City Hub

Local hero: John Brooks

View from Glebe across Blackwattle Bay to marina and Sydney Fish Market. Photo: L. Johnson, commons.wikimedia.org

BY IRINA DUNN

Retired engineer and regional planning consultant John Brooks has been the Convenor of the Blackwattle Cove Coalition since 2008.

This forum of various community groups and organisations get together to share information about planning matters affecting the Bays precinct and surrounds and to comment on new developments such as the Fish Markets and the Star City residential tower.

The groups in the coalition include Pyrmont Action, the Glebe Society, the Coalition of Glebe Groups, the Ultimo Village Voice and the Coalition of Ultimo and Pyrmont Associations. The chambers of commerce and industry have also become involved.

“The Blackwattle Cove Coalition was set up initially because we wanted to do things with Wentworth Park,” Brooks says. “We gained better looking fences around the park, and got the arches opened by arranging for the removal of the storage rooms beneath the arches.”

Advisory panels

The Coalition meets regularly to talk about planning, transport and other issues affecting the precinct and to decide who will write the submissions and do other work such as lobbying.

Many of the coalition’s members sit on community advisory panels such as those set up by the Star City residential tower and the new Fish Markets.

Brooks says that since 2009, the State Government has been dominated by what he calls “silo” administration, “with each department sitting in its own area and planning its own plans, as a result of which there has been piecemeal development”.

In 2014, when the NSW government initiated UrbanGrowth NSW, it was described on its website as “a public sector agency that works with government, private and community partners to facilitate economic development, including the renewal of urban places across metropolitan Sydney”.

However, as Brooks points out, UrbanGrowth lacks the overarching authority needed for comprehensive planning development, traffic control and public transport across the entire precinct.

Turning to the Fish Market, Brooks says it is in its present location for two reasons.

Firstly, it is the principal food quality assurance location for fish in NSW. Secondly, it is a major tourist destination, and the new complex is trying to reflect that. The visitations will increase from three to six million people pa, and the Blackwattle Cove Coalition is concerned that no traffic or public transport plans have been made for this anticipated doubling of visitor numbers.

Brooks says, “We’re trying to get the message across to Sydney that when this brand new fish market opens you won’t be able to park when you get there and you won’t be able to catch public transport there”.

The party boats presently located next to the Sydney Fish Markets will be moved out of their present moorings when the new Fish Markets open. The government, without any consultation with the community, approved a lease in Bank Street right under the Anzac Bridge for the new moorings.

The public waterfront park which has been there for a long time will be turned into a marina, reducing scarce outdoor space in Pyrmont even further. Because the party boats operate at all hours, residents are concerned about the potential noise problems, as well as the parking, refuse and waste disposal problems associated with marinas.

The second major problem for Pyrmont/Ultimo residents is the Star development.

Again, there is no masterplan for traffic.

“All of a sudden we find out that the Star is going to develop a 60-storey residential tower, and there are no plans for public transport in its redevelopment,” Brooks says. “The council says our planning restricts the building height to a certain level, but the State Government steps in and says go ahead, and it’s very frustrating”.

Building heights are normally controlled by the City of Sydney Council, but once the State Government declares a project to be a State Significant Development, councils lose the power to restrict the building height of any development.

Still no traffic plans

“The Star has briefed the community many times,” Brooks says, “and we say ‘we don’t like this’ and they say ‘we’ll fix that’ and ‘we’ll fix the traffic’, but there are still no traffic plans.”

In the context of an election, there are 93 electorates in NSW, and 91 don’t care about the Bays precinct, Brooks points out. “That’s probably the realpolitik of the whole thing.”

The two electorates which cover the Blackwattle Bay area are Sydney (Alex Greenwich) and Balmain (Jamie Parker).

“These two independents don’t have a lot of clout,” Brooks says, “but at least they are likely to be re-elected because the major parties are on the nose.”

“The real challenge is trying to get someone to think long-term about these issues, which politically is very hard, because no bank will cash an election promise.”