Opinion by ANDREW WOODHOUSE
After three public meetings, Sydney Council Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is still no closer to garnering unequivocal support from small businesses and the local community for her zany Macleay Street alterations in Potts Point.
At the most recent meeting on Wed 18 March at Council’s Rex Centre, about 150 anxious locals expressed concern, laughed and hurled scorn at Council staff.
Council staff erected a new design on large boards and said these would be available online for a two-week comment period. However, the new designs are not yet online and still show the banned right hand turn from Macleay Street into Greenknowe Avenue removed, something categorically ruled out by staff at the meeting.
Council lacks transparency
Clover Moore was conspicuous by her absence at the most recent meeting. Deputy Lord Mayor, Jessica Sully, passionate about creativity and the founding Director of Vivid Ideas 2009-2017, controlled the lectern in her bright canary yellow outfit, chirping like a canary in the coalmine.
So the third set of plans are not yet available for comment and may never be, despite staff informing attendees they are available for two weeks. We were also told the tacky banners on poles would not go ahead, to the applause of locals, but then were told by Councillor Scully they would go ahead for “private” shops. Hmmm.
Contacting Moore’s office for clarification has not elicited any response after six days. Council’s own Design Panel of Experts has not unequivocally supported the Macleay Street alteration scheme. Neither have police, fire or ambulance services.
However, the works will be staged. Council staff displayed a loose inventiveness with the facts, showing pretty pie graphs and claiming there was overwhelming local support for the scheme. They were obviously unaware council’s Freedom of Information section had already released all the public responses, revealing 81% are against the scheme.
There will be no grey granite pavers, but, instead, council want the ugliest, brightest concrete blocks, super hot in Summer and radiating sunlight strong enough to cause retina damage. Where are the lovely freckled pavers of Rose Bay, engrailed footpaths of Paddington, or mixed pavers outside the Garvan Institute, for example?
There will be sterile-designed seats with no heritage values. In fact, there will be no heritage interpretation at all, despite staff admitting there should be. Council claims there will be no on-footpath cycleways but this may be contradicted by an internal memo released under the GIPA Act saying “the design considers [bike] riding across Macleay Street between Hughes Street and Greenknowe Avenue. There will be at least 20 new bike racks. Council’s internal Fact Sheet states there will also be 20 bench seats, 37 smart poles and six trees removed. New inline bus stops will increase footpath space and provide “for outdoor dining opportunities”.
The 18th March meeting was told the no right hand turn ban previously proposed would now not go ahead. Hooray! An internal email from RMS says they have “some concerns to the impacts of traffic flow”.
Any claim council is unsure of the costs is untrue. City Hub can reveal that a cache of 71 pages of internal documents has been released under GIPA Act showing Sydney Civil capital works has already submitted an invoice (number 12494, dated 18th December 2019) for $212,090. Twelve for plans including 48 hours of meetings etc.
An internal memo to Monica Barone, dated 6 November 2012, states “the city has allocated $11 million to upgrade Macleay Street.” With cost overruns and changes to project scope, expect this to be closer to $15 million in the end.
Traffic congestion is a major outstanding issue. Council claims the scheme will lead to “traffic claiming.” Locals claim it will lead to traffic jams, as buses are unable to pull into the kerb and alight or pick up passengers, who will have to venture into traffic to get on board.
During fire, police and ambulance emergencies, lives will be jeopardised as they queue behind a bus, unable to overtake. An internal council memo dated 11 November 2012 promotes the idea of banning left turns into Challis Avenue from Macleay Street for some unknown reason not revealed. Shopkeepers and locals trying to get some ZZZs will be not be delighted to learn council admits in its internal Fact Sheet document that “night work may be necessary.”
No times are provided nor is there any decibel limit on the noise proposed. The c word, compensation, is anathema apparently. Councillor Professor Kerryn Phelps AM says in her written submission to her own council: “upgrades … must be done correctly to prevent problems that may require future works to resolve … issues … The loss of parking spaces on Macleay Street will adversely affect local business and residents … the community needs to know where the City intends to relocate this parking … residents of Potts Point wold strongly oppose a shared path scenario on the footpath, as its is such a high foot traffic area and there is a current problem with food delivery cyclists riding illegally (some on motorised bikes) on footpaths.”
Phelps said the 18 March meeting appeared to be choreographed. Robyn Greaves, a long-time local resident and Co-odinator of the Kings Cross Community Centre, was also present at the meeting. She says the meeting was a disappointment as decisions seem to have already been made.
Gregory Boulton of Minerva Art Deco is underwhelmed. He says “heritage has been glossed over”. Luke Whitington, an Elizabeth Bay resident and Macleay Street flanneur is reminded of Gertrude Stein’s quote that “there’s not point going there if there’s no ‘there’ there”, alluding to the proposal’s bland, homogenised design, which strips the street of its unique character.
Council is utilising its power to hand down from on high its own ideas to create a “leech” project: one which sucks the soul out of the area and during a critical time when the economy is in recession due to the Covid-19 virus. Bad move with seven months to a council election.