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GRIFFITH HOUSE O’FARRELLED!

Late last year we looked at a proposal to demolish heritage listed Griffith House on the grounds of St George hospital, an elegant 1896 Italianate Villa of some historical significance, being the home of Peter Hermann, one of the founding fathers of not only St George Hospital in 1894 but also the Kogarah area fire station, and mayor of the Kogarah municipality. It is the only heritage asset remaining on the hospital campus, making it even more precious in its function of telling the story of this suburb’s history to future generations who will otherwise have nothing to replicate it and instead have to try and guess what the hospital may have looked like at its foundation.

After a bitter back door campaign that saw overwhelming public support for the retention and re-adaption of the two storey villa, approval has been swiftly granted by NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, disregarding completely the aesthetic values of the building, the significant documented heritage and history of the building and its occupents, insufficiencies of the plan to deal with future parking and logistics issues both onsite and off, complete lack of public consultation and awareness, and a backlash of opposition ranging from hospital workers to former councillor and hospital board member Anne Field, to 70’s green bans legend Jack Mundey.

The speed and tenacity with which this approval passed through the planning system seems to indicate that it was a fate accompli even before opponents got wind of it. From simple little tricks like putting the public notice up on old canteen walls away from the general public, to denying press access to the ‘public’ meeting, this proposal and its deliverence were thrust upon unsuspecting residents as Anne Field told the Leader “like stealth in the night.”

To make matters conceivably worse, Griffith House is being removed to make way for nothing more than an entry ramp into the Hospital’s internal morgue and a few small car parks, all of which could be accommodated, quite easily, if the monstrosity eyesore building that is the Research and Animal testing building on Kensington Street was sacrificed, as it should be, instead of the irreplaceable beauty of Griffith House.

The architecturally sickening Research Building the hospital would rather retain. (???)

The architecturally sickening Research Building that the hospital would rather retain. (???)

At the closed ‘public discussion’, concerned opponents were told by Terry Clout, CEO of South East Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service (SESIH), that 50 options were considered by the Health Dept, none of which allowed for the retention of Griffith House. Well, nobody present bought any of that, as all 50 options sounded fairly similar to one another, all leading to the claim that the adjacent ugly Research Centre couldn’t be moved at all, for reasons still unbeknown to anyone in the room apart from maybe the CEO himself. We all know Cherie Burton local MP was never going to get out of sorts but where was Kogarah Council during all this talk of destruction of perhaps the suburb’s most important architectural asset? Strangely, silent.

Considering the amount of heritage framework immediately surrounding the hospital including Peter Hermann’s 1907 Federation style fire house and the nearby 1887 Kogarah School of Arts, it is quite shameful on behalf of council that this area hasn’t been defined and publicized as a local heritage precinct offering quality point to point historical walks for locals and tourists alike. Here is a small gallery of just some of what lies within short reach of Griffith House. (all images by Inheritance)

 jogarah fire station1  jogarah fire station2 kogarah school of arts1kogarah school of arts2 kogarah heritage2kogarah heritage3 kogarah heritage1

This is an epic fail of the current planning system in this state, a system that fails to protect the heritage and now has set a precedent for destroying heritage buildings on public land, choosing instead to find the cheapest option available using bulldozers and fumbling PR spin in order to sell their inadaquecy. Fortunately the Kogarah public led by Anne Field saw right through and gave them a decent fight til the end, which, unfortunately, may well be upon us within a matter of weeks.

Surely a major part of any architectural briefing on a project of this scale and magnitude must include as one of its primary objectives to examine, assess and if possible retain any heritage aspects present on the site. By failing to consider the importance, value and public pride in Griffith House this project, no matter how great they tell us the redevelopment is at opening time and in years to come, will always be, at least in part, a massive failure. Why would the Department of Health sink 40 million dollars of taxpayers’ money into a project that is doomed to become a failure from the start, in its refusal to protect the core heritage values of the site.

Architecturally, it is hardly a challenging prospect considering the footprint of the new emergency wing only intersects with Griffith House over a couple of square metres, and conceptually, we are talking about a service road and parking area that could just as easily be moved to Kensington Street with the removal of the ugly Research building that nobody wants, that is the gold plated solution. There couldn’t be an easier alternative for the architects. What’s missing is the political will here, and the courage. The courage to create something that is a win-win-win outcome – something that delivers good value for taxpayers’ money, a world class facility, with full respect to heritage values… unfortunately this project fails on at least one, if not three of those objectives.

As a wash up of this disgusting mess, supporters of Griffith House, supporters of heritage in general, are going to gather on the lawns of Griffith House one last time this upcoming Sunday 24th February at 2pm. This will be a sombre affair, a chance to meet and talk over the events that led to this great house’s foreseeable demise, and the dire state of planning and heritage we now find ourselves in, in NSW 2013 under the leadership of this disgusting poor excuse for a government led by O’Farrell and Hazzard.

Griffith House, home of Peter Hermann, founding father of the municipality of Kogarah, the Kogarah Fire Station, and St George Hospital, you’ve been O’FARRELLED!

