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REDWatch Submission on Sydney Uni "Campus Improvement Program"

This is the text of the REDWatch submision on Sydney University's Campus Improvement Program (CIP) of April 2014.

Re: Campus Improvement Program (CIP) State Significant Development (SSD 13_6123) Environmental Impact Statement.


REDWatch welcomes the opportunity to make some brief belated comments on Sydney University's Campus Improvement Program (CIP). REDWatch wishes to raise a number of concerns and objections we wish to see the University and Planning and Infrastructure (P&I) address.

DGR’s Consultation requirements

REDWatch has already written to the P&I Director-General raising our concerns that Sydney University did not comply with the Director-General's Requirements (DGRs) for this project in relation to community engagement (this correspondence can be viewed at REDWatch - Planning & Infrastructure Correspondence on Sydney Uni Consultation). We have attached our correspondence on this issue rather than repeat it here.

The DGRs specifically required the University to consult with REDWatch, RAIDD and other community groups in the preparation of the CIP. As Sydney University did not comply with this DGR, REDWatch was unable to access information about the CIP until it went on its initial 28 day exhibition.

The timing of the exhibition coincided with REDWatch volunteers also working on other important issues in our region which resulted in REDWatch being unable to do a quick assessment of such a large the proposal and to organise a community information meeting. The timing was also such that the South Sydney Herald was unable to run any analysis of the proposal until after the initial exhibition had ended. The University’s agreement to voluntarily extend the exhibition, while welcomed, was not a substitute for providing adequate time for the community groups and the broader community to understand the proposal.

The Director General has advised REDWatch that P&I will “exhibit the University's Response to Submissions report when received, along with the EIS, and invite further public submissions at this time. Following this further exhibition period, the agency may request a further Response to submissions report from the University to address any potential additional issues raised”.

While REDWatch objects to the University’s failure to consult as required and believes the community has been disadvantaged by the University’s non-compliance, REDWatch welcomes the response by P&I to the University’s failure to comply with the DGRs. The P&I response enables REDWatch and the broader community to comment on the University’s responses to people’s initial concerns as would have been the case had the University earlier complied with the DGRs.

Given the University’s failure to respond the P&I consultation requirements, REDWatch requests that Sydney University provide written undertakings and/or P&I’s approval of the CIP include conditions to ensure Sydney University consults on an ongoing basis with REDWatch, RAIDD, and the surrounding community regarding future development proposals on the University and the subsequent stages of the CIP. The University's failure to consult on the CIP requires both this condition and P&I to check the University’s compliance with it.

REDWatch is of the view that the CIP proposals will have significant impact on the Darlington community and that currently details of the proposal are not adequately understood in the community. Early engagement is crucial on large and complex projects where there is a large volume of the material to be read, digested and appropriately responded to, as was the case with the CIP. REDWatch wants to ensure community understanding of the proposals at the CIP stage so that as far as possible any issues can be identified and addressed as early as possible.

Community Principles

REDWatch is of the view that some basic community principles should inform the CIP. In previous discussions with the University, residents have put to the University that its developments should be designed so as to minimise their impact on the surrounding community. The impacts that are to be minimised should include traffic generating activities and uses that may impact adversely on the adjoining residential community. High impact developments should be within the main body of the University and well away from the surrounding residential areas.

For example the community objected strongly to the decision by the University to relocate some sporting facilities from the middle of campus to immediately adjacent to the residential area in Darlington. This move has increased traffic and other impacts on the local community which should have been retained within the campus.

REDWatch submits that the CIP should aim to “do no harm” to the surrounding community and that minimising the impact of the University on the surrounding residential neighbourhood should be a central principle of the CIP.

The University should develop in such a way as to address its existing impacts on the surrounding community. REDWatch submits that the University should also seek in its CIP to add benefit to the surrounding community. For example the suburb of Darlington, which was largely subsumed by the University in the 1970s, has little open space. The University’s CIP should as a consequence explore how University facilities and open space might be managed to provide greater access and use by the surrounding community who currently have one small over used park and a pocket park in poor condition.

The University should also explore how it can break down the barriers, both physical and perceived, between the University and the community. It has previously been suggested to the University that the University could host some community activities within the University.

It should be remembered that the surrounding community has been impacted by the University historically and that it is impacted on an ongoing basis by the pedestrian and motor-vehicle traffic generated by the University. A greater opening up of University facilities to the surrounding community would be a small gesture by the University but significant or the community. Charles Kernan Reserve is for example a small park seeking to provide for a range of uses in a small area that could easily be complimented by similar community facilities within the University.

