urban sprawl

Further delays to the Grose River Bridge should make you cranky

https://youtu.be/FuF-kUkjoSY

The Redbank project, and associated wrangling over the promised Grose River Bridge crossing goes all the way back to 2008.

So if you're angry or confused about why it seems that this infrastructure keeps receding to the horizon, then I'm with you.

Why is it taking so long? And why, after this week’s Council meeting, is it going to be delayed even more?

Here's what you need to know. This video lays out the timeline of this issue.

I have been on about this issue for this entire term of Council.

From 2016:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2016/10/15/about-the-redbank-development-at-north-richmond/

And 2017:

https://councillorzamprogno.info/2017/04/10/about-the-grose-river-bridge-and-the-redbank-development/

 

 


Hawkesbury's Local Housing Strategy and the pressure for development

On Tuesday, Hawkesbury City Council adopted our long-awaited Local Housing Strategy.

This document sets out how we will meet our housing targets over a timeframe of several decades.

Although this has implications for our whole city, the Liberal Councillors felt it was important to address a gap in the document.

The south eastern part of our City – the suburbs of Vineyard, Oakville and Maraylya, sit adjacent to some very aggressive urban growth. The ‘North Western Growth Sector’  is breathing down our neck across the county line in the Hills District, and has spilled into our own patch as the release areas named ‘Vineyard Stage 1 and Stage 2’

This pressure is tearing our community apart. Some are in favour of development, many against.

The one thing we can’t do is… nothing. I was disappointed that the Housing Strategy document said little about either the necessity, desirability, inevitability or show-stopping constraints of future development, other than remarking that the not-yet-finally-gazetted Outer Sydney Orbital corridor will continue to hang over us until that matter is definitely resolved. 

I have strong opinions about this, but they matter less than seeking to understand what the majority view in those suburbs truly is. Some individuals or groups might claim to represent a clear majority, but I don’t think they do. I have a responsibility to represent all those views, and I take that seriously.

So, we moved a form of words that sought to survey and consult with the residents of Oakville and Maraylya to ask them what they wanted. Nothing more. Certainly not a decision to develop or not.

Your Liberal Councillors voted for that consultation. All the others, including Labor and the Greens, voted against it.

This video only contains my remarks, but I encourage you to listen to the whole meeting podcast (item 247, 8th December meeting) when it comes out to hear from my Liberal colleagues and the others.


Straight talk about Development

I was with Garry Cotter being interviewed at Hawkesbury Radio and the subject turned to development in Sydney generally, and the Hawkesbury in particular. How can we balance the destruction of urban sprawl with Sydney's need for housing?

On reflection, I thought this two-minute segment sums up where I'm coming from.

Where do your other Hawkesbury Councillors stand on this and other issues?

Do they ever publish? Make videos? Do interviews? Speak publicly?

You're entitled to know where your elected representatives stand on issues. If you want my view on an issue that isn't already written about on this site, just ask.


The Vineyard Development area

Recently I completed a trio of short videos that go together in covering issues relating to housing development.

My desire is to touch on larger issues affecting our city and its future growth, but I use the example of the proposed development of the Vineyard area to illustrate them.

They cover:

  • The extent of the Vineyard development in the context of the North West Growth Sector
  • The role of both developers, the State Government, and Councils have in funding and delivering infrastructure
  • The role of IPART, the Government's independent pricing regulator, in adjudicating whether Council's infrastructure plans are economical.

Here they are together.

Part 1: Development and Congestion in Hawkesbury City

Part 2: Who should pay for Infrastructure when housing development comes?

Part 3: Don't let population pressure tear our community apart.


Demanding clarity on the future of the Hawkesbury

(Edit-- 27th June: The motion I put to Council on the 26th passed 11 votes to 1. Audio of the debate can be accessed below:)

Original post:

The whole messy process that has unfolded since March about road corridors has brought the issue of development in the Hawkesbury into focus.

Everyone can see the  massive surge of housing and commercial building that has marched down Windsor Road and is now knocking on our door. Indeed, some of this urban development is even now in our Council area, because the "Vineyard Precinct" of the North West Growth Sector (NWGS) is within the Hawkesbury City boundaries.

Residents and landowners on acreage properties adjoining the NWGS are justified in their concerns that this development will eventually overtake them as well. Everyone is entitled to some certainty about their future on the land, which includes some of the Sydney basin's diminishing stock  of prime and currently productive agricultural land, plus remnant Cumberland woodland.

As a Councillor, I've tried to apply pressure to planning officials with the State Government to be honest and co-operative about what the long term future of these areas are, largely defined by the suburbs of Oakville, Maraylya, Vineyard, and even parts of Pitt Town and Cattai.

