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You are here: Home / UrbanGrowth, SMDA & RWA Plans & Activities / Waterloo Public Housing & Metro Station Redevelopment / Waterloo South rezoning proposal / REDWatch Preliminary Analysis of Councils Waterloo South Planning Proposal

REDWatch Preliminary Analysis of Councils Waterloo South Planning Proposal

The Analysis below was produced by REDWatch and circulated by our email distributiuon lists on 19 February 2021. This analysis seeks to explain some of the key issues arrising from the Council Planning Proposal and some of REDWatch's concerns.

City’s highest density headed for Waterloo

The Waterloo South public housing redevelopment will become the densest residential part of the City of Sydney if the NSW Government approves the City of Sydney Council’s (CoS) planning proposal made public on 10 February 2021. CoS has decided it needs to increase the density on its earlier proposal to match the density proposed by the NSW Government’s Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC).

To match the LAHC proposed yield (number of units), the CoS plan has three 27-30 storey high-rises to the south of the site and up to 13 storey buildings along George Street and fronting parks. The balance of the site is mostly eight storeys. The CoS proposal covers a slightly larger land area with less open space and fewer apartments per building than LAHC. CoS says its proposal will deliver better street level amenity with less wind and almost three times the amount of deep soil plantings. The smaller park in LAHC’s plan has shrunk in size, but the sunlight access has improved. Council is proposing a different street layout, which it says will be more accessible and allow better sunlight, and is concentrating retail at street level along a widened George Street.

CoS argues this increased level of development can be supported and that its planning proposal has made many changes to the LAHC proposal to deliver the amenity necessary to support such a dense development. The Central Sydney Planning Committee (CSPC) has supported the CoS proposal, however the NSW Government Architect, who is a member of the CSPC, questioned if the density was too high.

High density creates liveability challenges for any community, but as 30 per cent of the community who will be living at this site will be social housing tenants, many with high and complex needs, the question is if the density proposed is appropriate for them. In initial CoS briefings, the conflict between the need for social housing units at ground floor and those locations also usually being best suited for retail was identified. A key issue for discussion must be the high density proposed and how this density will affect social housing tenants.

The current proposal is only for a portion of the estate. This portion has a park the size of Redfern Park within it. What happens in Waterloo South will set the precedent for the central and northern precincts, which with a similar built form, without a large park, are likely to be even higher density.

A built form comparison

If the density is accepted, two different built form solutions with similar yields, community facilities and open space can be compared. LAHC proposed a high-rise solution with 12 towers between 15 and 32 storeys, CoS is now proposing a mid-rise solution with three towers of up to 30 storeys, if LAHC meet its conditions. Both LAHC and CoS believe their proposal deliver the best amenity, although that might change once LAHC reviews the CoS proposal.

CoS held a Design Challenge Review of its Waterloo South proposals involving some prominent urban designers and planners who preferred the CoS proposal. Neither LAHC nor Turners, its architects, attended the event to present or argue the merits of the LAHC proposal. Turners had rejected a medium rise solution for the development in its study for LAHC. Exploring the alternative proposals for this site would make a good discussion session for the Planning Institute of Australia or one of the Universities and might spark further ideas and improvements. 

Affordable Housing

Another key area in contention is the proportion of floor space for different tenure mixes. CoS has reduced its initial call for 50% social housing and now agrees with Communities Plus’s 30% social housing. CoS wants 20% affordable housing with the balance 50% private. LAHC has only committed to 5% affordable housing leaving 65% private housing. CoS has said that 10% of the floor space should be dedicated Aboriginal Affordable Housing.

CoS suggests some changes in delivery and funding models that will help the NSW Government deliver the affordable housing increase it is seeking. At Council Committee on February 15 Councillor Philip Thalis argued that the CoS proposal is not unprecedented as LAHC previously met a similar unit mix in Bay Street Glebe, which is a complex development predating the current Communities Plus model. Financial viability and the willingness of the NSW Government to top up any short fall in self-funding will be a key to whether the CoS plan will be delivered.

CoS recognises that LAHC is a ‘non-funded’ organisation which is required to ‘self-fund’ from the redevelopment of its current land holdings. The report to Council goes on to say “Nevertheless, the City argues for increased investment of government investment into the provision of affordable and social housing in this precinct to improve social and economic outcomes”.

The NSW Government has not yet responded to the Redfern Waterloo Aboriginal Affordable Housing Campaign’s request for all developments on government-controlled land in Redfern Waterloo to deliver 10% Aboriginal affordable housing. CoS’s proposal supports that request. That request should be funded on a whole of government basis, not necessarily by LAHC.

If the Aboriginal affordable housing was excluded from LAHC funding, LAHC could undertake to supply 10% affordable housing in line with the top end of the Greater Sydney Commission range of 5-10% rather than at bottom of that range currently. On an inner city site, this might be doable. It relies however on the NSW Government being prepared to deliver dedicated Aboriginal housing, as there is no current mechanism for Council to force this under existing planning law.