As community uses tend to be counter cyclical to University uses, greater use the universities domain also improve security on University by increasing activity and putting more eyes on the street.

Had REDWatch been engaged by the University early in this process we would have encouraged the University to talk with the community about their interactions with the University. We would have encouraged the University to have included in the CIP a section dealing with issues from the community perspective and to include such a community / social interaction aspect into the CIP. Even though the University has formed its proposal without this discussion, REDWatch believe this is still an important element that needs to be incorporated.

REDWatch hence requests the University consult the community about what community issues surrounding residents would like to see addressed in the CIP. We recognise that this is more difficult now that the University has formed its proposal however we encourage the University to incorporate such an element into their modified CIP. We have mentioned a couple of these below.

Making the University more permeable to Community Pedestrian Movements

REDWatch is concerned that the campus improvement plan does not pay sufficient attention to community movements through the campus. The Sydney University campus provides a major barrier to the community when it wishes to move to locations beyond the University. One example of this is the Darlington community wishing to move to the swimming pool and open space in Victoria Park. Similar movement patterns from Darlington include desire lines to Carillon Avenue Royal Prince Alfred hospital. To make these trips from Darlington community members have to either move through the University in a non-direct route or move around the outside of the University.

Involvement of the community as envisaged by the DGR would have allowed some of these issues to have been raised early in the preparation of the CIP. REDWatch hence submits that the University should take into account the community desire lines in planning for the future of the University. The amended CIP should recognise these desire lines and seek to accommodate them in the long term University planning.

Redfern Station & Mitigating pedestrian impacts

The CIP recognises that a large number of students and staff move from Redfern station to University each day. In January 2014 the NSW Transport Minister said 50,000 people passed through Redfern station each day. The CIP proposes a 21% increase in students and staff using Redfern station by 2020. Redfern Station itself and the pedestrian route via Lawson Street is unable to deal with the existing patronage let alone the significant increase proposed.

The CIP Access strategy recognises problems at Redfern Station and on the pedestrian route to the University but is unable to suggest any solution as it is outside their ambit so it by and large acknowledges them, then ignores them and proposes greater density and numbers going through already stretched infrastructure.

REDWatch is of the view that in line with the P&I promises of infrastructure support for growth, P&I needs to address the problems at Redfern station and the associated pedestrian issues prior to allowing any further growth at the University and in the surrounding area.

As the area covered by the CIP falls within the draft Metro Strategy Sydney Education and Health Precinct, REDWatch submits that development such as this needs to be accompanied by Government commitment to the public infrastructure required to support the development.

An expansion in the University’s floor space cannot be supported by REDWatch unless the government commits to addressing the issues at Redfern station and its associated pedestrian issues prior to the floor space being delivered at the University. Without this infrastructure REDWatch must oppose the CIP proposal.

The Government should not continue to approve floorspace for an area when infrastructure cannot support that growth.  REDWatch would support an initiative from P&I to bring together the necessary government agencies to address existing pedestrian issues. REDWatch would also welcome P&I announcing the fast tracking the upgrade of Redfern station as infrastructure required to support Sydney University’s proposed growth.

Minimising traffic impacts

The Darlington suburb is bordered on one side by the rail corridor and on the other by arterial roads. Traffic enters and leaves the area by a limited range of routes and minimising traffic in the area is a key community concern. The CIP proposes removing motor vehicles from the bulk of the campus and using car parks around the periphery. While REDWatch generally supports this proposal REDWatch submits that it must be done without directing additional traffic into surrounding residential areas. As a result the proposed new car parks in the Darlington precinct must include mechanisms that channel traffic onto arterial roads away from the Darlington residential area. The revised CIP and final P&I consents should provide an undertaking that exits and entrances to these car parks will funnel traffic to the arterial roads.

REDWatch notes that the CIP recognises there will be an increased traffic in Darlington precinct as a result of the new parking stations but this impact is not quantified in the CIP papers as far as we can see. The CIP takes the view that this increase in traffic is not significant given surrounding traffic volumes. While this may be so for the arterial road end of streets like Butlin, it is not the case for the land locked residential ends. Apart from the east west exits of Lawson and Wilson Streets the main access to arterial roads is past or through parts of the University to arterial roads.

A 21% increase in students and staff will also increase the number of people looking for parking. While the University already has a high public transport use rate, the CIP identifies that more needs to be done in this area and green travel plans for staff are one way that this can be achieved. The CIP should include an undertaking by the University to prepare a Sustainable Transport Strategy and Workplace Travel Plan similar to that introduced by Optus at Macquarie Park to be promoted to University staff and students.

