Inner West Independent

Go-time for Balmain Leagues site

By Joe Bourke

 

Leichhardt Council received an independent study into the future configuration of the infamous Balmain Leagues site at last week’s council meeting, marking a step forward in the development of the site.

The site, subject to controversy since developers Rozelle Village attempted to get plans through for a high rise development, currently lies empty, and its future use remains unknown.

Leichhardt mayor Rochelle Porteous said the study, conducted by global engineering consultants Arup, was made in order to be compliant with Council’s Development Control plan “to properly acknowledge what is a significantly constrained site surrounded by low-rise development”.

“Then they have looked at different mixes of commercial, retail and residential space, with the aim of achieving a commercially viable development that won’t trigger the traffic problems that led to previous applications being rejected…” she said.

The report was created with the engagement of architectural firms Hill Thalis, Clare Design and Smith and Tzannes.

Council was presented with two documents, one of which was considered in open council and the other, an economic viability report, treated confidentially.

Labor councillor Darcy Byrne criticised the confidentiality of this report, saying that council was “failing to be transparent”.

“Having initiated this study by design and planning experts to determine a sensible smaller scale development of the leagues club site, I am concerned that the council is now failing to be transparent with the local community about the evidence that’s been collected with rate payers’ money,” he said.

“We can’t proceed with the rezoning of this site while keeping Rozelle residents in the dark about the data that’s been used to justify that rezoning.”

At the meeting, council’s legal officer said that it was the councillors’ decision on whether the documents should be confidential. But according to Mark Wallis, spokesperson for the Rozelle Action Group (RAG), he strongly suggested they remain private, as not to give the developer the upper hand.

Mr Wallis criticised the Labor party councillors for attempting to pass a motion to make the documents public, accusing them of political “point scoring”.

“I was of the opinion as well that the economic viability report should have been made public, but when I heard the council legal officer’s arguments as to why it shouldn’t be, I completely agreed with him, and I thought what the Labor party were arguing for in trying to make it public was just completely irresponsible,” he said.

“I just don’t understand why they would take that position, but there’s always politics in it as well. They’re playing off against each other and it’s not always about what’s the best outcome – it’s just about point scoring in a lot of cases.”

In a statement, Mayor Porteous said the development needed to include the Balmain Leagues Club and be commercially viable.

But as Leagues Clubs around Sydney struggle to keep alive, it would be a difficult return to Balmain.

The Tigers Club owes Rozelle Village $11 million according to Mr Wallis, who said he couldn’t see the club returning to the site.

Mr Wallis also said the club’s membership, many of whom don’t live locally, would unfairly influence any development.

“We analysed the submissions on the previous applications and if you took the Tigers members who didn’t live within the area at all out of the submissions in favour of the applications, then overwhelmingly the number of submissions were against both the developments,” he told City Hub.

On the Saturday following the council meeting, the Tigers updated their website with a new release from Chairman Leslie Glen, who assured Tigers members that everything was being done to “return the club home”.

Clr Byrne said he supports a return to Rozelle for the Tigers but that it could not be done “at the expense of transparency”.

“After ten years of delays, we all need to work urgently to approve a sensible smaller scale rezoning that will allow the leagues club to return to its traditional home in Rozelle,” he said.

Following last week’s meeting, council will look further into one particular option for the site in order to improve its commercial viability.

The results of the research will be brought to the May 12 Policy meeting for further consideration.

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