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Public housing not a “magic pudding”

Community group, REDWatch, is concerned that Government has been working behind closed doors for over seven years on the Built Environment Plan 2 (BEP2) for the redevelopment of Redfern and Waterloo public housing estates and yet the Plan is only being placed on exhibition for a month comments South Sydney Herald in their March 2011 Issue.

As the BEP2 release came after the cut-off for the February issue of the SSH and the exhibition finished on February 28 (before the March issue hit the streets), it has not been possible for this paper to report about the BEP2. Many community groups meet monthly and have also unable to deal with the plan in time.

The consultation process chosen is highly dependent on internet access to the document. Only a few printed copies were available alongside the display boards. REDWatch does not consider that the RWA’s newsletter provided sufficient information for informed comment. It did not mention infill buildings around the public housing towers, for example. The Housing NSW leaflet did little more that refer public tenants to the RWA website.

This short exhibition period did not contain verbal presentations to the community other than if questions were asked about the exhibition display boards. Many people in the public housing estates do not have English as their first language.

“Even if the Plan contained all the information required and the consultation process was flawless, a month exhibition is not sufficient time for a diverse community to gain an understanding of what is proposed and to make a considered response,” REDWatch spokesperson Geoff Turnbull said.

REDWatch has written to the RWA raising its concerns and requesting more time for the exhibition. The community group rushed out an “Overview and Issues” paper around 10 days before the scheduled close of exhibition which can be found on www.redwatch.org.au under the BEP2 Exhibition Tab.

The plan proposes retaining public housing high-rise building and redeveloping the existing low rise. Infill housing is proposed around some of the towers, including on Waterloo Green.

RWA, in their Q&As No. 2, has said: “It is anticipated that retained buildings will be used for all forms of housing. Social housing will be provided in a mix of retained and new buildings, and some high-rise towers will be utilised for private and affordable housing.”

REDWatch’s main concern is that future governments may not commit to the level of funds necessary to top up the funds gained by sales of public land to developers to deliver on the promises to public housing residents. Without this funding the low-rises could be developed as private housing leaving public tenants in un-renovated high-rise and surrounding infill units rather than spread across the development.

Many important issues such as open space, community facilities and transport have been left until after the development controls are finalised. The problem for REDWatch is that this information needs to be available to guide decisions on the Planning Controls and not left until the HNSW Master Plan.

REDWatch is also concerned that adequate provision will not be made for the open space needed by the over 6,000 new residents in the 3,500 new private units as there is no commitment to an open space target and open space is not protected in the draft controls.

REDWatch is concerned with the “magic pudding” approach of HNSW. With over 35,000 people on public housing waiting lists, public housing land is being sold off to create private housing as a way to fund refurbishment of rundown public housing. Soon there will be no public housing pudding left.

BEP2 proposes moving 700 units of public housing out of Redfern Waterloo into other parts of the City of Sydney. The original undertaking by Minister Sartor was that there would be no loss of housing in Redfern and Waterloo – now the area becomes the City of Sydney. If Housing NSW continues to sell off inner-city homes like at the Rocks then even with the 700 from Redfern Waterloo there is likely to be a decrease in public housing in the wider city area.

The 700 units of public housing moved out are to be replaced by 700 units of affordable housing for key workers, however the RWA has still not released their Affordable Housing Plan so details are scant.

To introduce the BEP2 draft Planning Controls the Government stopped Council from exhibiting its controls for the area. The BEP2 Controls increased density by 35 per cent above the significant increases already proposed by the City of Sydney. The Controls allow heights of new buildings up to 12 storeys.

Even if people miss the exhibition, REDWatch encourages residents to send their comments to the new Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority (SMDA), which is replacing the RWA. The SMDA has to assess the feedback and will prepare the Controls for formal exhibition.

This exhibition is expected to be part of the SMDA’s broader role of undertaking land use study across all of the Redfern, Eveleigh, Darlington and Waterloo area as part of their Growth Centres study to prepare an over-arching plan for the new growth centre.

Source: www.southsydneyherald.com.au/