As REDWatch has already noted, Redfern station is not an easy access station and that people with a physical disability or impairment cannot easily access the University by this means of public transport. This, plus growing congestion at Redfern station and on the pedestrian route to the University provides a disincentive for public transport use that needs to be addressed by P&I if this density increase the University is to be permitted.

REDWatch supports initiatives to make short-term parking with in the University's car parks a more affordable option and thus remove parking pressure from students on the surrounding residential areas. REDWatch is however concerned with the proposal to increase full day rates as this may increase pressure on limited community parking around University. The University needs to work with the community around parking impacts and needs to monitor the impact on the surrounding community of all changes to pricing within its car parks. If car parks continue to have a significant vacancies while surrounding residential streets are under pressure from student parking then the University must address this disconnect.

Student accommodation

REDWatch acknowledges the need for student housing in proximity to the University. REDWatch is also aware of some of the disruption caused by students on the surrounding community which needs to be minimised in the University’s proposal. REDWatch is concerned that the CIP deals with sites one by one but does not provide a section on student housing or any social impact assessment of how such a large influx into Darlington or on the University will be managed. Apart from rooms what facilities will be provided to cater for such a large student population?

The CIP proposes 3200 student places be added to the Darlington precinct, however the CIP does not even specify precisely where the students will be located. The University’s response to submissions, or modified CIP, needs to detail where it proposes student housing to be located and how this substantial increase will be serviced by the University.

P&I should not provide a blanket approval for student accommodation as an acceptable use across the University as a location relative to existing residential areas needs to be a key consideration.

While Mandelbaum House, with its small number of students, has a good relationship with surrounding residents and it still creates issues for surrounding residents from time to time. The CIP needs to make a more detailed assessment of the impact of student housing and buffers required to minimise its impacts on surrounding community. Sydney University will need to have in place mechanisms for dealing with antisocial behaviour that may affect surrounding residents. These are not evident in the CIP.

In the recent Central Park development in Chippendale there have been clashes between new residents (including students) and the surrounding community about the use of the park within the development. The University will need to make it clear to students that Cadigal Green is not their private space to avoid similar problems if surrounding residents are to have access to this even shorter-supply green space.

The draft CIP proposes student housing on the old University Regiment precinct. This student housing is immediately opposite the public housing between Forbes and Golden Grove Streets. This is not a desirable outcome and is especially problematic as the proposed student housing overshadows the public housing. REDWatch cannot support this location for student housing. As stated earlier, any developments which are likely to have a negative impact on the surrounding residential community should not be placed on the edge of the university adjacent to residential areas.

Protection of Darlington Street private residents

Over several decades the University has gobbled up much of the Darlington residential area. One of the few remaining features of the old residential area is the Darlington Street terraces. Currently the University does not own a number of these terraces and it is incumbent upon the University and P&I to ensure that development in proximity to these privately owned terraces do not deprive them of their amenity. The proposal for three-storey student housing to the boundary of private residences is opposed due to overshadowing and loss of residential amenity.

Heritage concerns

REDWatch also objects to three-storey student housing development in the backyards of the Darlington Street terraces as it degrades their heritage value especially as the plans show some encroachment on the rear of some terraces.

At this stage REDWatch objects to all CIP proposals that impact on heritage buildings. Prior to the CIP exhibition the University should have finalised its Grounds Conservation Management Plan and had it approved by the Heritage Office.

Currently heritage buildings on the Sydney University campus are not independently identified, assessed and protected. This must happen before any proposal to redevelop heritage buildings is approved and this should have been done before exhibition.

As it stands, in the absence of an approved assessment by the Heritage Office, REDWatch cannot support redevelopment of heritage buildings on the basis of the university’s own self-assessment of their heritage significance.

For example, REDWatch is unable to assess the real significance of the Blackburn Building which is proposed to be demolished. While we recognise that this building has split levels and this causes difficultly with refurbishment we are unable to trust self-assessment that this building can be removed in the absence of Heritage Office approval of the assessment.

REDWatch and submits that the CIP should not be re-exhibited until such time as the Heritage Office and the University have reached agreement on the heritage significance of buildings on the University campus. At this time the amended Grounds Conservation Management Plan (CMP) should be publically released with the University’s revised CIP.

The preparation of a CMP at a time when certain heritage buildings are proposed to be redeveloped raises conflicts of interest that need to be addressed before any final approval is given.

Pressure on Darlington Campus

REDWatch is concerned that the bulk of the development in the CIP is to take place on the Darlington Campus. This increase will put additional pressure on the surrounding residential area and the routes through Darlington to the University.

