Gentrification Creep

The City of Sydney Council is concerned about the NSW government plans for a 20 and 30-storey tower precinct at the Waterloo housing redevelopment site in Sydney. The Chief Executive Officer, Monica Barone said Urban Growth NSW seemed to be acting as a government planner, as well as property developer. Urban Growth NSW was formerly Landcom but with greater powers and it still has former Liberal leader John Brogden as its chairman. It is a government agency in charge of big new property projects including Rozelle, The Fish Markets, Glebe, The Powerhouse Museum, White Bay and North Parramatta. Urban Growth NSW pushed for the Waterloo station to be built rather than the Sydney University station as a justification to build 10,000 new dwellings while replacing 2,000 social housing units. The reasoning being that the new private dwellings will pay for the social housing dwellings in the area.

The first major public forum for the development was held in February a couple of months after residents were told that their homes were to be destroyed, to make way for a “vibrant new community”. Leaflets were handed out to the crowd but Mr Hazzard didn’t have many answers for them just that: “Everybody here in Waterloo will have the entitlement to come back into their housing, and it will be done progressively over 20 years” to which the room laughed not just once but twice after he was translated in Mandarin and Russia. “Twenty years! We’ll all be dead!” someone yelled from the crowd.

Also in February this year the NSW government issued a tender for Hong Kong style high rises at the new Sydney Metro train stations including Waterloo. Hong Kong’s railway was built by private company MTR in exchange for property development rights in the air space above each station. MTR is part of a consortium that will operate Sydney’s first private railway, the Metro Northwest this contract doesn’t involve air space rights though. MTR has also lobbied the Baird government to adopt its “value capture” modelling for future projects. This involves evaluating the additional land value around urban rail, with the added value paying for the new infrastructure. Or at the very least lowering the construction costs of new infrastructure. The Baird government hasn’t said if property development rights above stations will be awarded in a separate contract to the station  construction. An industry briefing last December however found that there was “significant interest” in property development above stations, especially in the CBD.

RedWATCH is a Waterloo community group meeting and last week Urban Growth NSW attended its first one. Convener of the group Geoff Turnbull said: “People don’t really have a sense of what is being talked about other than they are going to be upset and dislocated.” He also said: “So far people really know nothing more than when it was announced,” and that the entire process was, “callous.” One resident labelled the project as a, “social experiment,” and, “disrespectful to the community.” The master plan is expected by the middle of the year but with an election on July the 2nd, perhaps this will be put on hold until after it. Residents are to start being relocated as of the middle of next year, to where nobody knows yet.

The Greater Sydney Commission officially launched on January 27th this year and is being chaired by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbulls’ wife Lucy Turnbull, a former Sydney Mayor. Mrs Turnbull is joined by three other “Greater Sydney commissioners”, Environmental commissioner, Rod Simpson, Social commissioner, Heather Nesbitt and Economics commissioner, Geoff Roberts. Mrs Turnbull will essentially have the power to remove local councils as a “relevant planning authority” if needs be and has basically received the formal powers of the Planning Minister. There will be six districts and a district commissioner for each one, four have been appointed with two more to go. “Sydney Planning Panels” (SPP’s) don’t exist yet but there has been much conjecture about them and they’re slated to begin at the end of this year or when the district plans become effective. Not much details as to how much power they may wield as yet or even if they will be put in place.

In Western Australia (WA) though they have something similar called “Development Assessment Panels” (DAP’s). State-appointed DAP’s instead of councils have the power over any Perth development worth over $10 million. SPP’s are slated to be responsible for any capital investment proposals with value over $20 million and proposals between $10-$20 million that have been delayed by more than three months. We can only wait and see further details when or if they are ready but councils in WA are lobbying for DAP’s to be scrapped. Cottesloe Councillor, Sally Pyvis is concerned about communities losing their voice and called on new Planning Minister, Donna Faragher to “clearly outline the true cost to the community, local government and industry of this additional administrative layer”.

The City of Sydney Council managed to survive the NSW government amalgamations as a stand alone Council. If it was merged with Woollahra or Woollahra, Waverley and Randwick, the Super Council would’ve most likely been in control of the Liberal Party. It is financially stable as is the Randwick Council but it was found not to have met the “scale and capacity test for a global city”. Lord mayor, Clover Moore has past experience with a prior amalgamation taking 3-5 years to complete and not wanting a distraction from the current $40 billion building boom in the CBD.

And what of small businesses inconvenienced after being on a property in Waterloo for 100 years like Bragg Printing? It’s being compulsorily acquired and there is nothing they can do about it. The owner Arthur Habib says “The government has watertight legislation, they tell us there is nothing we can do. They have told us we have to be out in six or seven months. We are now in limbo and in the hands of the costly legal system with conflicting information in regard to the valuation of our building and relocation costs, which will be considerable as we have six offset presses, some historical letterpress presses and various finishing equipment. We are not able to make any move until such time that we have some firm figures to work with for a building and relocation.” Mr Habib also said “At first we were delighted when Waterloo was chosen as the site for the station and we all assumed it would be built on the 18 hectares of government land that sits across the road from us in Cope Street. But it turns out the government is doing a land grab from small business at the bottom end of town to on-sell the air space together with its public housing estate to developers in the big end of town.”

The Waterloo redevelopment has had countless studies and reviews over the last 10-15 years, they should be available for the public to view. The lack of community consultation for it as well as forced council amalgamations is troubling in a democratic society. I also question why a Liberal state and Federal government appear to be adding red tape and more powers to the Greater Sydney Commission. We are in disruptive times as it is, now more than ever the public deserves to not only be consulted but to be a part of the decision process otherwise it is not democracy. Decisions in the hands of a few with power, coupled with land grabs and negative gearing gone wild is taking us backwards to a type of feudal system.




One thought on “Gentrification Creep

  1. as a retired urban and regional planner I find this very insightful – also a sign of the times – more and more we are becoming like everywhere else in the world, but there a rays of hope like off the grid power and desalination. We have such a vast country, but so not sustainable for huge populations. Maybe we do need a canal from the Argyle south to bring water to the dry heart – then maybe we could stop living on top of each other??


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