Opinion by Dr Hannah Middleton
Infrastructure NSW has issued a shiny brochure with three “scenarios” for the development of the Blackwattle Bay Precinct. Hands off Glebe Inc argues that none of the three options is acceptable as a vision for Blackwattle Bay.
In line with the Sydney Harbour Regional Environmental Plan, we value the harbour as a public resource, owned by the public, to be protected for the public good. The public good has precedence over the private good whenever and whatever change is proposed for Sydney Harbour or its foreshores. The protection of the natural assets of Sydney Harbour has precedence over all other interests.
We are appalled that all three scenarios propose building heights of up to 45 storeys. These designs will inevitably create an alienating concrete jungle that will undermine the government’s vision of building an “inclusive and iconic waterfront destination that celebrates innovation, diversity and community.”
These high rise developments destroy any chance to rejuvenate the Blackwattle Bay Precinct and create spaces that sit well with our quality of life. Development at this site should include a mix of moderate sized dwellings and businesses that expand our horizons as a mix of visitors arrive and broader opportunities for employment and leisure are created.
Slums for the future
Instead we see the creation of slums of the future and the alienation of public land to pay for the new fish market. It is estimated that 15% of all new privately owned apartments sit empty. Why are we selling an asset with no gain to the community? And where are the proposals for the schools, hospitals, and community services that would be needed for such a massive overdevelopment?
In a survey conducted by Hands off Glebe Inc in 2017, 93% of respondents wanted public and affordable housing while 7 percent wanted only private housing. Respondents argued that any residential development must include 20% affordable and 20% public housing.
The survey also revealed strong support for the development of commercial and/or residential buildings on the shore line to be low rise and that high rise should not be allowed in the precinct.
The proposed huge residential blocks of up to 45 storeys with 5 to 10 percent for affordable housing are simply unacceptable, additionally since any Aboriginal social housing that may be included will be part of the affordable component. By comparison the Anzac Bridge pylons and the UTS tower block are about 40 storeys or 120 metres.
The absence of any reference to public or social housing means the claim in Infrastructure NSW’s glossy brochure that its plans are “socially inclusive and affordable” is hardly convincing.
Before COVID-19 hit, there were about 50,000 people on the NSW public housing waiting list. It is estimated that a rise in unemployment to 10 per cent by the end of the year 2020 could send up to 8,000 more people into homelessness. In our view this situation calls for a far greater investment by the NSW Government in public housing.
Apart from its potentially significant role in the post-pandemic economic recovery, public housing has many other advantages. Access to public housing provides stability and lowers the risk that vulnerable families become homeless. It decreases housing stress and by limiting housing costs, public housing leaves families with more resources for expenses like child care and transportation as well as basic needs like food and medicines.
Quality public housing helps create a stable environment for children, contributing to improved levels of school attendance and educational outcomes. Public housing located near public transport can help low-income residents save money, access better jobs, improve health and reach critical community services.
The number of homeless and unstably housed seniors is projected to grow, creating serious health consequences as they often face declining incomes, increased medical costs and housing that may not be designed for their needs. Quality public housing can promote better mental and physical health, improved quality of life and independence for low-income seniors. For frail seniors and people with disabilities, public housing enables them to remain in their home communities and avoid or delay moving into nursing homes or other institutions that are much more costly for state and federal governments.
Rick man’s ghetto?
Hands off Glebe Inc believes that any residential development in Blackwattle Bay Precinct must include at least 50% public housing. We do not want a rich man’s ghetto with its own private corporate marina. We also express concern about the creation of more retail spaces. The development of shops at the Tram Sheds and the new Fish Market mean an unnecessary increase in retail venues when there are already so many empty shops around our suburbs.
The Renewal of Blackwattle Bay brochure claims that its plan includes more than 30,000 square metres of new quality public open space. The brochure states: “Renewal of Blackwattle Bay will deliver new green space to promote active and healthy lifestyles and provide gathering places to socialise.”
While this is welcome, Hands off Glebe Inc has major concerns: The 30,000 square metres includes small parks, roads and pathways. With an influx of several thousand new residents and more workers, where is the open space for football, cricket and similar exercise?
Perhaps it is assumed that Wentworth Park is able to provide large open space for such exercise. However, the park is already overused and its space should not be included in any Blackwattle Bay Precinct plan, explicitly or by implication. Wentworth Park is being gradually surrounded on all sides by high rise towers and the Blackwattle Bay scenarios would add to this increasingly unacceptable pressure on this invaluable environmental and social resource.
The 2017 Glebe community survey gave emphasis to the need to provide full and free access to the foreshore and walkway for the disabled. However, the Infrastructure NSW brochure makes no mention of any services or facilities for the disabled.
Principle four in the Infrastructure NSW brochure suggests that the precinct plan should prioritise movement by walking, cycling and public transport. While Hands off Glebe Inc supports this, it is not clear if public transport is seen as the priority method of delivering people to the precinct — whether to travel home or for work or leisure – and/or for movement within the precinct.
Scenario 1 includes private cars. It is our view that the need for additional parking within the precinct and existing pressure on roads and lanes make this proposal unacceptable. We believe the community will be best served if priority is given to dedicated public transport — bus, ferry and light rail – provided that due attention is given to access for wheel chairs and motorised chairs.
Expressions of interest
Hands off Glebe Inc hopes that many inner west residents will join us in expressing our concerns about the direction apparently being planned for Blackwattle Bay. We do not want our bay and its foreshores surrounded by high rise buildings created for profit rather than to meet the housing, recreational, social and aesthetic needs of the people of Sydney.
We want low rise homes that are a mix of public housing, affordable housing and private housing, reflecting the current rich diversity in the inner west.
We would like to see what Sydney needs – sports grounds, public housing, and public amenities. Some of the reclaimed land can revert to mangroves and help revive habitat in the harbour.
You can send your ideas to Infrastructure NSW by Friday 19 June at Blackwattle.Bay@infrastructure.nsw.gov.au