On the Australia Day Weekend and in light of the recent news of the historic Jolly Frog hotel in Windsor being gutted by fire, we take a look at the dire state of heritage in one of our most treasured precincts and the case Planning Minister Brad Hazzard has to answer for…
Brad Hazzard has been at the helm of the Planning Department in NSW for a number of years now, and the crowning factor of his tenure has been his ruthless insistence to push through overbearing developer-biased planning reforms on to an unsuspecting public on every front, with scant regard for residents’ wishes or indeed what were once considered commonsense controls.
In a clearly sneaky and contentious move, Minister Hazzard approved the controversial Option 1 road project through Thompson Square at Windsor just five days before Christmas 2013, obviously trying to sneak another trick beneath the public’s wary gaze just as everybody was gearing up for the summer holidays.
Thompson Square is Australia’s oldest surviving public square, and the attempted push-through of this project goes some way to highlight the contempt this government has for the heritage of NSW. A total lack of heritage knowledge, a combined political bully-boy mindset of which pure ignorance is at the heart, a ‘leave nothing to the people’ thuggish mentality is the only way I can describe it.
It reminds me of an old example in Vienna, Austria, where in the late 1980s a large postmodern glass sheeted building known as Haas Haus was inflicted upon Vienna’s most important public square, Stefansplatz, directly overlooking the Stefansdom, Vienna’s grand Gothic-Romanesque cathedral. The building was roundly criticized at the time and still remains ridiculously out of place and in fact completely unnecessary in the context of the historic Baroque-lined market square. The point here is, what may seem like a good idea by a small group of hard-nosed bureaucrats at the time, has long lasting consequences and in fact can severely scar or even totally deface an important historic precinct long after those few decision-makers have waltzed out of parliament with their golden pensions in hand.
At least in Vienna, they seem to know when to stop… Closer to home, in Sydney’s Circular Quay, a similar issue, with the so-called ‘Toaster’ building occupying pride of place next to our iconic Opera House and crowding the shores of the famous harbour with square glass and metal shapes. And more recently, the Museum of Contemporary Art building extension, the so-called ‘Mordant Wing’ (or ‘moron wing?’), causing even more conflict with the surrounding heritage of the public space, introducing oversized flat black and white cubes into a maritime precinct that was characterised by sandstone Georgian and Art Deco architecture. This wing was added without the usual input from the Heritage Council, the very overseer that Hazzard and O’Farrell’s government are trying so hard currently to stifle.
Windsor’s Thompson Square is equally under threat, not from any one particular unsympathetic building, but rather a ghastly modern road cutting through the side of the square and continuing over the historic crossing on a suspended concrete byway replacing the oldest bridge on the Hawkesbury River.
Residents’ action group CAWB has fought hard to keep this destruction at bay, enduring six months of continuous occupation of the square, and raising awareness of the need to protect such a historic site as their beloved Windsor. Noted historians and heritage architects such as Clive Lucas and high profile celebrities have added their voices to the campaign, the latest being Wendy Harmer on Australia Day 2014.
The CAWB, in its media release, says “In approving this strategically inept project, Minister Hazzard has ignored the overwhelming evidence of the government’s own experts…evidence that demonstrates this project fails to deliver on traffic, flooding and heritage.”
Unfortunately, in another blow for local heritage, the nearby heritage-listed and historically linked Jolly Frog hotel, unoccupied for a year, was gutted by fire on 20th January in unusual circumstances. Fire crews were called to the blaze around 9.45pm to find the building well alight, and a crime scene has since been established to determine the cause of the fire. CAWB fear this may pave the way for a wider road leading in to Windsor and through the Square, and say the hotel should and must be rebuilt, not demolished thereby further eroding the heritage values of the area.
