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.
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.
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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Recently I was fortunate enough to attend two separate forums dealing with the NSW Government’s proposed introduction of its Planning White Paper. The first was at Parliament House organized by the Better Planning Network, and the second at the Sydney Masonic Centre hosted by the Heritage Council of NSW.
There were a number of expert speakers at both events, including representatives of the State Government (Brad Hazzard was present at the first), community groups, the Heritage Council, and Nature Conservation Council of NSW. The talks involved in depth analysis of the White paper and its implications for the residents of NSW, and the news wasn’t good… What became clearer as the talks unfolded is just how biased and favourable to developers these new planning reforms really are.
With the government gunning to provide a platform that will pass 80 percent of developments within 10-25 days without any community consultation, it is becoming obvious that the rights and voices of residents are being radically swept aside in favour of economic development at any cost. The fact that there is such a short time frame for residents to digest not just the White Paper but also the Draft Metropolitan Strategy which dictates where future high rise growth corridors of Sydney will take shape, shows that our right of reply is not likely to be taken seriously by this government. The very idea that the Draft Metropolitan Strategy has been released before the White Paper submissions are heard almost defies logic.
There are facets of the Planning White Paper that will have far-reaching consequences to the state and the people that reside in it. Many of these can be seen as contentious in their nature, and the government criticized for not allowing the scope of public investigation they deserve. The planning reforms read like a Christmas wishlist for developers, many of whom would now be greedily lining up for their slice of the turkey, knife and fork in hand. For the purposes of compression, and so you don’t get bored too quickly (as I know it’s a painful subject) I have summarized the main points as I see them below.
Key issues of the White Paper that need to be addressed
- As mentioned, 80 percent of developments passed as ‘Code’ or ‘Complying’, without any community involvement or consultation, including units, industrial, mixed use, retail and commercial. These will all be passed in certain areas within 10-25 days without neighbours’ consent or knowledge.
- Other regional or state-significant developments will have only 14 or 28 days public notice/consultation, far from adequate for developments of such magnitude.
- Environmental protection zones including E1 (National Parks) and E2 (conservation areas) merged; E3 and E4 removed and replaced by general rural and residential zones. Some of the state’s most environmentally sensitive lands will lose all protection.
- The concept of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) completely removed from the White Paper. Under the current Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, ESD has been encouraged as standard principle, now it has been deliberately removed.
- Climate change totally excluded from the Paper. This is particularly worrying in drought prone areas as well as coastal fringes where beach and river erosion is increasing.
- Strategic planning principles will now be worded as ‘having regard to environment and social considerations.’ This means nothing.
- Subregional planning boards will be introduced to pass regional plans. These will be made up of a local council representative, up to four state representatives appointed by the Minister and an ‘independent’ chair appointed by the Minister.
- Role of local councils greatly diminished in planning policy and approvals.
- Simultaneously, many councils are being forced to amalgamate and cut back staff, reducing the level of service available to ratepayers.
- Neither infrastructure nor housing affordability are properly addressed in the White Paper. In fact there can be up to a three year lag on new development levies going to provide local infrastructure.
- The Minister has power to overrule any LEP or local zonings and amend strategic plans. There are risks of corruption when so much power is handled by so few, and this makes the whole idea of ‘community consultation’ laughable and void.
- Developers have rights of appeal and the right to request spot rezoning, whereas the public don’t. In essence, it is becoming much harder to knock back development and easier to allow it.
- Expansion in the use of private certifiers in assessment roles of new developments. This is fundamentally flawed because certifiers are paid and employed by the developer, not independently.
- Strategic Compatibility Certificates will allow developers now to override existing local controls until the new plans are introduced and possibly after.
- The utter lack of protection of cultural and architectural heritage (References to ‘heritage’ only mentioned three times in the White Paper). Key decision making on the 1,600 state significant listed heritage items passed out of the hands of Heritage Council to the Department of Planning with little or no knowledge of heritage issues and a pro-development bias.
- Similarly the role of assessing Aboriginal culture and heritage will be passed to the Department of Planning.
What the experts say…
David Logan, who was a key speaker at both events as a representative of the Heritage Council of NSW, stated in his speech that “Environment and heritage are two of the things that need to be balanced with development and growth. Planning is all about balancing. To get a look in heritage needs to be mentioned at the highest level, it needs to be very clearly articulated in the Act, in the state planning policies aswell… it’s not proposed to be… unless that happens there’s the real risk it won’t be taken into account adequately when those plans are made.”