Please join us at Griffith House this Sunday 2pm.
PS. Also in Kogarah, if you are interested in remembering the once grand Kogarah Mecca Movie City, we are planning a candlelight farewell before the theatre is demolished, please email inheritance@tpg.com.au if you are interested ASAP.

NSW, YOU’RE STILL BEING “O’FARRELLED” IN 2013!

2012 was a big year for Barry O’Farrell. He and his state government were busy wielding the axe through various tiers of public services and government agencies causing grief and carnage wherever they struck, from education to health to emergency services. He also had big development plans for the state on the agenda that many of us didn’t see coming, as he swept into office on the promise of ‘giving planning powers back to the people.’ What a lie that has turned out to be. On this point alone he has failed miserably, as 2013 looks to become a year of even more broken promises, even more bloodshed, even more breakdown of our state’s core functioning values as this greedy, dangerous, thick sculled premier leaves a trail of destruction wherever he goes… Watch out NSW – You’re still being O’FARRELLED!

Yes Barry would like to wish us all a happy new year. But a word of advice… Just be careful if you intend spending part of your summer walking through some of our beautiful National Parks… you may just get shot at by some of the many shooters that Barry has allowed into our wilderness areas as they mistake your silhouette for that of a stray animal. He passed legislation in a deal with the Shooters and Fishers party allowing him to sell off our electricity infrastructure in exchange for access to the parks. Since then its been revealed that ”this decision would annihilate current rules around wildlife management in NSW and significantly curtail the ability for [National Parks and Wildlife Service] to manage lands reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974,” according to leaked advisory notes drafted within the former Environment department.

One Sally Barnes, the former head of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who is linked to the notes, is now the chief executive of the Office of Environment and Heritage overseeing the move to allow hunting in parks. The notes also asked ”We are trying to open up parks to visitors – how can this be compatible?… NSW has a balanced approach with hunting allowed in state forests and on private land. If NSW wishes to be the Green State why would NSW be the first state to move to allowing hunting in national parks?” It has also been revealed that two key officials involved with the move, the Game Council’s chief executive Greg McFarland and Andrew Mallen are themselves under investigation for illegal hunting practices, trespassing, and the inhumane killing of a feral goat last month. Now that is a great example for other hunters to follow.

dontshootposter-300x212

And if the shooters don’t cause enough damage to our ever increasingly fragile ‘protected’ ecosystems, then the grazers just might, as Barry and co have allowed trial grazing to go ahead within National Parks too. And ducks are under fire, those dreaded webbed toed vermin that they are. They have to be eradicated, so Barry has reintroduced duck hunting to appease his political comrades the Shooters.

Even our underwater friends won’t be safe, especially if you’re a critically endangered grey nurse shark. You’ve been O’FARRELLED! too, your habitat protection sites have been revoked at Bass Point and reduced elsewhere at Green Island and Magic point, in a deal that opens up these areas to more recreational fishing at a time when most countries around the world are trying to add to maritime protection zones, not take them away.

npws_target_logo_greenleft

Of course sharks aren’t the only ones in trouble down on the waterfront. The closure of a world class fisheries research centre at Cronulla sees no reprieve despite extensive political and scientific lobbying on many fronts including that of Fred Nile. It’s been well and truly O’FARRELLED! It will be closed, and now there is talk that the heritage listed adjoining pool may be lost too, as its purpose is now diminished, according to a heritage advisor enlisted by, you guessed it, Barry O’Farrell.

It’s quite clear he doesn’t really give a toss for the environment, our Barry. Late last year he axed nine green schemes including Green Business Grants, Renewable Energy Development Grants, Schools Energy Efficiency Grants, Hybrid bus trials and the Fleetwise program aimed at reducing emissions from company vehicles. These cuts were claimed by Barry to reduce household power bills, however according to Greens MP John Kaye “the Green schemes have only driven up power prices by about $76 over the last five years, compared to the almost $700 added by wires and poles investments.” This comes after the governments scrapping of solar panel rebates not long after they came to power. But on another front, O’Farrell was quick to point the finger at the federal govt after the PM walked away from a deal that would hand environmental decision making to the states, claiming ”It’s clear the Prime Minister caved in. She blinked to pressure from the green groups who wrongly characterised this as a watering down of environmental standards.” Watching Barry’s view on ‘environmental standards’ unfold now its clearly better he was given as little environmental power as possible.

COAL SEAM GAS PROTEST SYDNEY

Image AAP

But if you think he’s just a mean spirited and heartless political hard case, well that’s just not true. Our man Barry shows absolutely no hostility to the gas and coal mining industry, as we have recently seen. He has basically allowed coal seam gas exploration and drilling to go ahead practically anywhere in the state, and many gas drillers are already taking advantage of his generosity. Directly after passing CSG legislation across NSW, 22 licenses were renewed, now that’s a lot of mining money riding on that one decision, is it any wonder it was rushed through? A ban on the controversial ‘fracking’ technique of extraction was also lifted. It’s just an afterthought that residents of Camden and South Western Sydney are a little angry having recently bought land and not being told any news that AGL would be drilling 66 gas wells right under their new neighbourhoods. Or the fact that the environmental effects of coal seam gas drilling are widely documented to cause irreversible damage to water aquifers and extensive ground contamination, not to mention surface methane leaks or cracking of surface stone such as the sandstone plateaus in western NSW which are now showing cracks throughout as a result of nearby gas seam exploration, or the countless irreplaceable millennia-old Aboriginal rock paintings and carvings throughout the state which are now at serious risk.

