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Pemulwuy Project – AHC community consultation night

On Tuesday November 22, the City of Sydney and the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) held a public forum at Redfern Community Centre chaired by an independent facilitator, to present the AHC’s latest plans for the Pemulwuy Project reports Michael Texilake in the December 2011 issue of The South Sydney Herald.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore spoke to the gathering and presentations were given by the AHC’s project manager, Greg Colbran from Dei Corp, their architects Norton and Jago as well as other consultants engaged to refine the plans.

The Pemulwuy Project, the AHC’s vision for regenerating the area known as The Block by creating a multi-purpose residential and cultural space, has been years in the making. With this latest phase, the AHC is hopeful the project will finally come to be built, citing a commencement date of May next year.

Over the years the project has met both fierce opposition and vocal support from various groups, and has changed noticeably in response. In this latest version, the AHC has given close consideration to those earlier concerns and further developed the proposal.

As it now stands, it will provide: 62 homes for Aboriginal families, ranging in size from two-bedroom apartments to four-bedroom townhouses; cultural spaces including an art gallery and public plaza; commercial businesses including a gym, a childcare centre and a student apartment complex; and 115 underground parking spaces for residents and business operators.

Notably, the commercial parking lot proposed previously (which was criticised over traffic concerns and its lack of sympathy with the City of Sydney’s plans for a greener city) is gone, with the project now expected to generate income from the increase in student apartments, all of which will be available for students from all backgrounds and rented at commercial rates.

The atmosphere on the night was a telling mixture of celebration and apprehension. While most attendees were enthusiastic about the project, several community members voiced surprise at the scale of the project (up to six-and-a-half storeys high), while others were disappointed to see much of the land given over for purposes other than Aboriginal housing. As one person said, “The whole purpose of The Block was to give Aboriginal people somewhere to live.”

The AHC acknowledged this concern, but argued they have a responsibility not only to provide housing, but to ensure that housing and the organisation managing it remain financially viable. The student apartments are expected to generate sufficient income so that the AHC and the Pemulwuy Project will be able to operate with ongoing financial autonomy.

Several members of the audience also registered concern that a number of fundamental principles of the original social plan developed for the Pemulwuy Project were no longer included or were greatly reduced. As the AHC readily acknowledged, opportunities for affordable home ownership for Aboriginal families was previously held out as a key strong point of the plan, as a way of helping those families to secure a home and also to foster a sense of ownership amongst residents that would empower them to discourage antisocial behaviour in the neighbourhood.

Under the latest proposal there will no longer be any such opportunity, for two reasons: the AHC believes it will have more control over what happens in the community if it remains the landlord; and the AHC could not ensure those homes would remain Aboriginal-owned once it had sold them to private owners.

Further concern was raised that, while the Lawson Street end of the development is receiving detailed attention – as demonstrated by the multiple pictures on the night showing how it will look when developed, including a new footbridge built over the rail-line to increase public access and visibility, as well as cultural spaces and public areas – the sections of the development intended solely as places for Aboriginal people to live (Louis, Vine and Eveleigh streets) did not rate a single image or detailed description on the night.

What was evident though is that Louis and Vine streets in particular will include none of the fundamental features of the social plan, such as public space, line of sight to neighbouring areas, or mixed residential-commercial-cultural use. While Caroline Street, the Community Centre and parts of Eveleigh Street will have direct line of sight to Redfern station, with wide open public areas and a mixture of commercial, cultural and residential, all of Louis and Vine streets will remain enclosed behind an even larger building than has previously been the case, now expected to be six-and-a­half storeys tall. Residents on Louis and Vine streets will have no line of sight to anything other than their own immediate street and surrounding walls, and no direct access to any of Pemulwuy’s public spaces or cultural/commercial areas.

The AHC and Dei Corp were clearly interested to listen to these concerns of the community, most notably by seizing the opportunity to join a meeting that Council is conducting with concerned residents from Caroline and Lawson streets to discuss the reconfiguration of Caroline Lane. The AHC is to be commended for this engaged and responsive attitude, and has emphasised that community responses are welcome until December 6, with the Development Application to be submitted on December 16.

Noting this is close to the Christmas holiday period, the AHC also assured audience members that it would ask the Department of Planning to delay closing the window for public comment on the DA until the New Year, to ensure adequate time for all concerned parties to consider the application and contribute their views.

The key points:

  • Residential will include 62 dwellings, up to 4 bedrooms per home
  • Mixed usage will include commercial, cultural and residential, including a childcare centre, commercial student accommodation and a gym
  • Approximate 115 underground car spaces will be provided for residents and business operators
  • Purchase of homes in the project no longer an option
  • NRAS funding, which is available for low-income workers who might earn too much to qualify for public housing, has been secured to provide affordable housing for all the residential complex
  • Commercial child care and student housing, open to users from all backgrounds, have been included to generate income so the AHC can be financially independent and secure

Points of concern raised at the meeting:

  • Purchase of homes no longer an option for residents
  • The project now includes other uses that are wider than the AHC’s original purpose of providing homes for Indigenous Australians
  • Scale of the project – up to 6.5 storeys above ground
  • Caroline Lane reconfiguration may create secluded locations in known problem areas
  • The residential precinct, particularly on Louis and Vine streets, incorporates none of the key principles for safe healthy communities that underpin the project’s social plan
  • If you want to submit your opinion prior to the DA submission, contact Andrew Turnbull the Design Director at Scott Carver before December 6 by email to: hello@scottcarver.com.au
Source: South Sydney Herald December 2011 www.southsydneyherald.com.au