The People’s Campaign for the defence of the public good in the Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Project welcomes the invitation to make a formal submission to UrbanGrowth following the recent International Summit on the Bays Precinct. We will confine our submission to principle, process and governance issues and make recommendations on a few next steps that we see as essential to both good practice and good outcomes for the project and the protection of the public interest in the redevelopment of these valuable, publicly owned foreshores, waters and assets.
Numbers of local groups and individuals are putting forward suggestions for specific uses and developments –both for ‘in the meantime’ uses which can be activated quickly and for longer term substantive uses. In addition to these submissions, we again draw UrbanGrowth’s attention to the substantive body of work that is contained in the Bays Precinct Taskforce Report, August 2012 (though sadly not in its recommendations) documenting renewal ideas put forward by the community and the City of Sydney and Leichhardt Councils.
It is our expectation that these proposals will be given serious consideration in the planning process.
It is not our expectation that our hasty responses to the invitation to make submissions in 6 days in any way constitutes our final input to the process or a substitute for substantive ongoing engagement with UrbanGrowth and the Government on this project.
1. PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN IN DEFENCE OF THE PUBLIC GOOD
On the 4th Aug 2014 over 200 members of the Bays community came together at the Glebe Town hall to launch a people’s campaign to defend the public good in the major urban renewal project for the foreshores and waters of the Sydney Harbour Bays Precinct: The Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Project. The meeting endorsed a core set of planning principles and a number of resolutions calling for community access to the planning and decision making processes for the project.
The Bays Precinct is of extraordinary strategic significance, not just to its local community, but to the profile of Sydney. It constitutes over 80 hectares of land along 5 kilometres of the Sydney Harbour foreshore around the Blackwattle, Rozelle and White Bays. It includes major heritage items with great potential for creative adaption: the enormous White Bay power station, the Glebe Island Bridge and the Glebe Island silos. It is all publicly owned.
This means that the Bays Precinct project provides a once-only opportunity for the imaginative reshaping of a large part of Sydney Harbour in the public interest.
The communities around the Bays have been calling for an integrated and strategic approach to renewal of this very special inner west harbour site for a decade and have participated in numerous forums and government advisory committees under both the Carr and O’Farrell governments.
Now that, at last, there seems to be a prospect for action rather than more words, local communities are determined that they – and the wider citizenry of Sydney- should have a real and influential role in the imagining and planning of this major renewal project – at every step of the process.
However, there is absolutely nothing in either recent development history in NSW or the Government’s initially announced process for this project- or the wider planning regime – to give the people of Sydney any confidence that that the ‘public good’ will have precedence over private benefit in the decision making, or that the people’s views as to what kind and level of ‘public good’ outcomes should be required of the project will have any influence.
The focus of the People’s Campaign is to get into place planning principles, governance and consultative processes which will ensure a more open and democratic process and give voice and influence to the public good- both as it effects local communities and citizens of wider Sydney.
- LESSONS FROM THE BAYS PRECINCT SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL SUMMIT
A key demand of the people’s campaign was that a significant number of community members be invited to the high profile Bays Precinct Sydney International Summit – held over held over three days 18th -20th November. In a positive, albeit belated move, UrbanGrowth did invite a number of community members to the summit. We were, however, surprised and disappointed that the key discussions on ‘financing and investment of major urban transformational projects’ had been segregated into a separate summit day. Community representatives were not invited to participate in these centrally important discussions.
The rest of the Summit was excellent in both the range and quality of discussions. The international speakers shared ideas and experiences of similar major urban renewal projects from across the world. There were numerous useful exchanges between community and ‘expert’ participants and useful ongoing connections were made. Overall it was a positive interaction. (Community participants’ views can be read at www.baysprecinctpeoplescampaign.com)
Most significantly from the community perspective, there were consistent and experienced-based messages from the international experts that explicitly supported the main themes of the people’s campaign. Numbers of speakers explicitly noted that upfront community engagement is essential for good outcomes in projects of this kind and it is possible to both strongly protect the public good and negotiate viable public/private investment arrangements.