“The O’Farrell government has recklessly given these coal seam gas companies the green light to renew their exploration licences despite a record in NSW of toxic coal seam gas water spills, community opposition and regulatory failures,” said Prue Bodsworth of the Wilderness Society. “By offering these licence renewals, 21.3% of the State will be covered by coal seam gas exploration, which is far too high considering the massive risks to our food-producing land, water catchments and health. O’Farrell has now actively opened up over five million hectares for coal seam gas mining, putting a dark cloud of gas drilling over millions of NSW residents and our most special natural areas and waterways.”

csg_AAP

Image AAP

And its not just the mining industry Barry is cosily happy with. The developer lobby has a special place in Barry’s heart too, he has bent over backwards to make sure our state makes them feel at home. This is the year Barry’s magical planning white paper comes to fruition, basically turning all planning rules and residential zoning on its head. Barry’s rebadged planning body, Urbangrowth NSW, headed by former party leader John Brogden, has been given universal power to determine future growth areas of development with the input of developers, and has already carved up large chunks of Sydney and surrounds for high growth development. Urbangrowth will have the powers of compulsory acquisition, removal of regulatory barriers (‘red tape’) to speed up development, as well as access to surplus government land. Councils are to be bypassed, in fact, residents won’t have a say against these multi-story high density developments sweeping across their neighbourhoods provided they pass the certain ‘criteria’. You won’t even know that a development is going up next door until the concrete starts drying.

And with Urbangrowth NSW now running the show in cohorts with developer groups, don’t expect the suburbs you live in to look anything like they do now in another couple of years. “Take note of the name of the Housing Supply Sub Committee of Cabinet” said Brogden. It was called “not housing sustainability, not housing affordability – but housing supply”.

And its not just about fast tracking of developments in predetermined growth zones either, don’t think old inner city terrace suburbs such as Paddington or Woollahra will be spared. Legislation has just been passed allowing owners to now bypass local Development Control Plans, effectively taking away any protection of how these suburbs will remain, and allowing developers to bulldoze or alter heritage homes if they prove to be increasing housing supply. ”DCPs are the fine-grained controls that protect local communities from inappropriate development,” says David Shoebridge, Greens MP. ”This government intends to gut them.”

Heritage consultant David Logan, who worked on DCPs in eastern Sydney is also critical. ”Someone only has to say: ‘look, I’m providing more housing than you currently get in existing terraces in Paddington’ and the consent authority would be really hard pressed to keep those existing buildings [under the proposed changes],”he said. So I guess, landowners and ratepayers, and anyone else who likes to live in or even look at genuine heritage neighbourhoods, you too have been O’FARRELLED!

UrbanGrowth

But it gets worse. Under new strata laws proposed, if you live in an apartment, for example a nice art deco unit block with a garden, and you are quite happy to stay there, so long as 75 percent of the owners agree to sell to a developer (remember that’s only three out of four owners), you won’t have a say, you will be forced to sell, removed from the equation. Can you just imagine developers eyeing off all of those ‘underutilised’ brick apartments across Sydney, and starting to put pressure on owners to sell so they can increase the heights and densities returning the favour to our man Barry. Now it’s beginning to sound a bit like communist China.

Speaking of China, Barry is trying to attract cashed up investors from that part of the world by offering fast tracked visas for big investors under his new 188 and 888 Significant Investor Visa program, allowing anyone who invests $A5 million into the NSW economy not only to gain a visa for themselves, but allow their family to ether via the express lane. ‘Investment’ includes such forms as real estate, bonds, even cash. So in other words, someone from China says, “Hey Barry, I’ve got 5 million to put in your bank, or I’ve got 5 million to build a highrise here in Sydney,” that will do the trick. No language requirements, just show them the money and you get your family ticket. Now that is democracy at work. (for the rich).

But as private investment is ramped up and the coal seam gas and land grab continues at breakneck speed, funding from his own departments seem to have mysteriously dried up. Planned art gallery expansions in both Newcastle and Albury have both had the plug pulled by Barry O’Farrell, leaving the councils of those cities to bridge the gaping holes in financing themselves. The proposed expansion at Albury is now at risk as council weighs up the costs of funding it alone. TAFE and university course funding has been cut to regional centres as well, forcing courses to close and pushing students in those centres to go online in order to complete their studies.

The interesting thing with Barry is that he is willing to do whatever it takes to grow the state with private investment and high-rise development, while at the same time cutting back on all the basic governmental services that a growing community needs – health, education, policing etc. We are heading towards a Chinese style direction of high density urbanisation, and in return we are losing our own standards of living, our heritage, our way of life, the right to determine our own planning controls and standards.

