from how we have looked at our cities for generations. Adaptive re-use, sensitive reworking and extensions, while maintaining the fabric of heritage within the buildings. An overreaching system of solid heritage protection, maintained by heritage professionals, people with the necessary experience and knowledge in heritage matters – a strong Heritage Council.
The balance of how a building, how a new development sits within its surrounding environment, rather than simply allowing it to dominate and most probably ruin the sentiment of what was there, in many cases, for decades before. The balance of scale, of deciding how big it should be, how big it can be before totally overwhelming any sense of human scale on the site it occupies. The balance of maintaining healthy neighbourhoods where people live close to the ground, children have access to grassed areas, whether in backyards or public parks, where neighbours can meet and not feel totally alienated from one another.
The balance of building sustainable forward-thinking architecture. Environmentally Sustainable Development – there is a term for it – the government is dropping all reference to it in the White Paper as a principle. We need this as a foundation, we need this to build on and work towards a carbon neutral building future… it may not be achievable in the short or medium term but to drop it all together as a society is sinful. We need to gauge the state of the environment we live in and correct our ways of doing things to work towards a truly sustainable future.
The balance of beauty, function and form. We need development that attracts the eye rather than deters it and stands as testament to what is achievable by mankind in this day and age, not simply how many rectangular boxes we can fit onto one block and carve up for maximum profit. Quite simply we need architecture that is beautiful on many levels – cosmetically, physically, functionally, environmentally, adaptively… And to match this we need a planning system that will deliver these outcomes to the community, and does so in a way that involves the community holistically, integrates heritage and other critical non-financial factors, and goes beyond the simplistic goal to boost housing supply quotas and position the building industry as purely an instrument of the economy.
What we are getting is a substitute… A substitute that is poorly thought out, developer-biased and purposefully greed driven.
What we are getting is a recipe for complete disdain of heritage values, complete discard of Environmentally Sensitive building practice, and complete disregard for community input and relevance. Developers will be looked after from now on, they will have free run of the county fair. They will be able to build what they want, where they want, regardless of heritage, environmental or community requirements. That is what Barry O’Farrell and Brad Hazzard’s Liberal government is endorsing here. In essence they have sold off your rights and indeed your state to developers.
Some of the changes in the White paper are reckless – allowing quick publicity-free turnarounds for Code and Compliant developments of 10-25 days for example, or just 28 days for state significant developments – Some are plainly vindictive – like removing ESD or replacing the role of the Heritage Council on judging state significant items with the Department of Planning and Infrastructure. All of the measures are clearly pro-developer and geared towards opening up our cities and suburbs for a development boom, the likes of which we have never seen before. When you allow the markets to decide what happens in planning, you may be setting yourself up for a big fall. Think of what happened in Ireland when all those new apartments were rapidly built before the GFC, and now lay dormant, the real estate prices having crashed through the floor since.
But what concerns me, as a lifelong resident of NSW, is not the financial viability or market forces of overdevelopment. It is the loss of things I feel important for the community and the sheer recklessness with which this government has handled the job. Economics rise and fall, market forces surge and stabilize, but once heritage is gone, it doesn’t return. And once our heritage is gone, we as a nation are the poorer. We start to look like a people who don’t care, don’t value our heritage. A people who are more interested in making quick dollars and keeping our budgets balanced by sacrificing our treasures, our heritage, our very lifestyle, for the sake of short term profiteering. And our suburbs, that once held so much history and uniqueness, all start to look the same. Row after row of nondescript concrete building blocks without soul, the fibre of which has been sold. The Victorian and Federation shopfronts of our main streets, the cottages and houses with their ornate features and gardens, gone, sold to make way for ever more boxes. And it doesn’t help society, it is not healthy for a society to have houses go up for sale, and have first home buyers facing off with developers lining up at auction to decide who gets to carve up a property and sell back to multiple home buyers at the same price they should’ve paid for the house originally.
Supply is not the problem for our housing market, it is demand. The growth in population has to be sustainable, there is a limit to everything, and we can’t just allow growth at all costs any more. I liken it to a cafe or a bar…the doors are open and the tables fill up. Soon there are more patrons queuing at the door than there are tables available. Patrons keep filing in, standing and waiting, crowding around. If it was left to market forces (in this case, the bar or cafe owner) they would continue to serve more and more patrons, shuffling them into small unlit corners or having them spill out over the footpath, preferring to extract maximum profits rather than turn newcomers away in order to maintain the comfort level and expectations of their existing clientele. Pretty soon all floorspace is taken, civility is compromised, it’s getting harder to breathe, the atmosphere almost unbearable.
This is what Barry O’Farrell is condemning us to, when he hands all the cards in the planning deck from the citizens to developers, and throws these common regulations out the window… Environment, heritage protection, sustainable development, public consultation, all the things that should be expected in a good planning system. Remember we are the clientele here. We are the ones sitting in the crowded cafe or bar, watching it rapidly fill up to overcapacity. We have the right to expect certain levels of service and amenity. The same goes if you have bought a home in a nice area, an area you may have chosen because it is relatively low density, away for the city, in the suburban atmosphere. You have, in effect, made an investment, with all the terms and conditions that go with it. By Barry O’Farrell increasing the densities of that local area and rewriting the planning rules to suit developer interests, he is breaking the terms of that investment. You have a right to feel misled.
In the years to come I can foresee much conflict arising over the implications handed down in this undemocratic White Paper. I can see residents trying to minimize the damage to their suburbs en masse. I can see protesters asking “how were they allowed to build so close to that wetland?” or “how did they get permission to knock down that beautiful historic building?” or even “how were they allowed to build three level townhouses next to my house without me knowing?” But the damage is already done. The damage was done on Friday 28 June 2013, when submissions were closed on the details of the rushed and reckless Planning White Paper. When residents lost their right to be heard on matters of planning. When their rights, their voices, their state, were sold to developers by Barry O’Farrell, Premier of NSW.
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