1. The Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Project
This major and strategic urban renewal project is now in its third year and continues as a major focus for the Glebe Society. lt began with great fanfare from the Government but over the last year it has become apparent that its priority for the NSW Government has slipped. The Government is more determinedly focussed on progressing the WestConnex roads extension and other major projects – including Central to Eveleigh, Darling Harbour, last stages of Barangaroo and the light rail extension to the eastern suburbs.
While there has been much behind-the-scenes activity, there has been little tangible progress in the Bays Precinct project. ln the early phase of the project, much was made of UrbanGrowth’s development of an “Urban Transformation Planning Framework”. This was to be built on a series of “studies”: transport and mobility, a working harbour, housing, open space and community facilities and sustainability. The timelines for these have passed. We have seen none, and have not had any input. We recently ascertained that none were complete, some had not commenced and only the transport one had advanced to a draft stage (which we could not have access to).
The difficulty in UrbanGrowth completing a meaningful transport study is that they have little (and probably nil) influence over the WestConnex planning – though it has huge implications for the Bays Precinct.
The redevelopment of the White Bay Power Station site was meant to be immediate priority. UrbanGrowth put out a request for proposals in October 2015. Mandatory criteria included maintaining view corridors, public access and public value in relation to heritage, as well as waterfront access. This had interesting potential. We expected a decision in February. However the tender process was aborted in June and UrbanGrowth took on the role of “master developer”. lt would appear that UrbanGrowth made a stand against developers unwilling to meet the mandatory criteria – and one presumes they must have won the Government’s support for this. Developers ignored the strategic intention for the site and pushed for extensive residential development. Whether the Government can achieve its vision for this site to be “Australia’s leading, world class tech hub” is to be seen. We have supported this vision for years.
UrbanGrowth is talking with “international players”. We do not know who (though Google is an obvious possibility) and have been refused information as to the criteria (any kind of detailed master plan) underpinning these discussions. The trade-offs to lure these players may be considerable – the public interest may again be a casualty.
The redevelopment of the Sydney Fish Market site, including the extension of the “harbour foreshore promenade” and a markets district in Bank St, has not progressed. Both the complexity of the existing governance structure of the Sydney Fish Market and ongoing litigation around the adjacent B1&2 site have delayed progress. Hymix has no intention of moving at this stage. Hansen’s lease has been extended to the end of 2016, with the prospects of a further extension to 2017 or beyond. The intention is to start redevelopment construction in late 2018. Discussions are likely to be ongoing for the next nine months.
The effectiveness of the UrbanGrowth community consultation process has not improved. There is a formal process in place but it is badly managed, superficial and largely unhelpful.
ln October 2015 the Glebe Society nominated for and got a spot on (yet another!) Bays Precinct Reference Group. lts first meeting was held in December 2015. lt was hastily organised, provided no new information and generally frustrated the participants. We launched a joint effort over some months to get a meaningful community input. I wrote to the head of the project in early March arguing for a more constructive consultation process.
At the second meeting on 22 March the participants took a very assertive stand and demanded a more productive process (workshops around the critical “studies” under development). This was well received by UrbanGrowth at the time and we thought we would quickly move to constructive input. This failed to eventuate. lt would appear that the proposals were quickly quashed. Essentially this was a reassertion that the community was to have no access to any significant information and any direct input to the planning Process.
A long silence followed and the scheduled June meeting did not eventuate; four community representatives (including me for Glebe) met with the head of the Bays Precinct project on 2 August to try to elicit some information as to progress and to try again to explore options for a better community consultation process. lt was a constructive meeting, but essentially confirmed that there was no capacity to give the community a greater role and that the overall project was travelling much more slowly that had been initially expected.
A third meeting was held on 24 August and consisted of a presentation on successful innovations districts and relevance to the White Bay Power Station site. UrbanGrowth has produced a useful report: Cultivating a Successful lnnovation District. We were given a summary and asked to react to the identified priorities. Again, absolutely no significant information was made available and the discussion took place with no clarity as to any detailed parameters for the site.
Summary: The community consultation process is not serious. This is clearly a Government determination and a manifestation of the toxic secrecy that pertains to development activity in NSW.
There are positives. lt is unequivocally a good thing that UrbanGrowth rejected all tenders and the government stood by this decision. Hopefully, the current process will come up with something more imaginative and with a strong public interest element. lt would seem likely, however, that our only way of influencing this outcome is through the broad political process; not the weak community consultation process. And of course the planned WestConnex is incompatible with good outcomes for the White Bay Power station.
2. The Sydney Super Yacht Marina
The community’s and councils’ efforts to block significant aspects of the proposed on-land and on-water variations to the SSYM dragged into 2016. The Glebe Society had put in a strong opposing submission in June 2015. The matter was referred to the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC). We made a statement to the PAC hearing in early April 2016 and followed that with a written statement.
The PAC determination supported the SSYM proposals. This brings to an end all avenues for opposing or amending the significant expansion of the on-water (24 yacht berths increased to 43) and land-based (extra height of buildings, more outside entertainment spaces). The strong community opposition did generate some useful improvements from both the proponents and the planning department. The most significant are restrictions on the hours of outside entertainment and reduction of the space for, and numbers of, outside seating places and ongoing noise monitoring.