REDWatch, housing advocates and public tenants have argued against the current NSW Government policy for LAHC’s Communities Plus program that social housing land is sold off to fund new social and affordable housing. CoS’s planning proposal minimises the loss of government owned land to private housing and seeks to maximise the amount of social and affordable housing generated under current NSW government policies. The government is however still selling off scarce inner city public housing land to fund renewal of its social housing rather than investing in social housing as essential infrastructure.

Planning Proposal is highly conditioned

CoS seems to have made a calculation that by narrowing the gap between what LAHC wants and what CoS has proposed under its best-case outcome, that LAHC and the NSW Government might deliver, or go closer to delivering, CoS’s preferred outcome.

To encourage LAHC to deliver CoS’s preferred housing mix and built form, CoS has conditioned its proposal for the increased floor-space. To get any increase in floor space over what it is currently entitled, LAHC has to meet CoS targets for social and affordable housing, as well as meeting CoS’s proposed levels of non-residential floor space and community facilities. LAHC also needs to exceed the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) requirements for water and energy by agreed amounts and enter into arrangements with CoS over publicly accessible public space.

Unless LAHC meets all conditions it would not be entitled to build the increased floor space CoS has proposed. CoS has also proposed a separate incentive for a 10% increase in floor space if LAHC or private owners go through a design excellence process. Both conditions need to be met by LAHC to get the number of units it is seeking.

There is no study on the financial viability of the proposed controls in the documents released. LAHC argues that cutting the number of high-rise buildings will lower the income from the redevelopment leaving less available to cover the costs of CoS’s higher requirements and the increased social housing units under its self-funding obligations from state government.

Some private landowners have also suggested that the proposed uplift for privately owned sites is not sufficient to encourage development of their sites given the proposed loss of parts of their site for road widening or public access. Private owners will also be obliged to make an affordable housing contribution of 9% of any new floor space on their land.

Department approval needed

While CoS would be encouraged by the support shown by state government appointees at the CSPC, the planning proposal has to be approved by the Department of Planning Industry and Environment (DPIE) before it goes on exhibition. As there are, still some key differences between LAHC (a part of DPIE) and CoS, approval by DPIE of the current CoS proposal cannot be assumed.

The NSW Government through DPIE gave CoS planning control for this site in November 2019. CoS says DPIE was aware of its alternative proposal and views before giving it planning control. However, as local government is subject to state government control, what the state government giveth it can also taketh away.

As the “Gateway” process for changing planning controls is run by DPIE, if DPIE is not in favour of a proposal, DPIE does not have to take planning controls away from CoS to change the proposal. Initially this would be through negotiation with CoS, but if agreement cannot be reached, DPIE can present its own proposal for CoS to exhibit. The CoS motion for submitting the planning proposal to DPIE says if there are major changes, then the DPIE proposal will come back for Council consideration rather than the DPIE proposal going straight to exhibition.

In early February 2021, government decided to allow LAHC Development Applications (DA) (the next stage for Waterloo after rezoning) with a value over $100M to be decided by DPIE as State Significant (SS) Developments rather than by councils. To cover the possibility of DPIE determining the Waterloo South SSDA stage, Council had to produce a Design Guide as well as a Draft Development Control Plan. The NSW Government Architect praised the CoS Design Guide at the CSPC.

Another potential problem identified by Council in preparing its proposal is that the old RWA contributions plan still exists, so the RWA fund, rather than CoS, would get contributions from Waterloo South. As a result, CoS is asking DPIE to wind up the old RWA Contribution Plan. RWA also had an Affordable Housing Contribution plan that could fund affordable housing in Waterloo South. Approximately $40Mnow sits within Infrastructure NSW primarily made up of the affordable housing contributions from the Central Park development.

REDWatch Conclusion

REDWatch also needs to restate its position that it cannot support any proposal for the redevelopment of public housing in Waterloo unless a robust Human Services Plan accompanies it. While a Waterloo human services “Collaborative” was started at the end of last year to develop an action plan we have a long way to go before there is a Human Services Plan that would sit alongside a high density plan for the physical redevelopment of the Waterloo Estate.

I am reminded of the old African proverb that says when the elephants fight the grass gets trampled and when the elephants make love, the grass gets trampled. We are sure there is much more of the Waterloo public housing saga to run and irrespective of what the elephants get up to, we remain to be convinced that the public tenant grassroots will get any real say in what happens nor have any guarantee that their lives will improve as a result.

Further Reading

This analysis has skimmed over the detail that Council and LAHC have provided and picked out the issues that are considered most important. The documents are complex and it is possible we have over simplified or misinterpreted some items so the reader is encouraged to read the Council and LAHC documents and form their own view.

REDWatch suggest that for more information on Council’s proposal and its interactions with LAHC’s proposal that you read the main paper presented to the CoS Transport, Heritage and Planning Committee on February 15.

The main Council document is Public Exhibition – Planning Proposal – Waterloo Estate (South) – Sydney Local Environmental Plan 2012 Amendment, item 2. PDF 9 MB. You can see more information, including a fly through and a coming Council presentation, on Council’s website at Planning proposal: Waterloo estate (south). The main LAHC document is Attachment B2 Planning Proposal Report - LaHC, item 2. PDF 10 MB. In all 67 documents have been placed on the Council’s meeting website including all the support studies undertaken by LAHC.