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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.