The Bays Precinct international summit was held last Wednesday and Thursday (November 20-21) and saw hundreds of international experts converge on The Australian Technology Park to help decide the future of the precinct.
But the event has been overshadowed by a remark made by the Treasurer of NSW, Andrew Constance.
“The Bays Precinct Urban Renewal is expected to create approximately 16,000 dwellings for the state,” Mr Constance said at a finance and investment summit the day before the international summit.
The Premier, Mike Baird, and Minister for Planning, Pru Goward, were quick to distance the Government from the statement, labelling it “a mistake”.
In the four months leading up to the international summit it had been promised that the experts would be asked to give their opinions on “a complete and utter blank canvas”.
Pru Goward addressed the figure directly in her opening address for the summit.
“We are a city where almost everyone aspires to live close to our sparkling harbour, although I must say we’ve never set 16,000 people as a target,” Ms Goward said.
But the Government backing down from the comments hasn’t been enough to ease long standing concerns that the Bays Precinct was just a development fund raiser.
The Labor candidate for Balmain, Verity Firth, called the summit a “White Bay white-wash” and an example of the Government putting community needs second.
“This ridiculous housing target shows utter contempt for the local community and a gross breach of promise from this Government about starting with a ‘clean slate’ at the Bays Precinct,” she said.
In another development that Urban Growth is overseeing, Lachlan Line in Macquarie Park, 860 units have been confirmed for the 1.5 hectare block.
If one third of the Bays Precinct were reserved for development and the same ratio applied that was in Macquarie Park, a figure of 15,500 dwelling is reached.
Leichhardt Labor councillor and ex-Mayor, Darcy Byrne, said it was clear that the comments weren’t a mistake.
“Mr Constance’s comments reveal that rather than learning from visionary examples of urban regeneration around the world, the Government has already decided to use this unique harbour foreshore for residential development of a monstrous scale,” he said.
“This is not a redevelopment, it’s a new municipality.”
Leichhardt’s borders cover around 80% of the Bays Precinct and if they were to have their share of new dwellings according to Andrew Constance’s figures it would significantly change the face of the municipality.
Unit stocks in Leichhardt would triple and the council would have the highest density of dwellings per square kilometer in NSW. Leichhardt currently sits at fourth, behind North Sydney, Waverly, and the City of Sydney.
The population in Leichhardt would increase by 2,000 people per sqaure kilometre which is a figure higher than the total population density of 125 out of 152 councils in NSW.
Verity Firth said the number would put Leichhardt out of step with its neighbours.
“To put this figure in perspective, neighbouring Glebe has 7,200 dwellings. Leichhardt and Annandale combined have 11,200 dwellings,” she said.
The Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsythe, said that no matter what the figure, transport would be key to the success of the Bays Precinct.
“The reality is that if the precinct is developed to its potential, ferries and additional buses will not be sufficient to meet demand,” she said.
“It would be a disaster if the mistakes of Sydney’s past were repeated because public transport was treated as an after-thought.”
“Superb urban design will require superb transport connections and this should be part of planning from the start.”
Transport was also a key concern for community groups and the Mayor of Leichhardt Rochelle Porteous, who were not given a place on any of the panels at the summit.
They were forced to use questions from the floor to get their points across leading Cr Porteous to label the summit a “sham”.
David Springett, an Annandale precinct committee member and architect called upon the Government to release the Metro Strategy Plan and information about WestConnex and its connection to the City West link, Anzac Bridge and the Bays Precinct.
The consensus among the planning experts was that the Bays Precinct project needs to take time and be flexible to change along the way.
While the State Government has promised more community consultation before any decisions are made, there are concerns that scheduling a timeframe before going in to the summit was putting the cart before the horse.
Jane Marceau of the White Bay Steering committee commented on this in her summary of the summit.
“Urban Growth will have its draft Strategic Plan ready for the new or returned government in April, a mere four months away, then will hold a Sydneysiders Summit in May and have the final plan ready for government in July-August,” she said.
“This seems to me to be rushing things in ways that were definitely not recommended in the summit.”