The Nature Conservation Council of NSW states “These changes represent the most significant backward step on public participation and environmental protection in more than a generation, placing our natural areas and resources, and communities at risk.” In its assessment, the Nature Conservation Council rated the White Paper’s performance as only 3.5 out of 15.
The Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO NSW) states in its Parliamentary Briefing Note and Key Summary that “the White Paper’s strategic planning principles do not deal with improving or maintaining environmental outcomes, assessing cumulative impacts or preparing for climate change,” and that “The combined effect of broader zoning, greater code assessment (including the 80% target, ‘mandatory’ approvals, and compartmentalised merit assessments), and new review and appeal options for developers, will tip the balance further away from community involvement, environment protection, and local influence in decision-making.” It also notes the “lack of any real detail about how Aboriginal cultural heritage will be protected under the new planning system,” and that “The continued imbalance of appeal rights between developers and community members will continue to undermine community confidence in the proposed system.”
The Greens also have a bone to pick with Barry O’Farrell, claiming in their Putting Communities First document that “A new Planning Act must empower communities to deliver ecologically sustainable development. This means development that respects the precautionary principle and looks beyond the ‘market’ to balance the environment, the economy and social well-being.” The White Paper does none of this. And on the proposed quick turnarounds “Far from strengthening community participation rights, the government is proposing a scheme that will allow even less community notice than is currently required for any one state significant planning project.”
If you are reading this post there is a very good chance you are already familiar with many of the policies proposed under the White Paper and their disastrous consequences for communities, heritage and the environment. You would already be familiar with the Better Planning Network who are doing such a magnificent job in trying to represent the many and varied community groups around the state. And hopefully you will have penned your submission against this great mismanagement of our state’s assets, or be in the process of sending it in. You know how drastic and devastating these changes will be to your suburbs, towns and cities. You only have until 28 June. Go forth and spread the word.
If you have time on Wednesday 26 June, there will be a protest held by the BPN outside Governor Macquarie and Governor Phillip Towers, 1 Farrer Place at 12.15pm. Click here for map. If you are a responsible NSW resident who feels they are being misrepresented by an irresponsible government and you want to show your disapproval on matters of planning, the time has now come.
Send your submission to New Planning System, GPO Box 39, Sydney NSW 2001 or online here.
Alternatively, send your comments here whitepaper.planning.nsw.gov.au
Anyone who has been following the state of planning politics in NSW under the current O’Farrell Liberal government does so with a sense of dread and foreboding, especially after witnessing the recent disastrous handling of heritage items such as Thompson Square, Parramatta’s Lennox bridge and Griffith House Kogarah. Unfortunately these are only the tip of the iceberg… an iceberg that we are rapidly approaching and threatens to take down all sense of logical town planning, heritage value, and environmentally sensitive development with it. In its wake communities will be left reeling, as they lay scattered in the choppy waves of overdevelopment, clinging to some semblance of what they once knew and thought would remain solid forever, the state of the very surroundings that they held so dear.
Unfortunately this is no iceberg, if it was we could possibly steer around it… no, this is far worse. This is the reality of a government that came to power with the promise of returning planning powers to the people, the very people they now treat as third class passengers and are tossing overboard like used ballast, while the first class ranks of developer players stand proudly on the upper decks tapping to the tunes of the Liberal grand piano, watching the people below paddling for safety as their world comes crashing in around them.
If you think I’m over-exaggerating then think again. Under proposed changes to the planning system in NSW, the effects will be extreme and far reaching. There won’t be one citizen in this state who won’t feel the intrusive consequences of this ludicrous planning policy about to be laid down. Developers will be given a free ride on this ship of fools as Captain Barry and his First mate Hazzard steam off into uncharted murky waters with all of us in tow. The entire state will be altered beyond recognition and for such a titanic physically dizzying piece of legislation they have given residents only a few short weeks to comment and draw up submissions. June 28th is the cut off, after that you will have no say in how planning in your state evolves let alone what happens next door to your own front porch – you know, the one you just forked out half a million or a million dollars for because “you like the view.” Well guess what, don’t get used to the view too quickly because if a developer likes the view from the other side of the road you may just be looking into the balconies of a six story apartment block without even being consulted.
If you still think I’m exaggerating let’s break it down some more. Barry O’Farrell wants to fast track development in this state, and there are a number of tricks he’s planning to introduce or has introduced already that aim to get the ball rolling and go high with developing. As the mining investment boom slows down and China doesn’t seem to be wanting as much of all those expensive minerals we dig out of the ground and ship over at unsustainable levels, Barry is looking to capitalize on the next unsustainable boom – high density building. And what better way is there than to get all your developer buddies onside and rewrite the rules completely, claim to be representing the little people residents, wrangle their votes and support, then pull the wool over their eyes… what’s wrong with that?