What I've received are mixed messages, and this isn't good enough. Some of the documentation associated with the Outer Sydney Orbital hints at areas "north of the Vineyard Precinct" for some kind of industrial use. The "SEPP", a planning zoning that makes the NWGS possible, actually encompasses a far larger area that the current development. Speculators -- real estate types and developers -- are fomenting rumours about currently rural areas being re-zoned for future development and this is inflating prices, which inflates land value, which inflates your rates. I've said more about this in the video I made about the corridors proposal. Check it out.

The consequence is a persistent sense of dread, and an inability for residents to know what their future looks like, even while they are being rated out of existence on the properties that they bought with a working wage, and wanted to retire on.

Council has a particular responsibility here. Later this year we are renewing what's called our "Residential Land Strategy". This exercise will set out Hawkesbury Council's desires for what areas will take what degree of development over a longer timeframe. Regardless of where you sit on the question of growth, Council needs to manage what could or should happen, and where. Here is the link to the current strategy, adopted in 2011.

In the RU2 and RU4 zoned acreage properties in the south eastern part of the city, our choices could range from "no change", to "detached dual occupancy" (meaning two houses on a five acre lot, but under one title), to "large lot rural subdivision" (like we see at Windsor Downs, with block sizes at a minimum of one or two acres), and then upward through a range of subdivision options that resemble what we see on the eastern side of Boundary road. I am emphatically not in favour of that outcome.

However, for Council to deliberate well, we deserve clarity from a range of state government departments, including the Department of Planning, Transport for NSW, and the Greater Sydney Commission. And of course, the public also have a right to know, and my gut feeling is that we have not had full disclosure from these agencies.

I am therefore moving the Notice of Motion you see below at the Council meeting next Tuesday (26th June), and I invite you to spread the word, come along, and register your support for this call for honesty and clarity about what the government's long term plans are for our homes.

Notice of Motion - Development outside the NWGS

Is Sydney Full?

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald has declared "Sydneysiders in revolt over development as two-thirds declare the city is 'full'".
So what's my view? The common stereotype is that Liberal governments are pro development and left-of-centre governments are full of NIMBY greenies. The truth is not so simple. I sat up and took notice at this quote in the story:
"Significantly for the Coalition government, 61.7 per cent of Liberal supporters believe Sydney is full, 28 per cent are in favour of more development and 10.4 per cent are undecided."
I've been meditating on the incredible challenges that Sydney's urban sprawl has caused, and the legacy it will leave for the liveability of both greater Sydney and the Hawkesbury for future generations.
 
We are grappling with massive changes. Decades of poor planning, underinvestment in key infrastructure, and the pressures of increasing population are causing the slow erosion of many values that Hawkesbury residents consistently put at the top of their list as making our area special. Open space, continued use of land for agriculture, recreation and habitat, and the ability to both live and work within a reasonable distance of one another.
 
What is an elected Liberal Councillor to make of this tension? On the one hand, I applaud the State government for getting on with the job of building the railways, roads and bridges we should have had in Sydney a decade ago. To those inclined to a short memory, I am happy to remind people I talk to that 16 years of Labor government came with complete stagnation in infrastructure. Projects announced, reannounced, then renounced and quietly abandoned. Minister after Minister disgraced, sacked and imprisoned for pederasty, greed and fraud. Do we really want to go back to that?
And on the other, the rapacious consumption of the last fragments of open space left in the Sydney basin is something I oppose completely. If the survey results reported above are true, a clear majority of Liberal voters agree with me. Studies like Sydney Food Futures tell us that, due to the pressures of urban sprawl, over 30,000 tonnes per year of food production in the Hawkesbury may be lost by 2031, and 400,000 tonnes p.a of lost food production across the Sydney basin. We would be foolish to permit that. But to quote the Lorax, who speaks for the trees?

To those who may remonstrate with me, my question is this: So when are we "done" with development? At what threshold, even in theory, would we say "this represents overdevelopment" in Sydney, when other cities in NSW are crying out for growth and investment? When, as the article bluntly poses the question, is Sydney "Full"? As a teacher, I've looked at this with my students, and I focused a unit of study on population around Dick Smith's excellent documentary The Population Puzzle. It's required viewing for anyone genuinely concerned about this issue.

As a local government representative, it concerns me that our ability to even contribute to that debate on your behalf  is slowly being eroded by an increasing centralisation of planning controls, gravitating towards the Planning minister and panels of unelected bureaucrats. Many decisions that Councils used to make are being taken out of our hands. The reduction in local democracy is alarming.

Yet, my Liberal colleagues counter,  this is because the decisions that many Councils make, including our own, are grossly inconsistent with the established planning guidelines. The substantial time and money invested by people seeking permission to do, legally, what they ought to be able to do with their land is subjected to the caprice and thought-bubbles of quixotic Councillors. Some of the decisions taken by our Council in the last year baffle me. Regretfully, the rank situation in Councils like Auburn, where developer Sam Mehajer brought the whole process of local government into disrepute, has caused all Councils, including our own, to be tarred with the same brush, and to be subjected to the same extreme corrective measures.