Brad Hazzard, the Minister for Planning, and Robyn Parker, Minister for Heritage and the Environment, as well as Barry ‘the wrecker’ O’Farrell, should be standing up and working towards viable solutions for situations such as Thompson Square, not bulldozing their way through the tide of public angst currently on show. They are clearly ignoring their elected responsibilities as a government for the short-sighted aims that don’t really make any sense to the average Australian citizen.
Why are they intent on destroying this historic square, this wonderful vestige of Governer Macquarie’s legacy, this scenic and picturesque river crossing, this peaceful place bathed in colonial history? Why are they intent on replacing a two-laned bridge with another, uglier, more brutal, out-of character, two-laned bridge? Is it for CSG mining trucks to get more easily to the western escarpments as some have suggested? It defies logic.
Hazzard, O’Farrell, Parker and co.; you have so much to answer for in only your first term. You are a failure of government. You are intent on bulldozing our irreplaceable heritage at every turn, rather than performing your sworn duty of protecting it. You should be ashamed of your actions, and just because you are wielding the axe of power at the present moment, doesn’t mean your time of judgement won’t come soon enough. Tens of thousands of us are already judging you, we are casting a watchful eye over your actions in the fields of heritage, the environment, and sustainable development, and without surprise, you have unanimously failed in every respect in just your first term. We dearly hope, that you won’t be allowed to enter a second term, for the sake of what little is left after your torrid demolition spree over the entire state.
Main title image: Hazzard and Heritage, Inheritance 2014.
Read about the Government’s Planning Reforms here.
Welcome to Princes Highway, Rockdale… Constant choking traffic four lanes thick. Peak hour that lasts all day and is unrelenting in gridlock. Heavy vehicles, dump trucks full of excavation rubble from nearby building sites thundering past on their way to the tip. Smog heavy in the air. Noise from bulldozers and pile drivers, dust passing over in blanketing clouds…
Rapid redevelopment. As soon is one hole is filled in another is dug. Big gaping holes in the ground everywhere. Buildings that stood for many years, tumbling like dominoes, one after the other. Proud buildings that once lined the roads in a human scale, now trashed and forgotten. New people coming and going from every direction filling the spaces. Any sense of belonging, gone from this picture. Any sense of community seems not to exist…
Footpaths dirtied and deserted. Building sites line both sides of the road, competing for size and domination, left, right, and centre. More ground ripped open, houses and history torn apart. Bricks fall into rubble only to be swept away into manageable piles. Advertisements in real estate windows written in Mandarin lure the new money investors. A sign above an entry door to a store reads “Shopping Paradise”… but I don’t see a shopping paradise, nor any other kind. The only thing I see is a Developer’s Paradise…
You may think this is a place far away, of another country, another mindset even, but you would be wrong… This is your Sydney, this is the future, and this is only a sign of things to come. Welcome to Princes Highway, Rockdale. Welcome to your future…
All images Inheritance. Click on image for slide show.
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.
On Sunday October 6 the classic Federation style St George Bowling Club on Harrow Road Bexley was burned down by vandals. Nearby residents awoke to see flames gutting the heritage listed building around 1.45am.
Three people, aged 19, 15, and 14 were arrested at the scene, but the 14 year old was subsequently released on a youth caution. A fourth man, 18, has also been charged with the arson attack.
The bowling club, founded in 1900 and relocated in 1919 due to railway expansion, had remained uninhabited and its greens overgrown for several years. At a time when bowling clubs are struggling to maintain membership, many are folding or seeking other options such as amalgamation. Two clubs in the St George/Sutherland region have sought amalgamation in the last year alone, while another, Mortdale Bowling Club, was closed and demolished last year. Others are left derelict such as the St George Bowling Club, and can easily become a target for vandals and arsonists.
It is upsetting to see any building lost to deliberate arson attack, but to see a beautiful and rare Federation example of a bowling club such as this go up in flames is devastating. As a result the area has lost one of its landmark buildings and heritage treasures.
