Glebe Society member (and Environment subcommittee convenor) Åsa Wahlquist has written to the NSW Minister for Planning, Anthony Roberts, about NSW Roads and Maritime Services’ (RMS) plans for the Sydney Heritage Fleet facility at Bank St, Pyrmont. The plans can be viewed at:

Although Åsa’s letter is not written on behalf of the Glebe Society, it addresses serious concerns that are likely to be of great interest to our members.

Dear Minister,

Re: MP 11_0001, Maritime facility (former Sydney Heritage Fleet) – Modification 3

I am writing to object to the proposed modification to the Sydney Heritage Fleet facility at Bank St, Pyrmont. I ask that the State Government honour its promise, made through consultation on the Bays Precinct, to turn the site into open space that would enable passive recreation of the Bays.

The proposed modification is misnamed. It is an entirely new proposal.

Not only has Blackwattle Bay Marina failed to fulfil the conditions of its lease, the current BBM site consists of decrepit containers and a demountable office building, with rubbish strewn about the site. … Surely these are grounds to terminate the lease, not move it to a prime position where it would be a detriment to the Bay and the local community.

I object on a number of grounds including lack of transparency and consultation; alienation of public land for private benefit; the compromised nature of the promised waterfront walkway; the increased noise, pollution and water turbulence; and the increased risk to passive water users.

I have lived 150 metres from Blackwattle Bay for the past 35 years. Over the decades I have seen waterfront industrial sites shut down and replaced with waterfront parks and walkways around the Glebe side of Blackwattle Bay. The Bay has become more accessible, the parks and walking path are very well utilised and they are a great asset to the local community and to visitors.

One of the vessels in the Sydney Heritage Fleet, the James Craig, under sail in May 2012 (image: Wikimedia)

I also have a strong interest in the history of sailing of open boats, or skiffs, in the region and in the maritime history of the Bays, particularly wooden boat building.

I am the author of ‘Snails Bay Sabot Sailing Club, 1962-1973, a sailing club for children in Balmain’, and a booklet on the first woman skiff skipper on Sydney Harbour, Irene Pritchard, for Balmain Sailing Club ( I currently have a grant from the Inner-West Council to research and write a book about the history of open-boat sailing in Balmain, which includes the waters of Rozelle and Blackwattle Bays. I am also a keen sailor.

There are very few bays in Sydney Harbour where passive boating, such as sailing, rowing, dragon boating and canoeing, can be undertaken in safety. Blackwattle Bay has historically been one of the few bays in Sydney Harbour that has provided a comparatively safe space. It is currently zoned for passive recreation. It is home to Glebe Rowing Club, which has been there since 1879, the third oldest rowing club in the country. Dragon boats have a base on Bank St, while others are based at the Blackwattle Campus of the Sydney Secondary College. A number of locals go canoeing in the Bay. It is a common sight to see a number of rowing boats, dragon boats, canoes and tenders (the small dinghies used by moored yachts) on the water at Blackwattle Bay.

It must be maintained as a safe place for passive boating.

The proposed Sydney Heritage Fleet (SHF) development at Banks St was in keeping with the maritime heritage of the area. It would have provided a public museum, a community space, heritage boat restoration workshops, as well as berths for 12 boats, which would only be used occasionally.

Frankly, it is hard to know where to begin in objecting to the proposal to move Blackwattle Bay Marina Pty. Ltd. (BBM), which operates All Occasion Cruises

Blackwattle Bay Marina’s history
The lease for the site was granted in 2010. NSW Maritime (now part of Roads and Maritime Services NSW) then owned all the dry land at the southern end of Blackwattle Bay. According to the NSW Maritime Annual Report 2010 a request for proposals for ‘the redevelopment and long-term lease for most of the site for maritime industry use’ was completed in July 2009.

The Report said:

On 6 May 2010, both an Agreement to Lease and an Access and Works Licence were signed with Blackwattle Bay Marina Pty Ltd to carry out a $26 million redevelopment of the site under a 35-year lease. The redevelopment will include:

  • A new permanent charter vessel facility which will contain berthing space for a minimum of 18 vessels together with a two-storey building for storage and charter vessel operational support
  • Reconstruction of the former coal bunker wharf and its redevelopment into a three-storey maritime commercial/retail building that will incorporate many historic features of the site
  • Foreshore access along the development which will also feature a new over-water pedestrian link to the Sydney Fish Market.

Blackwattle Bay Marina expects to lodge a development application with the consent authority in 2011. The precinct will be progressively opened in three stages and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2014.1

It is now three years since the date at which it was expected to be fully operational. There is no two-storey building for operational support, no three-storey commercial retail building, no over-water pedestrian link. Blackwattle Bay Marina Pty. Ltd has not honoured the terms of its lease, as outlined in the Annual Report.

Not only has BBM failed to fulfil the conditions of its lease, the current BBM site consists of decrepit containers and a demountable office building, with rubbish strewn about the site. I enclose a recent photo of their site.

Surely these are grounds to terminate the lease, not move it to a prime position where it would be a detriment to the Bay and the local community.

The lease was also made under circumstances that raise a number of questions. Several of the key individuals, including then Chief Executive of NSW Maritime, Steve Dunn, and then Ports Minister Joe Tripodi, have been found to have acted corruptly in other contexts, as outlined in this report from the Sydney Morning Herald, published November 7, 2016:

A $250 million plan by the NSW government to build a new Sydney Fish Market may deliver a windfall to an associate of the family of corrupt former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

[BBM principal] Joe Elias, a friend of Mr Obeid’s son Eddie Obeid jnr, is locked in negotiations with the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) about surrendering a lease on land the government needs for the development….

