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Council clashes with state government over Waterloo Estate proposal

Concept art of the City of Sydney's proposal for the Waterloo estate. Photo: City of Sydney


After lengthy discussions, the City of Sydney council has voted to support a revised version of the NSW Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC)’s proposed redevelopment for a public housing estate in south Waterloo. 

But the LAHC has fired back at council for their delay in approving the development, leading to bitter debate between the two levels of government.

Councillors voted unanimously on Monday night to approve the LAHC’s proposal to redevelop the housing estate at Waterloo South, but only with extensive revisions. 

The NSW Government first began developing plans to redevelop 12 hectare housing estate in 2011. But disagreement between the council and the NSW Land and Housing Corporation stalled progress on the development.

Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said the delays and the revisions were necessary to provide good outcomes for both current and future Waterloo residents.

“Throughout this long and complex process, the City has listened to and advocated for good outcomes for the Waterloo community,” Mayor Moore said. 

“Our emphasis has always been on increasing the amount of social and affordable housing as part of the redevelopment, ensuring high quality streets and public spaces, maximising access to sunlight, and delivering sustainable and accessible buildings.”

Revised plans

The revised plans came after an assessment of the state government’s proposal to build nine 20-to-30-storey towers on the site. Peter John Cantrill, the City’s urban design program manager, said the government’s plan would lead to poor outcomes for residents.

“We believe the changes we have made will lead to a better living environment for residents, without reducing the number of homes built,” Mr. Cantrill said.

Under the revised plans council is proposing three high-rise buildings, instead of nine. Council says their plan would also give residents more access to sunlight and wider, easier to navigate and accessible streets and walkways. A large park proposed next to Waterloo metro station would provide more green space for residents.

“Our amended proposal, a collection of mostly medium rise buildings, provides a safer, more accessible and greener design. It increases the number of social housing dwellings without reducing the overall number of homes created,” explained Ms. Moore.

The City of Sydney says under their revised proposal there will still be a 23 percent increase in the number of social housing dwellings on the estate. In real terms, this would mean an increase from 749 to 920 dwellings. 

The city’s proposal also suggests 10 percent of the affordable housing stock in the development be set aside for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households. This comes after the City of Sydney voted unanimously in support of a motion put forward by Councillor Philip Thalis getting behind a campaign for Aboriginal affordable housing in the Redfern and Waterloo area.

Compared to the LAHC’s proposal which was quickly slammed by the community, the City of Sydney’s rework of it has been met with a mostly positive response.

Bitter politics

But housing Minister Melinda Pavey accused the city of putting “politics before people” by delaying the approval of a number of social housing redevelopment proposals across the city. A note prepared by her office said there are more than 1000 social housing dwellings awaiting approval, including in Waterloo South, Elizabeth Street in Redfern and Cowper Street in Glebe.

Minister Stokes said the council’s decision would “prolong the stalemate,” but that he believed the proposal put forward by the City of Sydney was “superior” to the one created by the LAHC. He said the LAHC is “mistaken” if they believe he will act in their favor.

“The plan that the city have gone with is much better than the one that was originally put forward by LAHC, so having this process of mediation and discussion has produced a much better outcome, but it’s still not an outcome which is acceptable to both of the parties,” Mr. Stokes said.

“The time is now for us to make progress on the Waterloo proposal, and it’s important we get on with the job of renewing public housing, capitalising on infrastructure investment, and creating great places.”

The Waterloo Public Housing Action Group agreed with Minister Stokes that the City of Sydney’s proposal was better than the one being put forward by the LAHC. They believe the city’s plans will provide “better community and urban outcomes, lower building heights and affordable and social housing targets of 50 percent compared to LAHCs plans for 35 percent.”

“The community wants the “best” result, not the “fastest” result,” a spokesperson from the group said.

“This is a 20 year major development, with the final outcome that will permanently change our city for the next 50 years. An extra month or year of serious consideration is warranted.”

They said the council’s rework of the proposal should not be framed simply as a stalling tactic, but should be given serious consideration by all parties involved. 

“This is what the community has been asking for all along and the City’s plans should be given serious consideration rather than being written off as a roadblock,”

City of Sydney councillor and mayoral candidate in the upcoming local government elections, Dr. Kerryn Phelps, says it’s important the people living in the development are not forgotten during the political back and forth. 

“Behind the headlines and various government announcements, live thousands of Sydneysiders, each with their own stories of struggle and triumph, strength and vulnerability, who have lived in limbo for over five years,” she said.

“Let’s not forget this is about the people, not the politics.”

The proposed amendments will be placed on a 60-day exhibition for public feedback before plans are approved. 

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