Image Lee Besford

Image Lee Besford

2013 will be another big year for the growing list of epic failures for Barry O’Farrell. I have no doubt the voters will punish him the next time an election comes around, the question is, how much damage can he do during his term in office, and how will our cities and our state look by then. Heritage is not something that can be replaced with a change of government. What we are talking about here is a dangerous and reckless premier and government. Even if they serve only one term in office they have unconditional potential to cause irreversible damage to the environment, our heritage, our levels of public service and amenity, and our standard of living in general. Never before has NSW seen such a dictatorship government so intent on working together with developer and mining groups to the unvoiced detriment of everyone else.

It’s not too late, there is a lot we can all do to stop this absurdity. The planning white paper is at being released in February, so write a letter or email to the office telling them you disagree with the powers being proposed, the complete lack of community input to determine how our suburbs will look, the lack of heritage controls, and the scale of overdevelopment being proposed for many growth areas. Now is the time. Look into groups such as the Better Planning Network and get involved.

Title image The Australian.

Watch out NSW, You’ve been “O’Farrelled!” – Part 1 post here.

PARRAMATTA COUNCIL TO KNOCK HOLES IN CONVICT BUILT BRIDGE

Occasionally you get wind of a heritage story so awful, so plainly ridiculous, that it almost defies belief except as part of some elaborate joke. The proposed demolition of Griffith House at St George Hospital as well as the Thompson Square debacle are two that have come to light recently. Well, sadly, pray tell, here is another, and this one may yet take the cake.

It regards a stately convict built bridge from the early days of Parramatta, a colonial settlement along the Parramatta River which has long since been enveloped to become part of the greater city of Sydney. Lennox Bridge, so named after David Lennox, the first superintendent of bridges, is a single arch sandstone structure built by convict labour between 1836 and 1839. It is the third oldest road bridge in NSW and takes pride of place on the state heritage register. Under these circumstances, one would think protection of the bridge in its current form would stand without question. Despite this, Parramatta Council has unveiled an absurd proposal to drill 3 metre holes in each side of the structure to allow access for pedestrians and cyclists for what it calls “an active and engaging Parramatta River foreshore, which can be enjoyed by everybody, while also celebrating the heritage values of the Bridge”. In reality, it will go a long way to service and market the sale of the planned 111 million dollar Meriton apartment and retail development, allowing them to generate pretty 3-D animations of little plastic people running along the lovely banks of the river to and from their very liveable Meriton apartments through the heritage listed sandstone bridge that Meriton has just helped to partially demolish by cutting 3m squares out of.

Meriton Happy-ville, where hertitage is just a convenient backdrop.
image Parramatta Council

Barry O’Farrell’s RMS is behind the Development Application that will go before Parramatta Council once again in December 2012. The DA received 141 submissions against it despite the complete lack of public consultation and the fact that only local residents were allowed to comment, a ridiculous enclosure of a state significant matter. In a slap to the face at all levels of government, the plan is being undertaken with a federal grant, while the state government Heritage Council has just endorsed the proposal despite stating themselves that it was “visually intrusive” and the work would “seriously and irrevocably compromise” the original masonry workmanship of the bridge. Lawrence Nield, the Heritage Council chairman, was quoted in the SMH as saying that the bridge in its current form “is just a dead end where only old cans and cigarette butts go”. And that, from the chairman of the state’s highest heritage office, my-oh-my… (Not quite sure what his angle is here but perhaps he thinks pedestrians walking through the new tunnels will be picking up pieces of rubbish as they pass thereby lessening the impact of litter around the bridge).

Clearly this proposal, should it go ahead, treats important landmark heritage in NSW with disdain, makes a joke of the Heritage Council, the Heritage Branch and the entire state heritage list as an institution. Why have listings at all if a council is allowed to go ahead and literally punch holes in these irreplaceable heritage items for their own short term election goals to please developers who see these schemes as a good way to sell more units. Is that what we are coming to? This is convict history, this is our third oldest road bridge in NSW, this is not some random piece of infrastructure that can be added to or knocked down or cut through to make a cycleway fit. There are always alternatives, and clever governments, both local and state, would find a way around these things. Leave the damn bridge alone, and keep as much history of old Parramatta in tact as possible, as it was intended. Meriton apartments come and go, but convict built heritage is a treasure for us all and must remain untouched and protected.

These protestors need your help.
Image Parramatta Sun.

Send your disapproval to Parramatta council and the NSW Heritage Council now.

Top picture Australian Photography Forum, Richard W.

Follow this link to the Greater Western Sydney Heritage Action Group

HOW TO DESTROY THE AMBIENCE OF AVOCA BEACH

Anyone who has been to Avoca Beach on NSW’s central coast will know what a quaint and picturesque seaside village it is. Lovely beaches, rock pools, surf club, sleepy seaside atmosphere, even a historic picture theatre to complete the scene. I personally happened to be there last weekend and was quietly amazed that such a peaceful and lovely hamlet can still exist so close to our major city Sydney in this day and age. Now all that is about to be ripped apart as Avoca Beach Picture Theatre owners Norman and Beth Hunter plan to launch their 1951 single screen theatre into the 21st century, with a 5-screen 615-seat multiplex monster along with cafe, gallery and apartment block containing 5 units over 3 stories. A big sea change from the existing old time theatre; residents say too big, and vow to fight the Development Application. Rightfully so, as this will dramatically reshape their little village into a modern metropolis, a change that many who live here don’t want to see.

