By James Elton-Pym
Liberal City of Sydney councillor Edward Mandla is urging the state government to take control of a huge swathe of land in south Sydney earmarked for redevelopment to stop the council enacting its own plans for the site.
Clr Mandla was the only councillor who voted against a motion last June to publicly display the council’s plan to rezone the Southern Industrial Area and convert it to a mix of a business park for light industry and affordable housing for low-income workers.
The 265-hectare area is located around Alexandria and Rosebery and is about nine times the size of Barangaroo.
Clr Mandla would not say how confident he was that the state government would intervene but told City Hub that NSW Premier Mike Baird was “aware of [the request], sees the merits of it and has basically said ‘come see us after the election’.”
Lord Mayor Clover Moore hit back at Clr Mandla for trying to find a way around council.
“It is no surprise that Edward Mandla would like to see his mates in the state government take over large parts of the City of Sydney,” she said.
“His work to halve the value of residential votes at the next election shows he has no interest in democracy. Now he wants the government to swoop in and take over, just like they did at Barangaroo.”
Clr Mandla, speaking at a press conference at Town Hall last week, said there was precedent for the state government stepping in and taking over in cases where a development was “state significant”, as happened with the Barangaroo site between Darling Harbour and The Rocks.
“We are merely a branch office of the state government,” he said, speaking at the press conference.
He said the council’s proposal would make landowners in the area “sit on the land” and “wait for another day or a regime change” because the rezoning would not give them profitable development options. The final vote on the proposal is expected to be held at either the next council meeting or the one after.
The only other Liberal on council, Christine Forster, voted in favour of the motion last year but said she was “in two minds” about whether to vote yes on the final proposal.
“I appreciate what the council is trying to achieve. It’s my view that we do need to have dedicated industrial lands close to the city,” she said.
Clr Forster said the City of Sydney and the state government had made a “gateway determination” that the council could decide how to develop the land.
“The usual process is for councils to be the zoning authority, so unless there’s been in some way an improper process councils should be left to do that.”
She said it was not out of the ordinary for her and Clr Mandla to break party ranks in council votes.
“You only have to look at the records; Clr Mandla and I have voted differently on a range of issues,” she said.
Clr Mandla used last week’s press conference to present his own vision for the site, which would allow landowners the scope and freedom to develop high-profit residential housing.
His policy advisor, John Preston, told City Hub that Sydney was “no longer an industrial city” and criticised the council for “this whacky affordable housing thing”.
A press release from Clr Mandla’s office said the area presented a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide desperately needed homes for more than 100,000 residents”.
That proposal would see the area become one of the most densely populated parts of the city. In comparison, the City of Sydney’s massive Green Square urban renewal project — which, at 280 hectares, is fractionally larger than the Southern Industrial Area — aims to house just 54,000 people.
Sustain Community Housing head Josh Vrsaljko, who spoke alongside Clr Mandla at the media event, said letting landowners build for-profit residential would lead to more affordable housing faster than the council’s plan.
“If you put 10 times as much stock on the ground it becomes more affordable … the market will determine the affordability,” he said.