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Last Chance for the historic North Eveleigh site.

The Vice Chancellor of Sydney University, Dr Michael Spence, lamented that the market value offer to purchase the North Eveligh site has not been accepted by the State government at a public forum that the University hosted on 28 April 2010, whose speakers included the City of Sydney Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore writes Guido Gouverneur in this article in May 2010.

The University revealed that it has offered to pay full commercial price for North Eveleigh and to do the necessary remediation and accommodate the Redfern Waterloo Authority’s proposed affordable housing plan and can not understand why the State Government has not accepted their offer.

At a loss to explain why, it raises questions about what the real objectives the cash strapped state government has for the site. In his address to the audience of some two hundred local residents, ex- railway workers and interest groups the vice chancellor explained that the University had made an offer based on the market value of the site, complying with the concept plan with the same dwelling density and floor space ratios that any other purchaser would be allowed to develop on the site. Dr. Spence stressed that the university had in fact used two separate and independent valuations to arrive at its offer.

Of most concern to the local residents is the impact on their lives of increased traffic density and flows that the sale of the former North Eveleigh Railway yards will bring. It is recognized that Sydney University would provide the more acceptable outcome in this regard rather than a sale to a commercial developer with consent for 1258 dwellings and approval for 1800 car parking spaces. Should the Sydney University offer be rejected what will result is a concept plan that focuses on a commercial outcome with a high density level of dwellings. Without employment opportunities within the local area, which technology based enterprises could provide, this increase of housing  density can only result in people commuting out of the area to find work, exacerbating  traffic impact through congestion, noise and pollution to the residents of Darlington  and  Newtown.

Previous concept plans and public consultation concerning the Eveleigh site has constantly reiterated the need to avoid traffic impact. South Eveleigh’s reincarnation into the Australian Technology Park and the newly opened Media City has caused enormous dissention amongst local residents whose streets are now lined with workers vehicles, their owners wanting to avoid the expensive costs of onsite parking. Clearly students are generally not well healed enough to own or use private transport and their preferred mode of travel is through use of rail, buses or bicycles. The close proximity to Redfern Station suites the sale to Sydney University from a traffic management and sustainability approach.

The connections historically with the Eveleigh Railway yards and Sydney University are strong. A former railway commissioner established the Eddy Railway Memorial Scholarship to provide funding for railway employees to achieve engineering degrees at the ‘University’. Dr. J.J.Bradfield gained his doctorate in Engineering from Sydney University and was an acclaimed engineer within the New South Wales Transport Department.  His work on the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was internationally acclaimed and took place in the Chief Mechanical Engineers Office-Nth Eveleigh. This building alone should be revered as a shrine of Australian innovation and industrial achievement, which without the connections to the University [and it must be remembered that for a considerable period there was no other university other than Sydney University in Sydney] no engineering progress would have been made in the State.

In association with Professor Dr. John Glastonbury, former Dean of Sydney University, and David Hill, then head of the State Rail Association Bicentenary Rail Company- 3801 LTD was founded in 1990, to be restored and run steam train trips from the Eveleigh site. 3801 was considered the finest pacific class steam locomotive in Australia. It was designed and built at Eveleigh and consequently restored there ready for the Bi centennial celebrations.

This association of Dr. Glastonbury with the site ultimately led in 1992 to the formation of the Australian Technology Park through his nomination of Dr Tom Forgan to the State Government to develop the ‘surplus government land’ at South Eveleigh. Using both State and Federal funding the location of the Technology Park would provide good  proximity to centers of learning in the enhancement of the commercialization of Australian  innovation and research, creating jobs in the process and build on the sites historical reputation of technological excellence.

Historically the Eveleigh site spear headed the industrialization and employment opportunities within New South Wales and indeed the development of heavy industry within Australia. At its peak in the 1950’s the North Eveliegh Carriage Works site gave employment to over 3000 men and women. This combined with 5000 workers on the Southern side of the tracks made the entire site the most important technology center with in Australia.

