By Emily Contador-Kelsall
Significant changes to the master plan for Barangaroo South have brought the legitimacy of community consultation and the design process into question.
Last month the proposed maximum building height of the Crown was increased to around 275 metres, which would exceed the current maximum of 170 metres, with a total floor area of 77,500 square metres.The Crown Hotel and casino will move onto waterfront land if the NSW Department of Planning accepts these modifications. The hotel’s car park will also increase from 156 to 500 spots.
Architect Phillip Thalis has criticised successive NSW governments over their lack of transparency and “parody of consultation”, accusing the government of deliberately constructing processes which were “meaningless”. Mr Thalis’ original design for the Barangaroo site won an international competition in 2006 that the state government abandoned three years later for the current design.
“It’s completely the self-interest of the proponent doing whatever they like on public land, seemingly with the acquiescence of the state government and its ineffective agencies,” he told City Hub.
“Barangaroo is just a disaster which just keeps plummeting, spiralling downwards, and there’s no guarantee it’s got to the bottom of its hole even with this appalling modification proposal which is currently before the government.”
The location of the Crown Hotel has caused previous contention between the government and the public. Originally, the hotel was set to be built on a pier, but fierce community opposition pushed it back onto land. The idea of a pier is one that Mr Thalis said the government never gave up.
The modified plan that is now on public exhibition also seeks to increase the height to two of three residential towers in Barangaroo South.
Mr Thalis said that Lend Lease and James Packer had done everything they could “to alienate [Barangaroo South] and privatise it to restrict public access to the water front”.
In a statement, Lend Lease’s Barangaroo South Managing Director Andrew Wilson said the revised concept plan represents an “exciting vision for one of the most significant harbour projects in Sydney’s history.”
Jack Mundey, leader of the Green Bans movement in the 1970s that saved The Rocks, said the increase in height of the Crown Hotel was outrageous and the state government’s behaviour lead to the “sort of cynicism that exists in the community about government.”
“I think many Sydneysiders are very unhappy with the fact that a premier part of the Barangaroo project is going to be the Packer casino, which is far bigger than the original design allowed for,” he said.
“It just says that [James Packer] is able to hold sway with the government over what he wants in this respect, and part of it being a second casino for Sydney without any consultation from local people about whether or not they wanted a second casino in the city.”
Mr Mundey said vigilance is required and it is important that “ordinary people” be involved in the decision making process when it comes to significant developments such as that at Barangaroo.
Transparency is not the only concern extending from the major changes made to the master plan. The generation of traffic and transport infrastructure is a growing concern as the state government has not updated its transport plan for the district for more than three years.
Mr Thalis said Sydney roads and transport would inevitably suffer due to development at Barangaroo.
“This modification to Barangaroo further privatises the few streets that are there and adds hugely to the private car parking. This is against 40 years of public policy in the city. It’s a ridiculous proposal put forward by Lend Lease and Packer,” he said.
“The NSW government has funded an underground link to Wynyard station… and that simply is loading more people more quickly onto a station that is already close to capacity.”
The state government’s treatment of roads and public transport in and around Sydney was hotly debated in the lead up to last month’s election with major projects like the WestConnex tollway and light rail attracting large community and political opposition.
Fairfax Media reported that Mr Wilson said the company’s objective was for over 90 percent of Barangaroo visitors to use public transport, walk or cycle.
Barangaroo South is expected to open to the public later this year with the area’s first residential tower and hotel set to be complete in 2019 if approved.