Charming seaside theatre, for now

Several years ago Owners Norman and Beth Hunter bought an adjoining block of land and managed to get it along with the Theatre rezoned to allow mixed use commercial and residential. “Lodging this development application has been a 10 year journey,” Mrs Hunter said. “Now the time is right to get the DA through.” The proposed floor space ratio of the DA however exceeds council zoning regulations by 14 percent and the height exceeds regulations by 1.52m. They have sweetened the deal with Gosford Council by offering to pave the carpark opposite, as well as upgrade the adjoining park and footpath.

Aerial view showing size of the proposal

At a public meeting in the Surf Club on Monday 17th September around 230 residents turned up to voice their concerns against the proposed bulk and scale and of the plan (and that is a huge number in a community of this size). Avoca Beach Residents Group President Steve Fortey cited some of the residents concerns. “There is one road in and one road out of Avoca,” he said.”We are at capacity already and have managed to keep the high rises at bay so far…” Parking and gridlock would be an obvious concern especially on weekends when nippers, holiday makers, beach goers and now increased cinema traffic all drive around in circles competing for the limited amount of car spaces that simply won’t cope with what is being proposed here. “Most of the parking projection was based on a 2003 study, but traffic has increased substantially since then,” said Mr Fortey.

It’s a picture that is being played out up and down the coast… how to maintain the quiet serenity of a beachside locality that attracts people in the first place, while allowing for future development and increased population growth… Well, the answer is, at least in this case, fairly simple – Don’t.

  • Don’t build a 5 screen multiplex in a tiny beach village that clearly doesn’t want or need it. There are many, many places not far away that would be a far more suitable choice for this kind of development – Gosford, Erina, Wyong are all short drives away, and they don’t share the same traffic snarl and parking problems that Avoca Beach clearly would have to deal with.
  • Don’t ruin the charming character of a 1950’s heritage theatre, one that is obviously loved as it is, as shown by the loyal patronage and multitude of awards over the years including best Independent Regional Cinema three years running (that was obviously not won by being a multiplex!)
  • And quite simply don’t crush the irreplaceable ambience of this seaside village by trying to build a Westfield-like structure in the centre of it; a spectacularly oversized, gruesome looking structure so clearly out of place that nobody particularly wants to infect their lovely village. Make no mistake, once here, Avoca Beach will be changed forever. If a place like this is to change then it should be with community input and acceptance, and it must be a benefit to the townscape, not a brutal nondescript effigy beaten over the heads of unsuspecting locals, one that looks more like a public library than a cinema at that…

Heritage trashed, replaced by concrete box

Residents have until October 5 to comment on the ludicrous proposal, which coincides with busy school holiday period (funny that) so get busy writing.

Follow the link to a very informative Facebook Supporters page here.

A nice short film outlining the heritage of the theatre and movie-going on the Central Coast here.

Avoca Theatre DA details here

RYDE CIVIC CENTRE, CENTRE OF DISPUTE

Is this an ugly, unloved building? The SMH thinks so in its article of late last year after plans were outlined to redevelop the 1964 built Ryde Civic Centre with twin towers more than three times the height of the existing structure. I personally have driven past this building on many occasions, and always marveled through my foggy car window (foggy from the haze of constant traffic along Lane Cove Rd.) at its retro form, simple yet elegant lines and concave glass filled facade, reminiscent of the AMP Buildings at Circular Quay, the first skyscrapers of Sydney. Perhaps its the 1960s modernity of the design I admire, or the sheer smart municipal feel of it all. Perhaps part of what I find easy on the eye is the seemingly appropriate and sympathetic scale of the building to the surrounding streetscape, which is more than can be said for its planned replacements, two World Trade Centre-like monstrous tower blocks of 24 storeys each, accompanied by smaller podium buildings, for a total of 500 units, 600 car spaces, and a whole lot of extra congestion added to this already choking stretch of main arterial road.

What makes the plan even more shadowy is that motor transport will be the only mode of transport available to the inhabitants of these new skyscrapers, as there is no railway station nearby at all, a factor that would normally veto such a densely packed development in the first place. And as for open space, good luck trying to find that in the area. The road it fronts is the second busiest in the city of Sydney.

So who is the culprit, trying to rezone this parcel of public land and the raise the level of building heights up to the sky and pack in ever more rate-paying residents to this overcrowded precinct? It’s Ryde Council… Well, not all of Ryde Council to be fair, they have been deadlocked 6 votes to 6 in an intriguing and divisive battle between the anti-redevelopment faction, who seem to be representing the views of 99 percent of the constituents, and the pro-redevelopment, who are more interested in blocking the views. The Mayor, Artin Etmekdjian has used his casting vote on more than one occasion, quite controversially, to pass the motion of redevelopment, when he should in fact, in a matter of deadlock, use his casting vote to maintain the status quo.