Again, both views represent facets of a larger truth.

I'm thinking and reading deeply on this matter and will have more to say in the future. In the meantime, I want to know what you think. Please let me know in the comments.

About the Redbank development at North Richmond

redbank-plan-with-open-space
An image of the RSL Kingsford Smith village layout, still available on their website today, advertising open space on the subject lands (the green area near the words "retirement living")

Last Tuesday was the first public meeting where we new councillors addressed regular council business. It went from 6:30pm until well after midnight, owing to the backlog of matters created by the election, and a helping of deferred matters gifted from the previous council.

I remarked at the meeting that this was a baptism of fire, as immediately before us was arguably one of the most contentious issues facing the new council: The Redbank development at North Richmond. The specific item before us on Tuesday were ten blocks in an area called "The Gallery" which back on to the RSL Retirement village. The retirement village residents objected that they had secured their houses in the belief that the land behind them would be left as empty space. They also objected on the grounds privacy, drainage and noise, given that the land slopes upward behind them and a retaining wall has been constructed.

The previous week I had inspected the site and, despite arriving unannounced, the site manager Scott was gracious in receiving me and showing me around. I also spoke to various residents living in the RSL village in Catalina Avenue, who showed me the promotional material the RSL offered them. It did indeed show a layout of the Redbank site with the land in dispute left open-- such as the image at the header of this post.

The recommendation from Council staff was to approve the subdivision -- or rather to ratify it, since we were told that the blocks had been sold and the new owners were waiting to build. I was informed that the original approval body of this part of the subdivision was not Council, but a State body called the JRPP (Joint Regional Planning Panel), who take planning decisions out of the hands of Councils if the value of a development is over $20 million.

Meantime, the deferral of this matter by the previous council was taken as a deemed refusal and the developers had commenced litigation in the Land and Environment Court. If the litigation proceeds, legal costs could be considerable to council.

I expressed my anger at the meeting that the JRPP did not take up the issue of why the development they were asked to approve in early 2014 was at such variance with the prospectus offered RSL village purchasers. The village residents have every right to be aggrieved that the material was misleading. My understanding is that the RSL have acknowledged this and have offered the residents the option to move and gain a refund. But surely this is cold comfort for many of those residents who have considerable sunk cost in their new homes and who probably regarded their last move of house as their last.

To determine who has perpetrated a deception on whom is not simple. I believe the testimony of the residents when they say that they were given an indication that the land would be open, both in terms of the brochure they showed me, and verbally. I disagree with the statement in the Council business paper which says

"Investigation from Council staff has not found evidence that sales person's advice had made this claim [that the land would be left open]"

However, on the other side, there are other factors which should be taken into account:

  • The land was always zoned for potential subdivision, and the residents should have known that this was a permitted and likely use of that land when they bought adjacent to it.
  • The residents bought-in after the Redbank development was approved (I'm awaiting definite dates here, but the developer says the JRPP approved it in early 2014 and the date one resident quoted me for their settlement was August 2014), and their solicitor could have found out the subject land was sub-dividable (but there is the legitimate riposte that they had received a verbal undertaking that the land would be free and did not think to check).
  • The material which misled them was produced by RSL Lifecare, and the developers of the subject properties on Tuesday's D.A's are an unrelated party, and that recourse should be made by the RSL.
  • That a complaint was made to Fair Trading about the deceptive promotional material, but that at this stage, the claim has not been upheld. I disagree, and would encourage the residents to pursue those avenues of appeal that Fair Trading indicated.
  • That the developer's right to build on the lots approved by the JRPP is probably strong and a court case will be unlikely to negate it, but will be costly.

After balancing these concerns, I voted to approve the subdivision, but remarked that we metaphorically had a gun to our heads. I wasn't happy about it, but felt we had to do it. I didn't believe deferring or refusing it would alter the outcome, as regrettable as it is for the residents of Catalina avenue.

I am heartened, however, to hear that related issues concerning noise, drainage, and the screen planting between the fence and the retaining wall are all matters the developer is still happy to address with the residents as the matter comes to conciliation in the court.

The residents are entitled to think that the whole system has failed them. From their perspective, the RSL misled them and offered a remedy unpalatable to them. The JRPP should have been where the difference between the RSL prospectus and the developer's request  were questioned, but weren't. The matter was dumped in the old Council's lap and then deferred to the new Council, who have again deferred it.

If the entirety of the Redbank decision had been mine to make years ago, I would have said no. However, that is a whole other question. On Tuesday, I was focused on the application before me, and nothing else.

As one of my worthy colleagues said during the meeting: "This is an example of how not to do things". I agree.