Bowling clubs are true community assets – they retain open space for recreational activity, and foster vital social gathering among residents. Not only that, they hark back to an Australian way of life quickly disappearing before our very eyes, and are often, as in this instance, architectural gems that warrant retention. Occupying large swathes of open real estate, they are also targeted by dozer-happy developers for ever-increasing medium density residential supply.
It is our opinion that the site of the St George Bowling Club should remain a public asset, and if not suitable as a bowling and recreational club, should be re-purposed for child care facilities or something similar. The fabric of the heritage clubhouse appears to have escaped the brunt of the fire, despite the interiors being gutted and the roof structure showing extensive signs of collapse. Being a double brick structure, the clubhouse could be re-built in the original style and used once again as a communal facility.
For it to be redeveloped as residential units would be a travesty for the community and send a very clear message to developers that they can get their right of way over publicly owned sites once a heritage building is vandalised or partially destroyed by fire.
Considering the state of the building, Inheritance has formally requested Mayor Shane O’Brien and Rockdale Council to rebuild the clubhouse as a heritage item for adaptive re-use as a club or childcare facility. At this stage we are awaiting response.
We also believe the state government should be adopting a strategic plan for the future of lawn bowling clubs if and when they should reach the end of their useful life as a club. This should be a statewide policy that prohibits private development on bowling club lands, instead preserving the community assets for what they were originally intended, public open space and/or public amenity. Anything less is a sell-out.
A nearby club at Hurstville was partially converted into a communal vegetable patch a few years ago, and a highly successful one at that. Many former clubs have been re-purposed as child care or elderly care facilities, many more have been sold out to private development, a point that may resonate with members of the 50-strong Sutherland Croquet Club who have practiced their game on the lawns next to Waratah Park, Sutherland for over thirty years, and have now been told that the grounds are being redeveloped for highrise of more than 500 units. See that sad story here.
The value of a simple bowling club cannot be overstated, as a place to get together, as a place to meet and greet, to share a laugh, a story, or a beer. A place for our elderly to congregate and play their sport, out in the open, in the fresh air, and live a more helathy lifestyle at a time when our medical professionals are trumpeting the virtues of activity and well-being… When or if population dynamics and financial pressures dictate that a club is no longer viable as a bowling club, then it should be re-purposed, to suit the next trending requirement. But it should always remain a public facility, with open space, community, and heritage in tact. More than anything it is public asset. And let’s not forget, once an asset like this is lost, it is lost for good.
As for the brainless vandals that caused the devastation to the St George Bowling Club, they will probably never know the full extent of the devastation they have caused…
Title image: still from video by Storm Pickett.
This post relates to a previous one regarding a Federation house that was for sale at 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, for more details read here. As I feared at the time, the property was eyed off by developers in the hotly contested southern suburb of Bexley, and snapped up at auction for the princely sum of $1,446,000. As it turns out this was land value only, as soon afterwards the “fence of doom” went up and neighbours got their final glimpse of this beautiful Federation diamond in the rough that could have been saved, should have been saved, but was instead briskly turned to rubble.
The owner has advised council he will be subdividing the property and building three modern dwellings on the site at a proposed cost of $850,000 plus $10,000 demolition. Residents in the historic street are now banding together to try and stop inappropriate development taking shape on this block, hoping the new buildings will be more sympathetic to the current streetscape they value so dearly. As I reported in my previous post another owner tore down a similarly neglected Federation home on a corner block several years ago and after negotiation agreed to shape his new home in a style emulating that of a Federation house. Will the new developer be just as sympathetic, considering he proposes to build not one but three townhouses and has obviously bought the block to turn a profit?
That remains to be seen. What we do know is that the original house should have been protected from redevelopment in the first place, for a number of reasons.
First and foremostly it was a heritage building, a beautiful example of a Federation purpose built corner block, and it showed off many stunning period features that are now simply lost.