While REDWatch welcomes density being placed along City Road we are concerned about the large building proposed near the main pedestrian entrance to the University. It is our view that the height and bulk of this building is excessive given its proximity to the surrounding residential area. This building will have the ability to directly overlook surrounding residential properties. REDWatch objects to the scale of the new Multidiscipline Teaching and Research building proposed for this location and requests that this building be scaled back to a size consistent with other buildings currently in this precinct.

The Shepherd Street site

REDWatch is aware of the local concern about the proposed replacement of the existing trees along Shepherd Street with a new development. This grove of trees we have been advised by locals, was planted at the request of residents following an article about the problem in “Neighbourhood Witch” to soften the interface between the University and the surrounding community. REDWatch is concerned that this softening is to be replaced by a new building directly abutting the residential precinct. REDWatch submits that the CIP should look at softening the edge of the University along Shepherd Street and increasing permeability rather than placing a new building where the grove of trees currently stand.

As far as possible access to the University site should be via the arterial road system and in the case of Shepherd Street it should be via the first gate from Cleveland Street. University traffic should be actively discouraged from continuing along Shepherd Street and especially as far as the high pedestrian boardwalk entrance on Shepherd Street.

REDWatch notes that the University considers Shepherd Street as one of its gateways for drop-off and pickup points and REDWatch does not consider this to be appropriate.

Servicing Strategy

REDWatch has concerns about University’s servicing strategy in Shepherd Street as this service centre is across the road from residential buildings. The CIP proposal removes the capacity for trucks to enter the University at this point potentially placing the vehicles waiting to access the distribution centre in a narrow street in proximity to the main pedestrian entrance to the University.

Further, figure 43 shows the campus service route running almost the length of Shepherd Street to enter the University. The service centre is near the major pedestrian entrance to the University from Redfern station and concentration of deliveries in this area and increased University use of Shepherd Street in general is problematic.

REDWatch submits that the service centre proposed for this area be located inside the university grounds somewhere along the service route indicated.

As indicated above in REDWatch’s community design principles the University should seek to minimise its impact on the surrounding residential community and streets.

Shepherd Street is a narrow problematic inner-city street which contains the main pedestrian entrance to the University from Redfern Station it is not a suitable location for deliveries to and distribution around the University.

University undertaking to only use 85% of Building Envelopes

REDWatch notes that the University has prepared its CIP on the basis that only 85% of the building envelope shown will be used. REDWatch is concerned that unless this is made concrete in the approval the University's 85% undertaking is likely to be breached.

REDWatch hence submits that the University should provide a written undertaking to only use 85% of each envelope in its modified CIP and that P&I should specify a maximum of 85% utilisation of the envelopes for each building in any approval. The transfer of floor space between building sites should require separate approval.

Given the well accepted experience with in the building industry of envelope creep, REDWatch submits that the University’s undertaking to only utilise 85% of the illustrated envelopes must be reflected in any final approval. There is a need for certainty about what is being approved.

In general terms REDWatch is of the view that strategic planning and master planning should reflect the maximum envelopes likely for a site. This is important if the surrounding community is to have faith in their involvement in the early preparation of plans. The established practice of increasing floor space at subsequent stages in the planning process undermines community confidence in the master planning process.

REDWatch submits to the University that if it moves to increase envelopes above its 85% undertaking in the Draft CIP that such a move would further undermine community trust in the University and the undertakings that it makes.


In summary REDWatch submits that:

  • The CIP should not be approved unless P&I can get the Government to address the infrastructure deficiencies at Redfern Station and on the pedestrian route between the Station and the University.
  • The University needs to do additional work concerning the impact of its student housing and limiting traffic impacts on Darlington before producing its response.
  • The University needs to include in its CIP elements that reflect community perspectives on how the surrounding community interact or wish to interact with the University.
  • The University needs to negotiate the Grounds CMP with the Heritage Office in dialogue with Heritage bodies like the National Trust and bring back to the community an agreed Heritage Assessment of the University’s heritage assets that can be used by the community to assess the heritage impact of the University’s CIP.
  • The University needs to consider and adequately respond to a range of other concerns raised about their initial CIP by REDWatch and other in the extended community consultation.

In line with the undertakings of the Planning and Infrastructure Director General, REDWatch looks forward to the University’s response to the issues raised and to being able to make further comments on the University’s responses and revised CIP at that time.

In the meantime we encourage the University to undertake further dialogue with the community about how the CIP can be modified to meet both University and community aspirations for the future.

REDWatch have not made any political donations.

Yours Faithfully,

Geoffrey Turnbull                                                                     

REDWatch Spokesperson

For and on behalf of REDWatch Inc

c/- PO Box 1567

Strawberry Hills NSW 2012                                            

Ph Wk: (02) 9318 0824