From an outsider’s perspective, the deal is a crafty one. Ryde council hands over 60 percent of the land to Lend Lease at ‘market rate’ together with a loan of a reported 35 million dollars to help finance the development. In return, council changes the zoning of the land and throws the height controls out the window thereby increasing its assets from $18 million to $79 million. So, I guess the only real losers are the residents of Ryde and people of greater Sydney. Indeed, why wouldn’t any council go ahead and follow suite knocking down their own council chambers to build highly lucrative residential skyscrapers in their place?

And it gets uglier… The council appears to be on the verge of collapse, with members walking out of meetings, tensions boiling over, erupting in the extraordinary motion to sack the general manager of Ryde Council John Neish by the anti-redevelopment camp, in a move to hold over negotiations until after September’s local elections, when they feel they would have the numbers to scrap the land deal with Lend Lease, and pursue other more community-acceptable avenues. And so it should be; the elections are now so close and this is a very big issue for Ryde residents and anyone who uses Lane Cove Road/Devlin St. for commuting.

The dreaded Twin Towers. Image Ryde Community Alliance

Residents are clearly not happy, as this can be seen to be a massive overdevelopment which lacks the rail transport infrastructure needed. More than 2000 letters of objection were written regarding the proposal. Labor Cr Jeff Salvestro-Martin said “The community is a very important stake holder in this whole process, and until now they’ve effectively being ignored. When you think that this is actually a civic centre… you would think the community is a very important stakeholder in that. We need strong leadership, someone to stand up and say, you know what, we actually haven’t got this right. We need to go back to the drawing board, re-examine this proposal right from the start.” Recently the anti-redevelopment faction have put forward a motion to establish a community advisory committee consisting of four sitting councilors and members of the public.

Hats off to the six councilors who haven’t bowed down. We can only hope that come election time things will change for the better in Ryde. People have had a gut full of this, seeing their suburbs turned into high density concrete blocks for the profits of multinational developers and self indulgent councilors. Developments like this change our city forever, and they are becoming far too commonplace in cities like Sydney in this day and age. This is one instance where acting with your vote may produce a more favorable outcome for the community. Unfortunately the fate of the wonderfully modernist Civic Centre is probably to become rubble no matter which way it goes at the election, as the anti-Lend Lease development camp haven’t pursued an Interim Heritage Order option even at this desperate stage. So Ryde will end up losing its landmark Civic Centre and gaining new towers either way, its just a question of size.

I for one don’t think its an ugly building at all, and would love to see the Ryde Civic Centre retained as a piece of 1960s urban engineering – from a time when our city was young, and what was important was how people lived, and how they interacted within their city, not how many you could fit into small concrete boxes rising unrealistically over the gentle surrounding suburban landscape. We need to conserve outstanding examples of this era of municipal building as much as any; together with other styles and genres of great architecture they knit together to form a rich tapestry of the building of our city over many generations, of the civic pride we once felt as a community, of what Australia really stands for. And that, stone by stone, is slowly being eroded from our common view.

Modernist marvel, image courtesy onthewaterphotography

Follow the links to supporter groups:

http://rydecommunityalliance.org

http://residentsforryde.org

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Stand-Against-Ryde-Civic-Centre-Redevelopment/227464363969320

http://www.facebook.com/pages/No-Towers-at-Ryde/148092021959124

Main image , a beautiful shot of the Leslie J. Buckland and Druce designed Ryde Civic Centre by Peter Miller, onthewaterphotography.

HUG A TREE DAY at Wolli Creek

Wolli Creek Regional Park is an important green corridor within the congested south western area of Sydney. The nature reserve was saved by the concerted efforts of residents who fought valiantly to get the impending M5 east motorway put underground rather than push through the endangered bushland, thereby preserving the area as one of the […]

WATCH OUT NSW, YOU’VE BEEN “O’FARRELLED!”

There’s a new phenomenom sweeping the state of NSW, Australia. It all started March 26 2011 after the election with a statement by the incoming premier Barry O’Farrell “We’ll govern for all.” Since then the O’Farrell government certainly has left its mark on the state, and many members of the public have felt the effects of Barry’s ‘governing for all.’ With job cuts and scale backs as well as back room deals with gun lobbyists and developers on the agenda, the public are reeling, wondering who or what could be next on the chopping block. So get ready for it NSW, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!”

Yes, it’s been a trying year for the state, some would even argue on our Australian way of life, as big bad Barry and his Liberal government, who swept to power in a landslide, have gone about their methodical prescription to change the face of NSW in so many ways. Before he’s through will we even recognise our great state and its constitutional form of democracy? Who knows…

Recently, the regional town of Grafton felt it, they’ve certainly been “O’FARRELLED!” as their historic jail has now been scaled back in service from a 250 bed centre to housing just 60 remand prisoners with the loss of over 100 jobs for the tight-knit community. Many townsfolk bravely stood night and day to form a road block outside the 119-year old fortress in order to stop the trucks coming to take the prisoners away to newer, ‘cheaper to run’ prisons such as Cessnock. As realisation crept in that they had finally lost their battle and the police lines moved in to break up the picket, protestors simply turned their backs, a potent symbol of how the O’Farrell government had turned their backs on the town’s own plight.