Secondly, it is located smack bang in the middle of a heritage precinct; its demolition detracts from the heritage value of the streetscape just as propping up three modern townhouses in its place would cheapen the entire surrounds. Whether Rockdale council has officially listed it or not as a heritage precinct is irrelevant, it is a heritage precinct, and certainly one of the best in the area and in fact southern Sydney. Rockdale council, which governs an area containing many fine heritage buildings, that also bond together to form some important heritage streetscapes, does not have any defined heritage precincts in their portfolio, meaning any street in any neighbourhood including the wonderfully embellished Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, is open for business to developers.
And don’t they just come rushing, especially when an unloved old building on a corner block like this, overgrown garden, probably a deceased estate, comes up for grabs. It doesn’t take much to look and see pure dollar value on this kind of investment; buy one, build three, triple your bottom line without too much effort exerted. And why wouldn’t they, more often than not they aren’t connected or affiliated to the particular area in question, they don’t walk around the streets and peruse the heritage quality of the neighbourhood or do the necessary groundwork to find out if their investment decision will have a negative impact on the area in which they have just bought – that’s the council’s job… And because they either refuse or can’t be bothered doing the research and making the decisions that will keep our heritage assets from falling, then it remains open season for developers, and houses like this will fall time and time again, only to be replaced with cheaply built office-like boxes overcrowded onto tiny blocks that do nothing at all to better the area they represent in any way, but return maximum profit to the said developer, who by now, is probably driving his brand new Merc AMG home to his concrete Mcmansion in a leafy suburb far, far away.
Meanwhile residents of Dunmore Street Nth, Bexley, are left to scratch their heads and gather together with placards saying “Developers not welcome here” wondering when did their beautiful heritage street that they have invested hard earned savings into start to go so horribly wrong. Unfortunately for the residents, who rightly claim some sort of ‘ownership’ to their street and their community are slightly off the mark this time – Developers ARE welcome here, they have been welcomed by council, they have been welcomed by the state government, in fact they are more than welcome, they are encouraged to build these sorts of over-sized monstrosities with heritage destruction as a by-product. The councils, the state government, they don’t really care about your heritage houses, your heritage shopfronts, your suburbs and your precincts – these are only in the way of more development. If they did, unlike in Rockdale Council’s case, they would have allocated neighbourhoods like Dunmore Street Nth Bexley a dedicated heritage precinct many years ago. But they didn’t, and so, as always, developers are welcome.
At least in the case of 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, residents should have been given a chance to be informed about the demolition prior and as a result make submissions to the proposals. Under planning laws to be introduced soon by Premier Barry O’Farrell and (Bad) Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, even this simple right would be wiped away from neighbours. The first thing they would know or see would be the dreaded “fence of doom” go up by which stage, as we know, it is all too late. This is what we have to look forward to in this state once these reforms are pushed through… it makes no difference if the house is an ugly shack or a Federation diamond, if there is no heritage listing, it is fair game. And the fact that private certifiers are on the increase means council will have even less input and developers will have an easier and quicker path to get their foot in the door, or, perhaps more to the point, knock the door over.
The services of a private certifier were indeed utilised in the decision to allow demolition of this house. Almost within the blink of an eye the house was sold at auction and bulldozed without residents input. Remembering the response I received from council when I questioned the possibility of demolition immediately after the sale, it read “Any development application lodged to either demolish the building or undertake alterations and additions to the building would consider what impact such has on the nearby heritage items, with specific matters for consideration included in both Rockdale Local Environmental Plan 2011 and Rockdale Development Control Plan 2011…” In this case I don’t believe the private certifier has duly considered the impact of demolition on the nearby heritage items… Have they consulted with residents at any point? If not I believe residents would have a right to deem the legality of the demolition highly questionable.
Such is the future of planning in NSW under the state government’s exempt and complying development code, and White Paper reforms which are still being pushed through despite strong disapproval state-wide from many stakeholders. Welcome to the brave new world of planning in NSW, where heritage is seen as nothing more than something that ‘gets in the way’ of new development, and developers are clearly ‘welcome’ at every corner.