With the introduction of the White Paper, Barry expects to get 80 percent of developments passed without any community consultation or merit assessment on a 10 to 25 day turnaround. That means the house next door to you can be bulldozed, every tree ripped out, a gaping hole dug, and three or four levels of townhouse or units ganged up a metre from your colorbond fence without you even knowing about it. If you’re not scared now, you should be… Heritage buildings will fair no better. We know already that just because a building is old and pretty doesn’t mean it will be spared. There are thousands of heritage buildings that aren’t listed at any level because the listings as they stand now are totally inadequate for a start. Rather than Barry taking this opportunity to regather listings and make a fresh start on increasing the levels of protection as well as (heaven forbid) adding more heritage stock to the lists, Barry is in fact doing nothing for unlisted properties and taking away the role of the Heritage Council in assessing controls for those properties that are listed, meaning heritage will become a by-product of planning in this state, leaving a trail of foreseeable destruction in his post-White Paper Brave New World.
Councils will lose much of their say in planning assessments, thereby directing absolute power to the state government, and scarily, often into the hands of just one minister. Councils, which can be seen as local representatives, will be stripped back and therefore we, as citizens, will lose our representation when it comes to planning. At present there is opportunity for councils to assess what developments take place within their local community and give residents the option to respond on a case by case basis, much of this will be lost, as it introduces too many variables as to whether a development will be approved and how long it will take to get through. Local knowledge will be lost, the councillors who were elected to make decisions because they have the necessary local familiarity with issues such as traffic and density – this will be compromised and hand the powers to faceless bureaucrats whose party is feeding off developer donations and whose only local knowledge comes from scanning Google maps of your area from behind a desk in a city office.
Bigger is better, according to Barry. Our village-like suburbs as they currently stand with their countless charming Victorian and Federation shopfronts will not be spared the hurricane forces of developer frenzy that this White Paper will unleash. But don’t take my word for it, have a look at what is already happening… Residents of low-rise Peakhurst, Riverwood and Penshurst have just been told their streets will be rezoned to allow highrise on the orders of the state government, despite Hurstville, the controlling council, trying to save these villages by instead funneling future areas of high density growth into its own central CBD. Both council and residents were ignored. Gosford is about to be lumbered with higher densities along the waterfront under what they classify as a ‘state significant’ development, Newcastle is at the mercy of the state government after Barry and co bought up a swathe of CBD shops and are going into a business partnership with the developer.
Thompson Square and historic Windsor Bridge are slated for an unsympathetic complete redesign as a ‘state significant project’ despite intense ongoing protests by local communities hopeful of retaining some of the picturesque and charming (not to mention historically significant) ambience that Windsor is renowned for. Griffith House in Kogarah, which was also recently fought and lost, can in fact be seen as a test case for the new planning system and how it can all go horribly wrong… Griffith House was a locally significant building, arguably the most important heritage building in the area, located on the grounds of the state owned St George Hospital. A public hospital is really a microcosm of society in general. Here you have all the issues that affect planning within the greater community – appropriate zoning and density, open space, commercial issues, traffic and congestion, population growth forecasts, heritage values, environment… So we saw what happened here when absolute power was given to the state government as it will be under this White Paper… Traffic and logistics issues were ignored and brushed over, public input and consultation was totally rejected, and the one heritage item that was there to be protected was tragically laid to waste.
This case in particular among many others proves that the current regime of Barry O’Farrell and his pro-developer lobby are blatantly incompetent when it comes to managing the issues of planning in NSW, so incompetent in fact, that they are now re-writing the rules to suit their own lack of capability. They are so far out of touch with the greater public that this planning paper they have announced, this so-called magic bullet to fix planning issues in NSW, has been roundly condemned and criticized by anyone who has a stake in the future of this state. Community groups, the Heritage Council, local councils, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW have all weighed in to the debate; the issue now is whether Barry O’Farrell and his dictatorship start to listen and realise there is so much more to good planning than just giving developer groups green lights to get the economy stimulated. That sets a dangerous path and one that you as a citizen shouldn’t just take for granted. We all have a say, so I hope you will use your own voice to challenge this government’s ridiculous and extremely developer-biased planning proposals.
Look into the Better planning Network, campaign your local MPs and councillors, advise people you know, get involved in local forums, and most importantly, get your submission in to protest the new planning reforms. Tell them you simply aren’t happy with the rights you are losing as a ratepaying citizen to decide what happens in your own area, and that by handing over all our rights to developers to decide how we will live is not morally justifiable in any way, shape or form.