Repeated themes from the experts suggested there is a radically different way for the NSW Government to go about major urban renewal projects. Clear messages from overseas projects included:
involve the community throughout the life of the program
- invest in access – “no access, no value”
- government must be an early investor
- good governance structure essential to navigate political changes
- long term strategic setting – tomorrow will not look like today
- think big –start small:to preserve flexibility to accommodate change
- one BIG IDEA is necessary – eg university, research institute, cultural facility
- urban renewal takes time but progress must be demonstrated quickly
- develop parks and public space first – cheap and adds value
- parks and public space near the water – development further back
- mix rich and poor – affordable housing featured in most addresses
It is to be hoped the Government listens to these messages. NSW Government development projects in recent years have not been typified by these practices. 4
3. CORE PLANNING PRINCIPLES
Over the last decade the community in various contexts has progressively developed a set of planning principles that will both deliver high quality urban renewal and provide appropriate public good outcomes. Agreement on such principles is important to complex development projects- especially where public land and assets are involved. They provide reasonable certainty about outcomes, allow flexibility within specified parameters to deal with unforeseen changes and provide a framework for assessing whether the project process and outcomes are in accordance with agreed values.
The people’s campaign has identified a small number of these community planning principles as central to the Bays project because they are the principles which have been routinely breached or ignored by Governments in recent years. They are also the principles which are central to community inclusion, democratic values, transparency and the defence of the public good.
These are the principles we will campaign for at every point of the Bays renewal project. They are not unusual or controversial. Some of them appear in the MOUs that UrbanGrowth has negotiated in relation to its major urban renewal projects. They also echo the common themes we heard from the international experts at the Summit.
It is difficult to comprehend any reasonable barrier to the Government endorsing and acting on these principles.
The Peoples Campaign calls on the NSW Government and UrbanGrowth NSW to endorse and act on the following community planning principles for the Bays Precinct Urban renewal Project.
i) Precedence be given to the public good as a driving overarching principle for the renewal of these publicly owned foreshores and bays
ii) The community of Sydney is able to fully engage in all stages of the planning process
iii) Ensure excellence in planning and design for all development proposals by designating clear, publicly endorsed planning principles and actively seeking local and international ideas for renewal;
iv) Subject all unsolicited development proposals relating to any Bays Precinct public land or waters to open competitive tender and proper public scrutiny;
v) There be no alienation of the Bays Precinct foreshores from public ownership by sale or long term lease;
vi) Ensure high priority is given to the inclusion of social and affordable housing as a significant element of any residential uses;
vii) Ensure continuous public access to the harbour foreshore is a core principle for all development in the Bays Precinct;
viii) Ensure a significant proportion of the 80 plus hectares of publicly owned lands is retained for public uses including open space;
ix) Ensure heritage items, including the White Bay Power Station and the Glebe Island Bridge, are creatively adapted and reused.
- GOVERNANCE MECHANISMS
Good governance of major projects relating to public land and assets should reflect democratic values. The composition of the UrbanGrowth Board, dominated as it is by developer and big business interests, is not appropriate for the coordinating/oversighting agency driving major urban renewal projects in NSW- and certainly not in relation to the transformation of publicly-owned assets.
A balanced board representing the diversity of stakeholders – including the people of NSW- would instil some greater confidence in the project.
The People’s Campaign calls on the NSW Government to diversify the composition of the UrbanGrowth NSW Board to include community and professional and academic directors to balance its current domination by developer and big business interests.
5. ONGOING COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND CONSULTATION
The belated decision to include community members in the International Summit was a positive. Although not without some hiccups, it generated a valuable exchange of ideas between local and international experts and community (who of, course, are themselves not lacking in ‘expertise’ of many kinds, including planning and architecture). From our perspective, it was clear that many of the international experts were surprised at the obvious difficulty that members of the ‘community’ –whether local or more broadly defined- had in gaining meaningful consultation with, engagement in, or access to information about the Bays project.