Inheritance Society has written to Rockdale Council with a submission against any new modern-looking development on site, while questioning how demolition was allowed when it so clearly impacted nearby heritage items, and also requested Rockdale Council to consider Dunmore Street and surrounds as its first official heritage listed precinct.
Title image by Chris Lane, The Leader.
Back in the mid 1980s, a massive beautification program took shape around Darling Harbour to mark Australia’s bicentennial celebrations. Industrial workings were removed and the entire precinct cleaned up, new facilities were built including world-class exhibition and convention centres, harbourside halls and entertainment, parks and fountains, and of course the iconic monorail that now exists only in our memory. 25 years on, and current premier Barry O’Farrell has redevelopment on the cards once again, this time erasing many of the grand designs that marked Darling Harbour as a place of open public amenity and quality modernist architecture, a place that is still welcoming, charming and not overbearing in its scale, a place that captures the essence of the 1988 and all the bicentennial glory that came with it.
Barry O’Farrell is no stranger to upsetting the general public with his planning policies and acts of heritage vandalism of late, by treading over our views and in many cases blocking them out in the shadows of high rise towers. It is almost a given now that whatever he does in the context of planning causes most of us to stand back and take stock… We’ve gone from mild bemusement to temperate head scratching to a stark realisation of false prophecy fulfilled and now to absolute horror and shaken disdain, where it will all end nobody knows…
This time he has also managed to upset more than a few taller poppies along the way. Naturally if we are talking about an award-winning and quite stunning piece of Sydney architecture, and the architect, who is still very much in the here and now, gets wind of the idea the current Premier wants to knock it all down, just 25 years after it graced the city’s skyline, there is going to be a little ‘discomfort’ associated with the idea. Especially when that building, the Sydney Exhibition Centre, has attracted legions of fans of 20th Century architecture worldwide by the relevance of its form, function, and beauty and the way it simply enhances, rather than detracts, from the pleasant surroundings it finds itself in.
So what are we losing?
Phillip Cox designed the Exhibition Centre in the modernist style with multi-tiered glass surfaces over five interconnected halls with tall steel masts rising overhead in a maritime theme, glistening white in the afternoon Sydney sun. The project took 36 months to complete and was built by the Darling Harbour Authority for the state government of the time. The building has been awarded several acclaims including the highly coveted Royal Australian Institute of Architects Sir John Sulman Medal in 1989 and MBA Excellence in Construction Award in 2007. It is met at one end with the John Andrews designed Sydney Convention Centre, semi-circular in appearance and quite an impressive building in its own right. Both recently celebrated their 25 year anniversary with a black tie event. Both served as venues for events during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Both, as I see it, are quintessentially Sydney buildings.
Phillip Cox has rightly slammed the government’s redevelopment plan as “an act of vandalism.” His impressive portfolio of Sydney buildings includes the Sydney Football Stadium and the National Maritime Museum, and his list of awards includes the RAIA Gold Medal, the highest accolade bestowed upon an Australian architect. He described the government’s plans, which have allowed big developers to completely take the reigns of both the planning stage and redevelopment, as “insane… How do you control developers with no planning controls over the area in question? They will take over the park, demolish the exhibition centre, an icon of Sydney, that will (soon) be on the heritage register… We have two commercial developers trying to make a buck out of it and minimise expenditure.”
He offered up a second option of utilising the existing Harbourside shopping arcade as part of the project. “We put an alternative solution to Nick Greiner (former premier and head of Infrastructure NSW) showing how all the buildings can be retained and still achieve their expectations for increased areas without doing all this horrendous vandalism that’s about to take place down there,” he told Fairfax. ”It’s obvious, get rid of Harbourside, it’s a failed shopping centre, put the facilities in the best location and still activate the area with cafes and bars and keep the existing buildings as part of the heritage of Sydney.” For that to take place, Harbourside, which is a privately owned shopping precinct, would have to be bought by the government, and according to Infrastructure NSW project manager, Tim Parker, that wasn’t going to happen.
