by ALEC SMART
With the NSW Govt delaying their planned mega cruise ship terminal for Botany Bay, campaigners are hoping that the high-rise housing scheme proposed by Meriton, Australia’s biggest home developer, for nearby Little Bay might also be postponed for the foreseeable future.
On 12 April NSW Transport and Ports Minister Andrew Constance confirmed the planned mega cruise ship terminal in Botany Bay – as yet undecided between Yarra Bay and Molineaux Point – was “put on hold” with “all industry and community engagement suspended” for at least 18 months.
Campaigners opposing Meriton’s plans for a massive 1900 apartments development in Little Bay, including controversial 22-storey complexes that will cast shadows on the beach, have long suspected the development project was underpinned by the new cruise ship terminal scheme.
This was confirmed in Oct 2019 when Harry Triguboff, founder of Meriton, told The Australian newspaper “Botany Bay must be developed for cruise ships” – emphasising that the massive ocean liners can turn around with greater ease in Botany Bay than Sydney Harbour. “If we get cruise passengers, we will build serviced apartments,” he continued, aiming to capitalise on the cruise ship market by accommodating a massive influx of vacationers.
Olde Lorenzen, coordinator of Save Little Bay residents’ campaign group, told City Hub “Meriton intends to rezone the remainder of a master-planned site and turn them into a high-rise concrete jungle…”
With the absence of a statement from Meriton as to whether they will postpone or cancel the high-rise developments, Randwick Council, which has long opposed the Little Bay scheme, are not taking chances, and remain vigilant. Councillors are suspicious of the NSW Govt’s changes to environmental regulations at the start of April 2020, which allow the fast-tracking of building development projects like Little Bay during the Covid-19 lockdown.
On 28 April, Randwick Council, fearing that projects like Meriton’s high-rise scheme for Little Bay might be foisted on them by the NSW Govt under the cover of Covid-19, agreed to oppose them. Councillors voted to support a motion brought by Deputy Mayor Philipa Veitch to express opposition to the recent changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
Randwick Council’s minutes of their 28 April meeting declared that it “recognises that planning decisions should be community led and that local councils are best placed to make decisions about planning that is appropriate for their local area and constituents..”
On 3 April, NSW Treasurer and Minister for Planning Rob Stokes announced that the NSW Govt amended section 10.17 of the Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979 granting them unprecedented powers to override planning decisions made by local councils (as well as the Independent Planning Commission), during the COVID 19 pandemic.
“The NSW Government will cut red tape and fast-track planning processes to keep people in jobs and the construction industry moving throughout the COVID-19 crisis,” Stokes said in a statement.
This order will remain in place at least 6 to 12 months after its authorisation, even if the Covid-19 restrictions on social distancing are relaxed, and will have effect regardless of any environmental planning instrument or development consent.
Furthermore, these approvals cannot be reversed when the pandemic is over.
Opponents of Meriton’s high-rise scheme are also worried that the recently completed CBD and Southeast Light Rail will be extended from Randwick via Anzac Parade to Little Bay if the mega cruise ship terminal and Meriton’s high rise apartments proceed. Light rail will become necessary to transport the high volume of cruise ship passengers to city tourist attractions like the Sydney Opera House.
Meriton’s investment property, a 135,961.6 sqm residential development at 1406-1408 Anzac Parade, Little Bay, was purchased from Malaysia’s TA Global for $245 million in August 2017. The site, bound by The Coast Golf Club and Pacific Ocean to the east, Anzac Parade to the west, residential housing to the north and the Prince Henry Estate to the south, was originally zoned by Randwick Council for the construction of low-density terraced apartments.
582 people moved in to the first 224 properties that were constructed prior to Meriton’s takeover.
Two years later, Meriton, after stalling the development process and enclosing the area in fencing, announced their revised plan for the site. This seeks over seven times the population originally intended for the zone, expanding it to 1,909 apartments for 4963 tenants in towers up to 73 metres high.
According to the 2016 census, 4477 people resided in Little Bay in 1891 dwellings. Meriton’s ambitious scheme aims to double the suburb’s population – albeit much of it transient from holidaying cruise ship passengers – within an area that is effectively just two per cent of the total land mass of the area.
Save Little Bay’s Olde Lorenzen told City Hub “Council most recently finalised their new Local Strategic Planning Statement in which it reiterated its commitment to the current, low-rise Masterplan. It was endorsed by the Greater Sydney Commission as in accordance with regional planning in late March 2020. Meriton’s proposal completely disregards local planning authority and planning objectives.
“Ironically, the Masterplan site has been shovel-ready for years and construction works to complete what was intended (low-rise medium density) could commence within a couple of months.”
Meriton paid massive fine
In July 2018, Meriton was ordered by the Federal Court to pay $3m after the company was found to have breached consumer law.
On 31 July Justice Mark Moshinsky ordered Meriton to pay the $3m fine after finding it engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct. Meriton manipulated travel website TripAdvisor’s reviews about its serviced apartments and withheld the emails of guests who had complained or had a negative experience over a 12-month period prior to October 2015.
“Meriton’s conduct created an unduly favourable impression,” Justice Moshinsky declared in his summary. “The contravening conduct occurred on a large scale, and the TripAdvisor website, where the misleading impression was created, attracted a very large number of consumers. In these circumstances, I consider that a large penalty is required.”
City Hub contacted Meriton for this article, asking “Now that the NSW Govt have announced the 18-month postponement of the mega cruise ship terminal planned for Botany Bay, will Meriton’s plans for serviced high-rise apartments in nearby Little Bay also be put on hold or cancelled?”
However, Meriton didn’t respond by deadline.
City Hub’s previous reporting on Meriton’s plans for Little Bay: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=little+bay