Sydney University, established in the 1850s, manages successfully some of the more important heritage buildings in Australia, notably the Great Hall and Quadrangle, with such demonstrable ability it would make an excellent custodian of an equally important site of Australia’s technology icons such as the Chief Mechanical Engineers Office and related buildings to be preserved as a living history heritage site. Notably within the concept plan 61 submissions raised concerns over the heritage stewardship of the site. The sale of the site should go to the buyer whom best exhibits an aptitude to guide the principles of the sites retention of the industrial architectural character through-out its redevelopment.

An increased proximity of Sydney University to the National Innovation Center at Australian Technology Park is far more in keeping with the Wran Governments Initiative of the 1980s to establish a technology corridor from Darling Harbour through to Sydney Airport, than another residential multiplex.

What does not appear to have been  factored into the sale to Sydney University, is the increased government revenue through rises in property prices and state collected stamp duty that a sympathetic redevelopment of the site will bring in the years to come. Darling Harbour renewal in the late 1980s was Australia’s largest urban renewal scheme at the time and created its own micro economic climate through government stimulus both State and Federally funded. It set unprecedented increases of property values in the local Pyrmont and Ultimo areas. Both Darling Harbor and the North Eveliegh site are relatively comparable in size - 18 hectares for the former and 10.7 hectares for North Eveleigh. 

Another outcome of the Darling Harbour development was the increase of international tourists to the Pyrmont and Ultimo area. This brought a   cultural change to the area, with greater movement of people in the streets in the evening, going to theaters and restaurants, the area became safer encouraging the local residents to embrace the new coffee culture that followed in the wake of a diverse redevelopment of the area.

Any decision on the redevelopment in North Eveliegh should take the cultural diversity into account and build on the Carriage Works theater presence to give encouragement to artistic expression as means of engaging with the local community.  Visitor attraction is not limited to cultural engagement through the arts, it also requires architectural excellence to attract visitors to an area.  The Sydney University has demonstrated a higher than average level of architectural detail in its own building program to date and would likely continue to do so in the future, providing local residents better amenity and quality of life than a commercial development. What also should be taken into account is that the University will be more susceptible to public pressure than a private developer, being a quasi public institution itself.

I recall the Sydney University faculty of Architecture in the early 1990s using the Locomotive Workshop as an urban renewal design model. Invited along by a visiting lecturer from Philadelphia University, it was exciting to see the quality of work submitted.  The point being the University is going to be more inclined to practice what it preaches.

And then there is the new ‘Media City”- the Channel Seven building on the South Eveleigh site, such blight on the eye, how much more of this we have to take! But inappropriate developments give us a ready barometer of choice.   If North Eveleigh is developed with inappropriate 12 story monstrosities, or as the ACI Meriton site has been on South Dowling Street, with pink and beige painted relics of machinery poorly displayed out in the elements, no meaningful interpretation strategy, row upon row of high rise unite blocks each with its own underground car park, packed with vehicles to be daily unleashed upon the local residents then it’s another state planning first, local residents last result.

It is not surprising the community and City of Sydney favors a cultural, heritage precinct with bicycle riding or campus accommodated future generations of higher learning students, building on the technology of the past and complimenting the existing Technology Park to the South.

The Lord Mayor of Sydney emphasized in her address to the meeting the importance of sustainable development of North Eveleigh as also sited within recommendations in the Eveleigh Concept plan. The Sydney University exhibits strong credentials and initiatives in new sustainable technologies, such as geothermal energy extraction and rain water harvesting.

The State Governments two local members Premier and Minister for The Redfern and Waterloo Authority Kristen Kennelly and Carmel Tebbut member for Marrickvile are not demonstrating any enthusiasm for this highly compatible, preferable and timely buyer for North Eveleigh and the question that is being asked is why.

- Guido Gouverneur