John Andrews, designer of the Sydney Convention Centre, also received the RAIA Gold Medal and has been described as the first Australian architect with a truly international reputation. He was renowned for his work on universities in America in the 1960s including the Harvard Graduate design school, as well as Intelsat Headquarters in Washington, the CN Tower in Toronto, later returning to Australia to work on important commissions such as the Cameron Offices at Belconnen, and another university project ANU’s Toad Hall, so named by students due to its Wind in The Willows setting characteristics.
Understandably, he also has misgivings over the plan to tear down his most iconic work, slating the idea as “rather stupid.” And he elaborated “Does it make sense to pull down $120 million worth of (building) that’s perfectly all right?… As Australia, we just haven’t grown up, we haven’t developed any good manners and we don’t protect and look after our good things. I don’t understand why the (new) architects … are so keen to knock everything down,” he said. ”Why don’t they just reuse things and add to them?” To add insult to injury, Andrews only found out about the proposed demolition through a leisurely read of a newspaper article.
But Phillip Cox and John Andrews aren’t the only critics of the new state government plans. Former public works minister Laurie Brereton, who oversaw much of the original Darling Harbour redevelopment in the 1980s, branded the new project “the work of Philistines.” Australian Institute of Architects president-elect Paul Berkemeier, called for proper consultation and a complete set of models and drawings to be released…”They’re just ephemeral images. They could be made out of green cheese for that matter and you’d be no wiser” he said. And Peter Webber, former government architect and professor of architecture at Sydney Uni told Fairfax “The government should have prepared a separate master plan for the precinct, taking public opinion into account, rather than wrapping the master plan into the tender process… I think it’s a back to front process. Instead of allowing feedback as the proposal was developed we are presented with almost a fait accompli.”
Docomomo Australia, an organisation that is dedicated to the ‘documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the modern movement’ has gone one step further in their criticism. They have nominated the Darling Harbour site to ICMS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, for a heritage alert, the first time ever for an Australian site. Docomomo Australia vice-chairman Scott Robertson said Darling Harbour was “one of the finest modernist collection of buildings in Sydney”, and likened the government’s plans to that of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who also made the heritage alert list over his treatment of developments threatening heritage sites in Russia.
So what are we getting instead?
In exchange for the loss of these two (three including the monorail) outstanding examples of 20th century Australian architecture, we are getting a jumble of oversized public and private buildings developed and planned by big construction company Lend Lease for the state government. The scale will be big… Three or four towers in Haymarket up to 40 storeys in height adding over 540 apartments to the skyline and allowing, as Lend Lease Development general manager Gavin Biles says “more people to live, work and play in the heart of the city”…Well how nice that sounds. A new town square, boulevard connecting the the new precinct to the waterfront and so-called IQ Hub would also be created accommodating technology and creative entrepeneurs in low-cost workspaces. Again, how nice. The Sydney Entertainment Centre would also be lost but no-one is jumping up and down about that… you see, we don’t just whinge for the fun of it, people make noise when we are actually losing something of real value.
Tumbling onto Tumbalong Park, an overbearing theatre, booming down over what’s left of the public space. New International Exhibition and Convention Centres would be built, dwarfing everything that is currently there, and behind them, massive twin towers rising above the harbour like the former World Trade Centers of New York. Not much would be left of Darling Harbour as it stands now, all laid to waste in this 2.5 billion dollar blunder over 20 hectares of our sacred public land. In the interim, a temporary exhibition centre would be built at Garden Island to host events over the three year period of construction, but that encountered a few hurdles as well, with a deal breaking down in May between the state government and Pages Hire and Echo Entertainment Group who were chosen to construct the halls. A new deal has been brokered since, but it has set the government on a course of last minute preparedness, and given opposition leader John Robertson a perfect opportunity for the perfect jibe. “The O’Farrell Government and Infrastructure NSW can’t build a tent” he said. And he may have a point.
