As we are all aware Glebe is unique as to its blend of private and public housing. The character of Glebe is inextricably linked to this mix and it is reflected in the diverse nature of our population. According to Forest Lodge and Glebe Coordination Group (FLAG), in 2015 around 4,000 people lived in public housing in Glebe – that was about one third of Glebe’s population, and the number of public housing dwellings in Glebe was at that time estimated to be 1,424, which was approximately 18% of public housing in the City of Sydney. There has been some change to this, as not-for-profit community housing providers such as Bridge Housing and City West have taken over the management of some former public housing blocks, and constructed some new residential blocks intended for both affordable and social housing tenants. The two completed Cowper St housing ‘towers’ are now home to both affordable and social housing tenants, while the affordable housing block designed for 80 dwellings in the Harold Park community area is currently still under construction, several months beyond its projected mid-2019 planned completion date.
The City of Sydney continues to pursue its objective of increasing both social and affordable housing within the city LGA, and specifically within Glebe and Forest Lodge. The City’s strategy, Sustainable Sydney 20301
… establishes an ambitious target that by 2030, 7.5% of all housing in the local area will be social housing provided by government and community providers and 7.5% will be affordable housing delivered by not-for-profit or other providers. … The Glebe Affordable Housing Project (Housing NSW) will see 20 new social housing dwellings and 90 new affordable housing dwellings built.’2
This is one objective of the Vision of Sustainable Sydney, June 2030. It is a vision which I consider the Glebe Society should support and advocate for. The Glebe Society, since its very inception has advocated in support of public housing and its tenants and will no doubt continue to do so. It is one of the strategic objectives of the Society and for this reason two upcoming developments are of vital interest to us.
Over the past month two planned housing projects in Glebe have been presented to the public for comment. Neither of these is at the DA stage yet, so this only refers to the preliminary information the developers have seen fit to make public. When the DAs are submitted to the City of Sydney Council there will be an opportunity for both the Glebe Society and individuals to make submissions. However, at this point there are factors about both proposals which deserve comment.
R J Williams Lodge, 274 Glebe Point Rd
The first of these is the proposed refurbishment of the R J Williams Lodge located at 274 Glebe Point Rd; premises which have been vacant since 2010 and ones that the Glebe Society has continued to encourage the Wesley Mission to redevelop. That action is finally about to be undertaken is good news for the community. Now let’s consider the type of redevelopment foreshadowed in their brochure.
Wesley Mission will shortly lodge a development application (DA) to completely refurbish the R J Williams property to provide 74 environmentally sustainable self-contained units of single and double bed studios plus four-bedroom units that can accommodate a group or family.3
While the prospect of this redevelopment is positive and welcome, the public engagement undertaken by Wesley Mission on Monday 18 November at the Woolcock Institute, which was well attended by Glebe Society members, demonstrated that Wesley is unwilling to support the inclusion of any social housing units in the complex. Their intended residential mix may be diverse in terms of age and family composition, but as all of the units are to be affordable housing only, there is no provision for social housing tenants at all. This is especially regrettable as our Glebe Society Community Development group has come to realise, through recent investigations that ‘ageing in place’ in the community is not easy, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult for older members of our community, and particularly those in social housing currently, to find available opportunities to downsize while staying within their long term social and community environment.
It seems there is a cap beyond which student accommodation numbers will not be permitted within the residential mix. The exact number was not divulged, but with the proliferation of Urban Nests and other student accommodation in our suburb it seems unnecessary for Wesley Mission to plan any such accommodation, particularly when there is such a crying need for social and other affordable housing.
A Wesley spokesperson also told me that they were now in a financial position to refurbish the building. On further questioning as to whether supported accommodation for elderly residents had been considered as an alternative to affordable housing, I was informed that the new and increasingly stringent requirements for aged care facilities would not meet the business plan for the building. Given there is no such facility existent in Glebe it is indeed a significant ‘missed opportunity’, and one Glebe residents will no doubt regret.
