The last year has been dominated by big issues and matters of policy rather than specific development proposals, although there are always plenty of minor ones to keep a Planning Convenor on his toes.
Many years ago the Society wisely decided to give the Bays and Foreshores their own subcommittee. There are good reasons for this. While Glebe itself is within the City of Sydney, most of the Bays Precinct is not. Development in Glebe itself is controlled by the 2012 Local Environment Plan and its associated documents. Exactly who controls the development of the Bays is a moot point: it seems to be whoever the State Government thinks will raise most money for it at any particular time. Indeed, it is the main concern of the Bays and Foreshores subcommittee, and the other residents’ groups who have banded together with it, that there is no overall plan for the Bays, and therefore no means by which proposals can be properly assessed. If we are lucky, proposals will go to the Planning and Assessment Commission. The appointment of the developer-dominated Urban Growth to come up with proposals for the Bays is both an opportunity and a concern.
As Planning convenor I happily attended the weekend event (I hesitate to call it consultation) organised by Urban Growth at the Technology Park, and it was indeed a very smooth, even glamorous, public relations exercise. What older person can resist being asked one’s opinion by fresh-faced and enthusiastic young people, who clearly believe the community’s views are going to be recorded and taken to heart? Unfortunately, older people are also likely to remember previous occasions when the community’s views were also asked for, but then ignored. This indeed was the theme of the Bays Precinct panel discussion at the University of Sydney where I represented the Society in Lesley Lynch’s absence in November 2014.
R.J. Williams Lodge and Bidura
To return to matters within my portfolio, there are some major Glebe sites where there is some controversy. The Uniting Church decided not to keep R.J. Williams Lodge as an aged care hostel. Members are probably aware that the building was originally a motel, and was never particularly well suited for aged care use. However, the Church has proposed it be adapted for affordable housing, and this aroused sufficient concern for the Society to call a public meeting. The views expressed were conveyed to Council, and hopefully will influence the assessment.
The sale of Bidura also raised public concern, though for different reasons. Bidura is an even more sensitive site with a much longer history. Built by Edmund Blacket as his home while he was building the University of Sydney, it spent most of its existence as a care home for State Wards, and as such it continues to attract a lot of interest from its former inmates. The buildings fronting Glebe Point Rd are Heritage Items and protected, but the concrete 1980 Brutalist building at the rear has always been controversial, and is proposed to be replaced by housing, though it has been leased back to the State for at least two years.
Large scale redevelopments always make nearby residents uneasy, and it is not difficult to understand why. Construction is always disruptive, and we will need to watch any new proposal for this site closely.
As the largest development in Glebe, this is also being closely watched. Roughly half the buildings are complete or nearing completion, and all the others are under construction, except for the affordable housing, which has been handed over to the City by Mirvac. Construction will also begin soon on the 3.8 hectare park, also due to be transferred to the City.
The Tramsheds building, which is the major Heritage Item on the site, is currently having its roof replaced, before being transformed into a shopping, dining and community precinct. My best guess is that this won’t be complete until April, 2016.
In the meantime, local residents are keeping a close eye on illegal parking and reporting it to Council, who generally send out rangers promptly. The Society has requested an increase in public transport to cope with the increase in commuters, and this appears to be happening. The extension of the Light Rail to the Quay is still three years away.
The Abbey, 156 Bridge Rd and University Motel, 25 Arundel St.
Hamilton, the cottage demolished on the Abbey site, has been rebuilt over underground parking, and the site will soon be finished, presumably with the Montessori preschool proposed for the old church.
Work on the replacement for University Motel, an Urbanest student hostel, is well under way and will be complete before the end of the year. So far as I am aware, the other Urbanest hostels nearby in Wattle and Cleveland Sts have been uncontroversial.
Perhaps the most trying aspect of planning is the propensity of some developers to make successive applications for a site, even though their proposals are clearly unpopular with residents and are usually rejected by Council. Presumably they hope to get their applications approved by a process of attrition, rather than through merit. The most outstanding example is Durham Court, 417 Glebe Point Rd, but there are others. It is often difficult to contain our exasperation, but it is important for us to support each other and stick to our guns in order to achieve the best outcome.
The Big Picture
As predicted, the State Government is trying to circumvent the will of the people using existing powers rather than accept the amendments to its planning legislation. This battle is far from over, as the continuing disputes over coal mining proposals shows. Both the State and Federal Governments seem unable to accept the increasingly urgent need to phase out fossil fuels. This is but one aspect of their reluctance to return planning powers to the people, and to prepare for a sustainable future.