We have noted the recent assurances from UrbanGrowth senior staff that they are committed to meaningful community consultation and that they have the Government’s backing on this. We are very hopeful that this eventuates. It will represent a significant improvement in planning and development processes in NSW.
There has been some suggestion that UrbanGrowth is considering the establishment of an ongoing community consultative group or mechanism. This would be welcome as long as the process of so doing is open, the community members are not marginalized (as in earlier Government consultative processes) and have broad access to information and participation with other stakeholders in the planning process.
The People’s Campaign explicitly incorporates an expansive view of community. The local community has an obvious and significant stake in the Bays Precinct renewal and must have a voice. The wider Sydney community – the citizenry of Sydney, if not NSW- has a major stake. This is an iconic Sydney Harbour site and is owned by the citizens of NSW. Membership of any community consultative group must reflect both these community interests.
The Peoples Campaign calls on UrbanGrowth NSW to sustain the positive and consultative spirit that was strongly manifest in discussion and process at the Bays Precinct Sydney International Summit and immediately establish a meaningful and substantive consultative mechanism to engage the community/citizens of Sydney in the ongoing planning process for the BPURP.
UrbanGrowth has included in its project timeline a Sydneysiders summit to be held after it submits a draft strategic plan on the Bays Precinct to the Government in April or May 2015. This timing suggests a post hoc debrief on what has been submitted rather than a serious opportunity for the community to influence the content of the draft plan.
The People’s Campaign calls on Urban Growth NSW to reschedule the foreshadowed Sydneysiders Summit to at least two weeks before (not after as currently planned) the delivery of a draft strategic plan to the Government to allow the community to have direct input to and influence over the content of that plan.
6. FINANCIAL AND INVESTMENT INFORMATION
Financial and investment arrangements for major development projects are obviously determinants of what is possible and who benefits from the outcome. NSW Governments increasingly abuse ‘commercial-in-confidence’ agreements to impose a cloak of deep secrecy over financial dimensions of development projects. When the projects relate to public assets this is an affront to democracy. It fundamentally compromises proper accountability and too often – as we have repeatedly witnessed in recent years- is an open door to corruption.
This excessive secrecy deliberately obscures the relative outcomes for the public good and private benefit. (The NSW public is still denied the bottom line of this equation in relation to the urban renewal of the publicly owned Barangaroo foreshores.)
A key demand of the people’s campaign is that there is far greater transparency at every decision point about the underpinning financial arrangements for this project.
Recognising that the Bays Precinct urban renewal project relates to publicly owned lands and assets, the People’s Campaign calls on the NSW Government to commit to a high degree of transparency in relation to financial arrangements and relative outcomes and provides accurate and meaningful reports on these to the citizens of NSW throughout and at the conclusion of the project.
7. IN CONCLUSION
Following the Community meeting of 4th August, we invited the Premier and the Minister for Planning “to work with the people of Sydney to make this highly strategic, urban renewal project for the Bays Precinct – part of the iconic Sydney Harbour- a pilot for the restoration of integrity, transparency, community engagement and respect for, and proper protection of, the public interest into NSW’s planning and development processes.” (letter to Premier, copied to Minister for Planning 21/8/14).
While we have had no response from the Premier or the Minister, we urge the Government to take up this challenge for a radical radical change in their approach to planning major development.
The People’s Campaign calls on the NSW Government to work with the people of Sydney to make this highly strategic, urban renewal project for the Bays Precinct a pilot for the restoration of integrity, transparency, community engagement and respect for, and proper protection of, the public interest into NSW’s planning and development processes.
Carolyn Allen (BPCRG member and President Balmain Association),
John Brooks (BPCRG member and Pyrmont Action Inc),
Dr Lesley Lynch, (BPCRG and BP Taskforce member and Glebe Society),
Professor Jane Marceau (BPCRG and BP Taskforce member and White Bay Joint Steering Committee)
26 November 2014