by Lesley Lynch

A belated response from Government

On 5 February the Minister for Planning Tony Kelly belatedly released his response to the community consultation on the future of the Bays Precinct. (Click here to read the Minister’s news release.  The full response is available on the SHFA website.)

The report was slipped out without fanfare. It is too late to be of any significance in the life of this Government. And most depressingly, its proposed planning principles for the Bays Precinct are bland and weak where they most need to be tight and strong.

The report does give a fair account of our recommendations. It recognises some, but not all, of our major objectives in its list of ‘significant outcomes’. But the core of the report and the bit that matters are the proposed ‘Planning Principles’. 

Proposed Planning Principles

The Government’s Community Reference Group on the Bays Precinct (CRG) worked long and hard to achieve a consensus around appropriate and effective principles. But the report’s ‘distilled’ principles strip away any criteria that could actually ensure our objectives for the precinct would be achieved. 

Some examples:

    The core demand of the community for years has been an end to one off, ad hoc development decisions in the Bays. These 80 hectares of publicly owned Harbour foreshore are a precious resource for the people of Sydney. We have an extraordinary opportunity to ensure that their future is planned with imagination and vision and with the public good as a dominant factor.

Therefore the first and most vehement CRG recommendation was that all future planning decisions in the Bays be on the basis of the agreed principles and an integrated strategic plan.

It is extraordinarily frustrating that the ‘distilled’ principles, and the outline of land use opportunities, are silent on this.

Perhaps this silence is simply a recognition that the Government has no intention of backing off from its long history of approving convenient, one off developments. It has continued to do just this throughout the life of the CRG and since – most spectacularly with the passenger terminal at White Bay, the designation of a preferred proponent for B1, B2 wharves in Blackwattle Bay and the current proposal for the super marina infrastructure in Rozelle Bay.   

     There is very strong community opposition to further alienation of the Harbour foreshores still in public ownership. The ‘distilled’ principles do include retaining ‘public ownership of the Bays Precinct’. But alas they are silent on the critical second clause: a prohibition on ‘long term leases unless for public use”. Long term leases of more than 30 years are effective alienation of public ownership. (We understand, for example, that the proposed super marina developments on public land in Rozelle Bay are seeking a 99 year lease. And we won’t mention Barrangaroo.)

    Community access to the Harbour foreshores is a major issue. Much CRG deliberation went Into developing an agreed, reasonable position on this.  The CRG specified: ‘continuous’ public access to the foreshore except where precluded by health, safety or security issues and, consistent with accepted recent practice, a requirement for a specified setback for any development fronting the bays. The norm in recent times has been 10 metres. On the basis of experience with the hugely popular, but dangerously congested, Blackwattle Bay Walk  (minimum of 10 metre setback)  the CRG recommended a 20 metre setback.

The distilled principles have reduced these to the ultimate in the non-specific: ‘promote foreshore access’ and ‘emphasisethe public domain through foreshore access and pedestrian streetscapes’!

  There are very significant heritage items in the Bays Precinct – most notably the White Bay Power Station and the old Glebe Island Bridge. The preservation and, where feasible re-adaptation of these, was strongly recommended. The ‘distilled’ version softens this to ‘utilise heritage features as project drivers’ and, while it does call for conservation and adaptive re-use it does not specify heritage ‘items’ or ‘significant structures’. As worded this could be interpreted as requiring no more that an historical/heritage ‘flavour’. 

  The distilled principles do incorporate a specific protection for the waters as well as the Foreshore: “Recognise the waters of Sydney Harbour as a component of the public domain.” We are pleased to see this included. (Pity about Barangarroo and the excision of waters for the Lend Lease hotel!)

In Summary

What a disappointment and waste of our time!

Community members worked professionally, against the prevailing scepticism about the Government’s agenda, to develop a consensus on principles that were balanced and sensible but strong enough to protect the strategic 80 hectares of publicly owned harbour foreshores from further ad hoc, one off development.. We had the full support of our MP Verity Firth who is a senior Cabinet Minister, and both the City of Sydney and Leichhardt Councils. To little avail.

Its not just that the ‘distilled’ principles are weak. We have been further insulted by the Government forging ahead in its dying days with Ministerial approvals of major one-off developments which have no supporting strategic plan and which also breach many of the most important of the CRG’s recommended principles.

The CRG was divided as to the best location of the Cruise Passenger Terminal which the Government arbitrarily determined had to move from Barangarroo. But all are united in their disappointment and anger at the lost opportunities of the current –and now approved- plan for the new terminal at White Bay.

It breaches many of the core CRG principles, delivers little to the community in way of facilities and access and is dependent on a flawed transport ‘solution’. One could cite it as an exemplar of what happens when planning for the future of such a strategic site is left in the hands of a single maritime authority with a limited agenda and a Minister. What a waste.

Where to now?

We will continue to advocate the agreed principles put forward by the CRG –  generally and as an assessment tool for proposals in the Bays. And we can only hope that the next Government of NSW will be more strategic and imaginative and responsive to the public good in its approach to the Bays Precinct and planning.

And perhaps they will respond to our recommendation for a formal community input into the next stage of consultation on the Bays Precinct.

7 February 2011