But Infrastructure NSW, headed by Nick Greiner, the state government department charged with pushing through projects of this magnitude, are adamant of its success. Darling Harbour Live, the project’s PR codename, delivers the spin: ‘By delivering a ‘whole of precinct’ approach that responds to the character of such a unique location, integrates seamlessly with the adjacent city fabric, and provides state of the art operation and functional performance, Darling Harbour Live will build on the vibrancy of Darling Harbour to create a memorable new precinct and public place on Sydney’s harbour foreshore.’
However, architect Philip Thalis, of Hill Thalis, who won the initial Barrangaroo design (before it was bastardized to suit more highrise residential and James Packer’s high roller casino) is critical of what they term ‘a whole of precinct approach’, claiming ”No holistic plan has been released, just a selective crop of perspective views… Again in NSW, we get planning by press release, instead of by public policy or real planning.” In other words, we, the public, are being left in the dark once again, a practice that Barry O’Farrell is becoming quite accomplished with.
And the AIA have echoed the mounting chorus of opposition, showing concern for the government’s technique of committing so much of the project “through a single contract with a single developer”. Its president-elect Paul Berkemeier commented “The government has contracted out its responsibility to prepare a master plan for the use of public land, as well as the rights to demolish and develop it… The Institute’s view is that city development is better served by a multiplicity of players in the development industry, not just one. That is the way most urban areas have been developed, and re-developed, in the past… What we question is the muddled brief to which they are responding and the out-dated and wasteful demolish and rebuild strategy underlying the whole proposal” and finally “the government’s responsibility is to defend the public interest, not to sell it”. But it seems that is exactly what they have done. By the Lend Lease consortium being given total access to this large and precious swathe of land in Haymarket for residential/commercial development, and in turn the project rights to the whole planning process and redevelopment of the public centres, this in effect reduces the cost to the government of supplying new facilities to the public. In effect, this is privatisation of planning. Our land, our city, and our architectural assets have been sold off to big developers, it’s as clear and simple as that.
Click on the pretty digitised images below for pictorial propaganda of how the site will look, from Darling Harbour Live. Notice all the pretty plastic people in various poses of joy and happiness. Why is it that all the plastic people in these digital images are attractive, Anglo and under 35?
A website called savethecentres.com.au has been set up to publicise the fate of the Exhibition and Convention Centres, and tell a compelling story of why we need to recognise the importance of these purpose built buildings. These centres are icons of bicentennial Sydney, they are a cohesive collection of 1980s modernity, and what we are getting will be simply an inferior product… Massive great bulky square blocks built in a generic ‘international style’ rather than Sydney-specific or even coastal Australian specific. They will do nothing for our city apart from make Lend Lease a lot of money and pack more in to a place that is perfectly designed as it is.
Not only is our public land being sold out but it is being done so at such a rushed rate, almost as if to get the results through before the public wakes up to the fact and realise what has actually happened, by which point, it will be all too late. To lose two iconic, world-class buildings that haven’t yet lived their full life, for the sake of a big business deal done by a short-sighted and architecturally ignorant government is more than just a shame, it’s a tradgedy for the people of Sydney and our status as an international capital of culture.
And as for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, our man Barry may trump him just yet. The dictatorship of this planning department grows more ruthless and powerful every day, more than willing to sweep aside any public opposition with keen PR spin and multi-billion dollar partnerships with single-minded developers like Lend Lease. Meanwhile our heritage and internationally acclaimed architecture gets brushed aside like things that don’t matter. Well, in a newsflash for Barry O’Farrell and his government, by the volume and standard of high profile opposition on show here, clearly they do matter… It’s time to treat them as such.
The DAs are on public exhibition until 2 August 2013. To comment on the designs, visit planning.nsw.gov.au
Save The Centres website here. Some beautiful images and articles about the importance of what we are losing. Sign the petition too.
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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