While finances are at the top of Barry’s agenda, not much consideration was given to the employment the jail achieves in a regional town like Grafton, which has, by this event, experienced ‘it’s darkest hour’. What will those 108 prison guards do now in times of rising unemployment, we all wonder. When he said back in 2011 “We’ll govern for all” he obviously didn’t mean them.

Grafton jail protestors, image SMH

But Grafton is not the only one to be “O’FARRELLED!” in recent times, that much is clear. Public servants, you are running scared. Nurses, teachers, emergency services, researchers, you’ve all been “O’FARRELLED!” along the line with pay freezes and lay-offs en masse under the government’s wage reforms. Public sector wages would be capped at 2.5 percent per annum, despite the CPI rising by 3.6 percent, leaving a shortfall of 1.1 percent. Over 35,000 public sector workers rallied in the Sydney Domain on September 8 2011 to protest against the attacks on public sector jobs, wages and conditions announced by Barry O’Farrell, which included a decision to axe several thousand public sector jobs. 67,000 teachers carried out a 24 hour strike on the same day.

Earlier this month it was announced that Community services workers will be cut by 968 positions over the next four years and the health department could lose more than 3600 over the same period, in a move that NSW Public Service Association Assistant Secretary Steve Turner said was “clear the Government doesn’t care about our most vulnerable children and their families, regarding their proper care as just another number to be slashed on the budget sheet.” Opposition Leader John Robertson was scathing of the cutbacks. “Sacking nearly 1,000 community services workers at the same time one in five reports of children at risk are not being followed up is nothing short of a disgrace” he said. “Cutting 968 staff from the department responsible for protecting the most vulnerable children in NSW will only see more children falling through the cracks… The latest job cut figures confirm that almost 8,000 jobs will be lost from hospitals, schools, fire stations, road safety and community services under Barry O’Farrell.”

Domain protestors. image directaction.org.au

Retail workers, you too have been “O’FARRELLED!” with the premier de-regulating trading on Boxing Day, meaning your hard earned holidays are being eroded and trading continues during this festive and traditional public holiday period.

Workers compensation laws too, have been “O’FARRELLED!” in a big way. Items such as weekly benefits beyond 2.5 years, medical expenses beyond 12 months, journey claims, claims to spouses killed at work, and legal costs are all in the target of Barry’s cuts, in effect altering worker’s rights immeasurably. The Workers Compensation Amendment Bill was rushed through the NSW Parliament in under 72 hours and was reported just 11 days after it was established. Any genuine inquiry would have taken at least 6 months, says MP David Shoebridge’s office. The committee received 353 submissions and held public hearings over just three days. Unions and workers of NSW were rightfully outraged.

Barry the butcher. image The Greens

Privatisation has been a big spinner for Barry too. Sydney Ferries, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!” Soon you’ll be run by a foreign company Veolia Transport and let’s wait to see what that entails. No doubt job losses, route changes and ticket price hikes for the iconic ferries in a bid to bring down running costs.

And state electricity, why you’ve been truly “O’FARRELLED!”. Barry did a deal with the Shooters and Hunters party to gain their support to sell off the state’s power generators, passing that bill through and at the same time “O’FARRELLING!” our state’s National Parks, many of which will now be open to hunters blasting their guns in wilderness areas – great job Barry. 40 percent of National Parks land coverage including those with World Heritage Listing such as Barrington Tops and Dorrigo will be open up to hunters. “Barry O’Farrell’s shown today that he’s prepared to break every promise that he’s made to get a deal up to get this through,” opposition leader John Robertson told reporters. “A premier who promises not to allow hunting in national parks is about to allow a shooting spree to open up in some of the most pristine parts of the state,” he said.
Inheritance
believes this is political wheeling and dealing on a whole new level, trading one totally unrelated law to get another one through parliament. Where is the consultation, where is the study? And regarding the power sell-off, expect electricity prices to soar even further. A similar sell-off in South Australia skyrocketed bills up to 30 percent.

Now the NSW Govt has become a joint sponsor of “Shot Expo”, a weapons show, along with gun makers Winchester and Beretta. The Greens MP David Shoebridge said ”It’s just astounding the Game Council is using taxpayers dollars to co-sponsor a pro-hunting event with weapons manufacturers. This state government has no limits on how far it will go in promoting a pro-gun culture, including joining with death merchants to plug guns and hunting. NSW has run down hospitals, broken public transport and thousands of public servants being sacked, but the O’Farrell government still has the cash to promote gun ownership and hunting.”
Great way to spend our tax dollars Barry.

NationalParks protestors. image davidshoebridge.org.au

The State Records office, you’ve been “O’FARRELLED!”. In a little publicised event, the public Reading Room, Formally located in the Rocks, central to the public need to conduct research within its premises, has now been shut down and moved to the outer west suburb of Kingswood. So if you live anywhere near the centre of the city, you will now have to travel 40km away to gain access to the State Records, to a site with no public transport. It’s a real slap in the face for the history of our state.