Mr Elias was controversially awarded a tender to redevelop the [Bridge Rd] site into a marina in 2009 by then Labor ports minister Joe Tripodi.

In August 2009, Mr Tripodi announced that Mr Elias had won the $15 million to $20 million tender for a maritime development on the Blackwattle Bay site.

A two-stage tender process had been recommended, but NSW Maritime’s then chief executive Steve Dunn dismissed all other bidders, including major property developer Lend Lease, after the first stage and declared All Occasion Cruises the winner.

The Elias bid was higher than its competitors, but partly because it included a non-conforming function centre.

Since then, and in an unrelated matter, Mr Dunn was found to have acted corruptly by scrapping a policy that would have put the Obeid family’s Circular Quay leases out to competitive tender.

Mr Tripodi, who appointed Mr Dunn to his position at NSW Maritime at the behest of Mr Obeid, was also found to be corrupt.2

The Banks St site
The Banks St site is a rare thing in Sydney in 2017 – undeveloped waterfront land. Under the Bays Precinct planning, the consensus was that this site should be used for public benefit, to provide public open space and recreation opportunities. The promise was that the public would be consulted on the development of the site, a promise that was honoured by the SHF, but not under the current modification.

The area is currently used by dragon boaters. At a public meeting on the development, held in Pyrmont on July 24, the CEO of Dragon Boats NSW, Glenn Tasker, said the development would not just affect the local dragon boat community, but it would hurt dragon boating in Australia.


The Blackwattle Bay Marina site at Bridge Rd as it stands today. More a slum than an appropriate development for its prime harbourside position. (image: Åsa Wahlquist)

The move
The move to Banks St was prompted by the State Government decision to move the Sydney Fish Markets to the BBM site on Bridge Rd. I object strongly to this move, the selling or leasing of government-owned land and the development of over 2,700 units in an area that is already poorly served by transport and community services.

Pyrmont is one of the most densely populated areas in Australia, with very limited open space. In 2013 Roads and Maritime Services promised to transfer the site to the City of Sydney for a park, and UrbanGrowth promised it would be a public recreation area. The move of BBM to Banks St dishonours these promises.

MP 11_0001 Maritime facility (former Sydney Heritage Fleet) – Modification 3 is an audacious and unprincipled act. BBM could hardly be a more different operation than the SHF. One of the most succinct comments made at the public meeting on July 24, by a local resident, was that Sydney had a world-class harbour, but the BBM site was more like something from the third world.

The significant and unacceptable differences between the original proposal and Mod 3
The SHF proposal was to construct a public museum. BBM, a private business, appears committed only to moving its collection of ageing shipping containers and its demountable.

The SHF site would have operated within standard office hours, with some weekend activity, and occasional boat use. The BBM site will operate from 7am to 1am, seven days a week.

The SHF planned to have 12 boats. BBM will have 22 boats ranging from 15 to 48 metres long.

The application admits the number of boat movements under BBM would be greater, and ‘regular and frequent … unlike the approved SHF museum use’.

Other problems
The BBM site will have a sewage pump-out facility. There was no such facility under the SHF plan. It will also store up to 50 empty and full gas bottles (used for barbeques on the boats) on site.

There will be food and beverage deliveries up to six times a week (two for drinks, four for food and perishables).

Garbage from the cruise boats will accumulate on the site, and be collected just once a week for 11 months of the year, and twice a week in December.

In addition under the BBM proposal the site will generate noise through the handling of vessels (noise carries well across water) and the disposal of garbage, particularly bottles, and the handling of gas bottles.

The current site, on Bridge Rd, is well away from housing. The Banks St site is close to a large residential population. In addition the location, under the Anzac Bridge, could lead to an amplification of noise.

BBM’s current site has parking for 80 cars, the proposed will have parking for only two cars. How will the other workers travel to it?

Although the Environmental Impact Statement states there will be no passenger access at the site, the Plan of Management allows for signage ‘on the wharves and at the promenade level of the gangways to assist the public and patrons in embarking and disembarking from the vessels’.

Currently, BBM’s boats enter the Bay and turn south to berth at the Bridge Rd facility. But manoeuvring large boats to berth adjacent to the entry of Blackwattle Bay will require more movements, including the use of bow thrusters, creating engine noise and associated turbulence. The movements will also place passive boaters at risk, as well as creating wash that will impact the sea wall of the Bay and on Glebe Island Bridge.

The proposed timber walkway is severely compromised, and not just because it is too narrow and away from the waterfront. What should be a wonderful Harbourside walk will pass a collection of decrepit shipping containers, rubbish and the sewage pump out facility.

The statement that this will only be in place for 10 years cannot be trusted. The Sydney Superyacht Marina in Rozelle Bay was supposed to provide temporary accommodation for just 15 superyachts for the duration of the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000. Last year the company announced a $30 million investment to increase the number of berths to 43, and to ‘create an exclusive yacht club, several new eateries and 7,000 square metres of retail and commercial space’.3

Finally, what is the point of building a beautiful new fish market, designed by world-class architects, when the view down the Bay will be of BBM’s collection of ageing containers and its fleet, with its visual and noise pollution.

The proposed modification must be rejected
It will not enhance the Bay, or benefit the local community and visitors. The process has been appalling. The community’s aspirations for the Bay have been ignored. In place of the open public space and access to the waters of the Bay that the community desires, the proposal will move a business that has failed to honour its lease conditions and which currently operates on a site that can best be described as an eyesore, onto prime publicly-owned land.

I urge you to support the community, and instead turn the Banks St site into an accessible waterfront park.

Yours sincerely,

Åsa Wahlquist

1. (pages 31, 32);