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North Eveleigh Paint Shop Sub Precinct – some ideas to consider in responding

Bruce Lay is a Architecture graduate with an interest in heritage that lives opposite the North Eveleigh site. Below are some issues that he things people should consider in making their submission. REDWatch would welcome suggestions from others who wish to share their expertise with the community.

1.    Planning is supposed to be a level playing field, the rules should not depend on land ownership and should be broadly consistent with their context. The decision maker should be impartial, not have a vested interest, and should seek a balanced judgment in the community interest. This is a major problem here as the applicant serves the land owner, the State government, it is leveraging public land for profit not for best use in the public interest. Lets call it what it is; corrupt planning. The City of Sydney is outside this loop, is an independent arbiter and should be the decision maker. This has compromised the approach to this site including the earlier documents, including the 2008 consent, which ignored the local concerns. This plan starts with the 2008 consent and essentially more than doubles it, in terms of height and density. We have been swamped with docs from different consultants, a reductionist approach with considerable redundancy. Even for a professional like me, seeking to understand confusing, perhaps deliberately so. This is not a serious consultation.

We are familiar with this game, Geoff in particular, such as with the Waterloo Masterplanning. The City went into bat to seek better outcomes in terms of urban design, the public domain and the quantum of social housing; still a poor response with a public asset.

2.    We should not accept the 2008 consent as a starting point but seek a scheme which is consistent and compatible with the context, which also seeks benefits, and minimises harm. Development consents vanish after 5 years, so should planning consents.

3.    This area is called the Tech Central Innovation District: what humbug. It is an office park with some housing, maybe 15% affordable, no social housing. It is proposed to become B4 – mixed use commercial/industrial to be changed to an employment zone in Dec 22. This is more flexibility for marketing a public asset, but much denser than the norm for the B4 zone. Contrast this with the Ashmore Estate redevelopment of industrial. And there were no heritage constraints at Ashmore.

4.    Heritage/Character

The whole of the site is important, both sides of Eveleigh had a major role in the making of the railway system in NSW and Australia, the most important composite in these terms of evident State, if not National significance. So says the many heritage assessments including the recent CMP revised this year for this application.  The current controls which pick up some of the Heritage Items is reductive and ignores the whole. The adjoining areas are all Conservation Areas with Heritage Items, embedded. This site should be the same. For example, the scheme acknowledges the fan of tracks, as a decorative theme in the public domain, nice, but the level of development over and under the heritage fabric leads to substantial erasure. There is archaeology over the whole site. They make most of discrete buildings Heritage Items. The whole should be following normal heritage practice.

TZG architects did a fine job with their addition to the Carriageworks as the fly tower for the theatre. This approach may be fine for the Paint Shop for compatible adaptive re-use. But not for the proposed elevated box for unspecified commercial use. This is not acceptable adaptive re-use of a heritage building, apart from the huge bulk looming over the whole, massively impacting on views within the complex, as well as from Wilson Street and surrounds.

Contrast this with MIRVAC’s approach on the former ATP – coherent, mostly respectful in terms of scale, long horizontal forms, disciplined geometry and character, but for an office park, not technology. The purpose has been thwarted, but the urban design is admirable. Both ends must be served. The existing character reflects the grand vision and rigour of Victorian engineering, a compelling geometric and mostly rectilinear discipline, worthy of respect and emulation. There is no sign of social purpose here except to maximise the leverage of state land. The proposed lumpy aggregation of object buildings totally lacks coherence and respect it is real estate opportunism that it is unlikely that even MIRVAC would buy. While the Platform Apartments jump the scale, it is more respectful as a punctuated brick building and provides a key for development elsewhere including the Paint Shop.

5.    The Public Domain

Wilson Street is a classic Victorian street, very fine, mostly a pattern of terrace housing two storeys but rising up to 10 m to ridge lines; broken only at the cross streets. The fall to this site, about 4m gives scope for a 3/4 storeys without violation of the scale. Introducing a huge building at Codrington is a violation: appalling to the street, but more so in closing the vista along the Carriageworks Way to Redfern, as well as clear and rational access to the Station. The proposed arcade so close to Redfern Street is a bad idea rather than continue the existing pattern. It will fail, as the itinerant cafes in the Carriageworks have failed.   

6.    Scale

It is logical on this site to step up to the southern edge, for sun as well as character, and to align higher buildings against the Line. The scale adopted by MIRVAC on the other side is appropriate to the character, as well as amenity, sun, and microclimate, not massive towers as object buildings. A continuous mid-rise form is better in urban design and microclimate terms, as well as serving as noise wall against the western line, the busiest in the city.

7.    The Numerics

The FSR and heights were a gigantic fudge with the 2008 scheme. Applying the FSR on the whole including the public domain and open space. This effectively more than doubles the potential yield. It should be applied to the nett developable land as applies to private land. Hence, the huge shift in scale and gift to treasury This is corrupt planning. No doubt this is the main purpose here. The maximum FSR cited is 2.78:1, but the actual is at twice this. The existing residential is about 1:1, hence the array of towers in a low rise precinct of heritage conservation areas with a myriad of Heritage Items; vandalism.

8.    Open Space

While there are fine parks in the district, Sydney and Victoria Park for example, this area is very deficient in terms of local walkable open space. Hollis Park the only quality park in this area, is loved to death, with frequent renewal of the grass required. North Eveleigh has become a mecca during the lockdown including the Paint Shop precinct. Keeping the fan of tracks should not preclude deep planting. A grid of trees can complement the structure and formality of the precinct and make it inviting and comfortable to use. Ballast Point Park is a good example of a former industrial site respectfully converted to parkland. The State wanted erasure, the community and Council thought otherwise.  

9.    Traffic/vehicular access

With the 2008 Plan they stuck pragmatically to the only access at the western extremity off-set with Queen Street. This is an uncontrolled and dangerous mix of cars, bikes, and pedestrians, but workable with low volumes. We hired Chris Stapleton, as a reputable traffic consultant to advise on the access. He endorsed a connection at Golden Grove including some ramping down onto the site. This was rejected as impracticable, too steep. The irony is that it now appears to be OK at Shepherd Street, the same grades.

10. The North/South connection

This has been the elephant in the room with the serial masterplans prepared to date raised by Geoff and many others – an essential pedestrian and cycle connection. It should not be vehicular. It must be delivered this time most of the planning studies including the CMP raise it as an issue to be resolved.  

11. Design Competition

The City will require a Competition for this site. It would be better to abandon this

half-baked scheme and proceed to do it now. Let us not repeat the Waterloo fiasco where the City actually arrived at a much better scheme, with its ear closer to the ground and more hands on design skills without the huge conflict of interest in terms of ownership. 

Bruce Lay