Last month, we flagged the challenge to the public interest in Blackwattle Bay arising from a likely unsolicited development proposal encompassing much of the Bays publicly owned foreshores –including the Fish Markets. Our understanding is that this proposal is now well advanced and has been discussed at various levels of Government – with Ministers and agencies. We understand that the reception from Ministers and agencies has been supportive and that a formal proposal will move forward in the very near future.
As is usually the case in unsolicited proposals the community does not see the detail of the proposal until the approval process is well advanced and the opportunity for significant change has long passed (reference Barangaroo).
For over 10 years community groups have been lobbying Governments to develop an integrated plan for the Bays which will set parameters that will protect the public interest – and public assets – in these precious publicly owned harbour foreshores, at the same time as promoting strategic commercial development consistent with the site, its unique characteristics and its proximity to the CBD.
The Glebe Society – along with other community groups around the Bays – has spent years of effort energetically contributing to Government Review processes to develop such a strategic plan; most notably via the 2009/10 Bays Precinct Community Reference Group (BPCRG) and the more recent Bays Precinct Task Force. We have twice put forward a robust planning framework to guide the development of this plan – but have failed to gain other than marginal Government commitment; not surprisingly – as this framework would deliver some real protections for the public interest and constrain bad development decisions which are overwhelmingly driven by private commercial gain.
Instead, we understand Government is encouraging the fast-tracking of the FishBank/Destination Blackwattle Bay development proposal. We have only very broad-brush knowledge of this proposal. History – recent and longer term – gives us no cause to have confidence in the likelihood of unsolicited proposals giving due weight to the public good. As we said in the last issue:
Our fundamental objection is one of principle: that is bad policy to endorse an unsolicited commercial development proposal in relation to publicly owned lands or assets. We have an abundance of historical examples to know this is not likely to generate the best public benefit outcomes. It is an uncompetitive, non-transparent process which has no provision for real community input. It is also conducive to corruption.
We will continue to oppose this process and seek support from the wider community network. All residents of NSW have an interest in the development of the remaining (but diminishing) Sydney Harbour foreshore in public ownership. We do not want to see another Barangaroo in Blackwattle Bay – and subsequently on Glebe Island.
Community members who want to engage with this imminent issue should write to the Premier and the Minister for Planning stating their objection to the approval of unsolicited proposals in relation to public land/assets, their support for the Government endorsing all the community planning principles for the Bays Precinct and seeking a commitment from Government that it will publicly tender for development proposals relating to publicly owned lands consistent with these planning principles.
The Glebe Society will continue to seek information from Government as to its intentions. This may be an excellent proposal which respects the community principles and the public good alongside reasonable and fair commercial development.
On the other hand it may well become the next Sydney Harbour ‘Barangaroo’.
Update: The Glebe Society sought information from the proponent Robert Dean in relation to the status of the proposal. He did respond to our call and via an employee has offered a briefing/consultation. We will accept a briefing – but our current debate is about the broader planning process in relation to the Bays Precinct. An open and competitive tendering process is more likely to generate the best possible proposal for the public good.