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Redfern is ‘the new Stalingrad’

Locals are calling it ‘Stalingrad’ – the concept plan now approved by the Department of Planning to drive the development of the old Eveleigh railyards along Wilson Street between Redfern and Newtown reports Michael Gormly in City News of 19 February 2009.

“Stalinesque”, say the critics: the concept plan for Eveleigh Railyards showing tall close-set build

The concept plan shows rows of tower blocks lined up along the narrow 1km site, all facing east-west, stepping from 16-storeys near Redfern Station down to eight storeys at the western end. The shadow diagram pictured shows how much they will overshadow each other at 9am in winter, creating “appalling internal amenity”.

Most views will reveal only close-ups of the next block in the row, a paradise for curtain-twitchers, voyeurs and exhibitionists. Other residents will presumably keep their blinds drawn on the cold southerly winds whistling unobstructed between the buildings.

However the development will also create 6,500 jobs and 1,200 homes (including a 12 per cent quota of affordable housing) plus five new parks, and fund an upgrade of Redfern station, says Planning Minister Kristina Keneally.

Dwellings along Wilson Street would be limited to three storeys to complement the two-storey Victorian Terraces opposite and several heritage buildings would be preserved for adaptive re-use.

But there is plenty of downside, too. Because the site is bordered on one side by the western rail line, all vehicles using the 1800 parking spaces will have to funnel through two entrances onto Wilson Street, known as Newtown’s ‘bike highway’. From there they have to negotiate a maze of suburban streets to reach main traffic arteries, the closest being King Street Newtown or Cleveland Street which are already congested.

The concept plan was put together by the Redfern Waterloo Authority (RWA). Wilson Street resident Bruce Lay says approval of the plan was just a rubber stamp as the Planning Department simply checked off criteria designed by the very same RWA.

“In spite of some 200 submissions from the community, the adopted Masterplan is virtually the same as originally submitted,” said Mr Lay. “The Department of Planning’s report regurgitates virtually the whole of the RWA’s Preferred Project Report, unchanged. It is not an independent and rigorous assessment; Councils do a much better job.”

There would be only 3–4m2 of open space per resident, while the norm in the inner city is 10m2.

Mr Lay, who is an architect and heritage consultant, claims the high-rise plan will create expensive but poor housing, discouraging developers from offering much money for the site.

The distance from the CBD would also suppress returns on the 47,880m2 of commercial space planned for the eastern end of the site. “The nearby former TNT towers have a high turnover of low-rent tenants (including the RWA),” he said.

The concept plan is only a guide to potential developers. The developer would produce detailed building designs and submit them for Approval, allowing departure from the concept plan.