NSW Fisheries, you’ve had the “O’FARRELL!” treatment too. The Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre is being forced to close against its will and broken up with up to 150 local job redundancies following. This is a world class facility with experienced researchers. Protests were held outside parliament after reports that bureaucrats tried sneakily to reclassify it to avoid the need for presenting a business case, and petitions of 18,600 names couldn’t even warrant a meeting with Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson. Now THAT is arrogance. Sutherland Shire councillor Phil Blight made his statement to the protest “It’s a centre of excellence, perfect for the research and management of fish stocks and shark monitoring. It has the facilities, the tanks, the laboratories, the storage areas, the freezers, an extensive marine library – all the things that will have to be built again at Port Stephens or Mosman or wherever the staff are to be sent. It makes no sense.”
View this web link http://www.savecronullafisheries.net/
Debate rages within the department and public as to the benefits of breaking up such an institute but in the end O’Farrell won out, as he always seems to do. Why oh why Barry?

Fisheries protestors.image SMH

And now, planning laws in the state of NSW, you are being completely “O’FARRELLED!”. This could be the most dangerous and damaging “O’FARRELLING!” to the people of NSW yet. Barry and his planning minister Brad Hazzard have released their green paper aimed at ‘cutting red tape and de-politicising’ planning and speeding up the system, when in fact it would be taking powers away from local councils and removing the rights of residents to have their voices heard when it comes to opposing DA’s. This instead would go to a panel of non-elected representatives including independent certifiers, and so long as the DA passed basic criteria, public consultation and the right for individuals to make submissions would be void. The possibilities for corruption are rife, allowing developments through without public input and moving the process out of local hands, as has been demonstrated with private certifiers in the past, where developments have been built that did not comply. While we certainly have had issues regarding council’s attitude to heritage preservation in the past (and continue to do so), at least in theory they are meant to represent local constituents and should try to do so – tell us Barry, who are these new panels there to represent?

The opposition and the Greens call this a developer free for all, whereby the O’Farrell government is effectively creating a ‘tick and flick’ system of planning. With housing affordibility and population growth key drivers in this debate, pressures are immense from Canberra and indeed developer lobbyists who are trying to maximise their opportunities to build as big and as high as they can in the midst of this population boom. With land running out on the urban fringes and public transport not keeping pace with the growth of the city (yes, Barry), so-called ‘infill’ development within existing areas is on the agenda, as it can be cheaper and larger scale than greenfield sites. We, the residents, who are mostly AGAINST over-development, and the councils who, as stated, are meant to represent us, are in their way. So taking us out of the equation is good for the economy, good for the state, and most of all, good for Barry, and the developers who will run riot once these laws are passed.

image The Age

Make no mistake, this is about boosting housing densities and giving developer groups free reign. The Sydney Morning Herald broke a story in January 2012, which outlined government strategy to ask developers where they would like new greenfield sites to open for them, earning praise from developer lobby groups such as Urban Taskforce and the Property Council of Australia. “While supporting the positive moves for greenfield sites, the Urban Taskforce believes a similar leadership role is required for the even harder supply problem of urban infill sites,” the chief executive of the Urban Taskforce, Chris Johnson, said. ”The government could call for expressions of interest for infill sites and then set up a special approval approach.”

“You’d like to see a similarly efficient process for urban renewal opportunities – there is still overwhelming demand within the existing footprint,” said the Property Council of Australia CEO, Glenn Byres. Planning Minister Brad Hazzard sent an ominous warning to councils. ”The desirable course is to work with councils, but at the end of the day the state government and I, as Planning Minister, have the capacity to rezone without their concurrence,” he said.

With the heritage office of state government already reduced to a shadow of its former self in the name of the “Heritage Branch”, lumped in as an offshoot of the planning department, this doesn’t bode well for us in the game of heritage preservation. Rather than expanding to keep pace with the extent of new planning laws, the heritage branch is shrinking and becoming virtually toothless in its powers. We could effectively see whole areas of Sydney changed radically to accommodate more and more high rise, high density development, and the increasing traffic, pollution, and congestion that entails. Not to mention the continued disappearance of gardens and backyards within our cities and suburbs. But what should be lamented most here is the loss of community input, the trampling down and cheapening of public view, of what we, the people want for OUR planning future. To deny us that right, is not what you were voted in to do, Mr. O’Farrell, the man who claimed “to govern for all” and “put planning back in the hands of the people.”

Domain protest. image ABC

Americans made a big issue of getting angry over having their Olympic uniforms made in China, it made for lively debate in congress and became world news headlines (ours are also made in China but no-one seems to care). So how will we, Australians, now react when our very public planning rules are being turned on their heads by a dictator-like short term Premier and his developer-friendly goals suited only to appease the big end of town. We as citizens are being systematically stripped of our democratic rights, we should be up in arms over this.

Democracy, NSW, 2012, you too have been “O’FARRELLED!”.
Be concerned, be very very concerned…