The other aspect of the proposal that will no doubt attract the attention of objectors when the DA is lodged is that there is no off-street parking at all for residents’ vehicles. When quizzed about this, the spokesperson’s response was again that this could not be accommodated within the ‘business plan’. Whether a tax-exempt charity that attracts tax deductible donations from the public, and accordingly enjoys publicly funded benefits not available to any other developer, should operate only within the constraints of a ‘business plan’, is open to serious question.
2a-2d Wentworth Park Rd/312 Cowper St
These two sites are currently social housing blocks, built in the 1970s. Compared with the dilapidated condition of the former Cowper St public housing blocks that were demolished for the development of high rise private and public housing on the site, the WPR/Cowper St buildings appear to be in quite a good state of repair.
On Wednesday 27 November and Saturday 30 November, the Preliminary Concept for this redevelopment was publicly showcased at community consultation sessions at MJ Doherty Reserve, adjacent to both buildings, and at a workshop held on 27 November at Glebe Town Hall, designed to consult with community service providers. The workshop was promoted to community groups as ‘a conversation about the future community hub as part of a new Glebe Housing Project’.
The NSW Land and Housing Corporation and Prince’s Trust Australia have come together to prepare a preliminary concept proposal for two adjacent sites at 31 Cowper St and 2A-2D Wentworth Park Rd, Glebe. The preliminary concept proposal seeks to deliver:
- a building design that responds to the local character of Glebe and shows how new housing can be sensitively built in an established inner-city neighbourhood
- high quality new housing with a mix of social, affordable and private housing, in buildings up to seven storeys
- a new multi-purpose community hub and
- skills development opportunities for young people3
While the DA is not on the immediate horizon; these consultations, seeking initial feedback by Friday 13 December, are apparently designed to demonstrate community input being sought as a precursor to the lodgement of a planning proposal application with the City of Sydney, probably in March 2020, with a view to submitting a DA 12 months later.
There are some pertinent questions which readily spring to mind with respect to this proposed redevelopment. It seems that the number of permanent tenants in 31 Cowper St has been in decline for some time, preparatory to planning of such a major redevelopment involving demolition of existent social housing facilities as it does. There may be as few as four remaining, while there may be a number of transitional tenants housed there temporarily. The number of separate dwellings, currently 19 will be demolished. At the moment four are social housing and 15 are allocated to Bridge Housing for affordable housing tenants. Most of these apartments have several bedrooms, but are apparently to be replaced with single bedroom studio apartments in the social housing part of the redevelopment. Altogether there may be a total of 75 new residences. The concern here is that there appears to be an actual planned reduction in available social housing accommodation, although not in the number of units. While many social housing tenants are single people it would seem to be counterproductive to actually reduce housing capacity through such redevelopment.
There are other concerns such as that about the height of the proposed new buildings, particularly on the Wentworth Park Rd frontage; whether it is to be seven or 10 stories high. Is this appropriate, given the single storey nature of the social housing terraces adjacent to the site?
However perhaps a more pressing concern is the one related to the ‘community hub’ proposal. While there is no doubt that a community hub, designed to accommodate a range of functions suggests a positive facility through which community and social interaction would take place, would it be in the right location? The social housing facilities in Glebe and Forest Lodge are scattered widely. There are many streets and neighbourhoods where they are clustered, but of these clusters only a few would have easy access to the proposed new hub. There is virtually no public transport passing by or radiating from the Wentworth Park Rd / Cowper St site and this creates another potential barrier to the usefulness of the proposed hub.
It is hard to resist the conclusion that the Prince’s Trust Australia, whose contribution appears to relate solely to the proposed ‘community hub’, has been enlisted by NSW Land and Housing Corporation to provide a veneer of respectability to an otherwise unacceptable development.
Further information may be accessed at https://www.communitiesplus.com.au/other-projects/glebe. If you weren’t able to attend the community consultation sessions and would like to provide feedback, it can be done through writing to the Community Engagement Team, NSW Land and Housing Corporation, Locked Bag 5112, Parramatta NSW 2124, or by emailing email@example.com
It will undoubtedly be in the best interest of the wider community that the progress of these two redevelopments is closely followed by the Glebe Society. In this way concerns that our membership and management committee raise may be submitted to the respective development bodies in the hope of a positive and rational outcome for Glebe and its citizenry.
Community Development Subcommittee