Submission on Elger etc Cowper St to Council

27 June 2011

 

 

The Chief Executive Officer

City of Sydney

GPO Box 1591

Sydney NSW 2001

 

 

Dear Sir

 

Stage 1 Development Application  D/2011/803 1 – 3 Elger Street, 2-6 Elger Street, 83 Bay Street Glebe NSW 2037

 

I refer to the notification of the abovementioned development application.

 

Recap –No Real Consultation

The Elger Street estate was built between 1953 to about 1970.  It comprises 15 walk up blocks of flats in a quiet cu de sac garden setting.  There are about 170 trees, many of them mature.  It was occupied by a stable community.  It had adequate parking.  Lifts were constructed a few years ago to service a number of the buildings.  In about April 2008, just as the lifts were being finished, Council and the Department of Housing announced they had reached an agreement to demolish and to make the land available for high rise redevelopment.  There was no consultation with the occupants of the 134 flats earmarked for demolition, nor with the surrounding occupiers nor with Glebe residents.  Part of Glebe was simply to be ripped out of the community of which it was a part and handed over to developers.

 

The GFC appears to have overtaken things and no more was heard about this proposal until about June 2010, when it landed back on the agenda with news of a $9M grant from Tanya towards a total announced cost of redevelopment of $170M.

 

A spot LEP to provide rezoning of the subject land was then drafted and considered by Council.  All Councillors with the exception of the Greens were in favour of it.  Only 400 persons were on the notification list, being persons who owned or occupied premises within 100 metres of the site.  Not one of them supported the proposal with a written submission.  Harold Park, a similar spot rezoning, had been notified right across the suburb.  In response to a complaint about inadequate community consultation,    Clover observed that it had all been decided years ago.  This seemed to be a reference to the ‘2030 Vision’[1]

 

Other comments made by Councillors included: ‘this is just the LEP,  you’ll be heard later before anything happens.’

 

Later, there was the DA for demolition, and the lament of Councillors with the exception of the Greens, was ‘our hands are tied.  This is Crown development  – Housing can do what they want.’  So why make it easy for them by approving an LEP, DCP and a DA allowing them to do exactly what they want, particularly in circumstances where Housing intends to subdivide and sell or give most of the site to others who do not share the privileges of the Crown and will be subject to the same planning controls as the rest of us.

 

In the latter stages of the debate on the DA, planning staff produced a Briefing Note (9 February 2011) which confirmed:

 

  • The existing 134 units comprised 13 studio bedsits, 14 one bedroom units, 59 2 bedroom units and 48 3 bedroom  units, that is a  total 289 bedrooms;
  • The proposed development would contain 153 social housing[2] units comprised of 125 one bedroom units and 28 2 bedroom units, equating to 184 bedrooms.
  • It was also proposed to build 90 ‘affordable’ units, that is, units which are substandard in terms of size, density, landscaping.

 

It is clear that social housing capacity is being lost (289 vs 184 bedrooms).

 

The briefing note goes on to assure readers that this is all to the good, as the proposal therefore complies with the 2030 Vision of reducing social housing dwellings in the city area, from 10.4% in 2006 to an expected proportion of 7.5% in 2030.   This is happening all over the city area, particularly in Redfern/Waterloo.  It appears that not only are Council and Housing seeking to reduce the number of dwellings occupied by welfare dependant persons, they are proposing to reduce the size of those dwellings, so that the actual numbers of welfare dependant persons housed in the city will be further reduced, probably to about 5%.  Some of those who are not provided with housing will no doubt join the ever growing throng of city homeless.  This form of social cleansing of our city cannot be supported.

 

It will be observed that the proposed social housing component of the development will be overwhelmingly 1 bedroom, rather than the existing range of studio, 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom dwellings, which are suitable for a range of occupants from single persons, single persons plus carers, to couples and small families.

 

The new small social housing units are to be built in blocks which are 6 and 10 storeys high.  There will little outdoor space, no sunlight to speak of, no drying areas, no parking.  The units will be unsuitable for a range of persons including the elderly, disabled, and children.  It has been suggested by Councillor Burgman that the proposed profile fits the demand for social housing.  But it does not.  Nearly one third of housing applicants receive parenting or carer payments, approximately 40% receive the disability support pension or Veterans Affairs pension or other benefit, and about 12% receive an age pension.  None of these persons can be expected to make do with the size and standard of accommodation afforded by this development in the long term.

 

According to Housing 80% of new applications are from single persons.  The most recent available figures from the 2008 – 2009 Annual Report do not reflect that claim  (extract annexed) and says nothing at all about the 43,000 or so persons already on the waiting list.

 

According to Housing the social housing component of this development is intended to accommodate predominantly single aged persons.  They would be the group most likely to need a second bedroom for family and other carers.

 

The strength of the Glebe community lies in the persons living here on a long term basis with connections in the community.  The Heritage Consultant’s report suggests that the estate was not held in high regard by residents.  But of course he didn’t speak to any of those persons who were forced out, some of whom had lived there since the flats were newly built.   The last of the tenants left in April 2011, 3 years after the project was announced.

 

Unlike other parts of the city there are many children from a range of ethnic backgrounds living in and round the Glebe Estate. Many residents have grown up here, been educated here, looked for job opportunities here, and established families here.

 

Other nearby suburbs appear to be increasingly occupied by city workers who probably intend to move on and move out, and persons downsizing their Sydney residences with a view to retirement.  Communities such as those in Glebe, Millers Point, and Redfern of persons who spend large portions of their lives in the same community are increasingly threatened by polices intended to drive them out.

 

Some Councillors espouse a credo of ‘social mix’.  There’s plenty of it here already, as in Redfern, Waterloo, Surry Hills and Millers Point.  These suburbs don’t need their local communities booted out and replaced by ‘workers’, whoever they may be, to achieve social mix.

 

The demolition DA was approved and work commenced in about mid April.  The workers on the site stopped work on 18 May 2011 to join residents in a protest against the project.  The windows and internal fittings of the flats have all but been removed.  The double brick walls are however in remarkably good condition with no cracks.   The electricity, water and sewerage services remain intact.  The entire development could be retrofitted and made functional again for the purpose for which it was built – the provision of decent low cost housing to a low income community.  This would cost a lot less that the further $152M which the applicant proposes to spend on the development.

 

Hands Off Glebe, a group of which I am a member, has sought to draw attention to  the issue, with leaflets and posters as well as face to face discussions, because this task has not been undertaken by Council, Housing or any of its consultants.   In  early May 2011 Council directed its contractors to remove Hands Off Glebe posters from electricity poles.  In a response to Hands off Glebe’s letter about same the Mayor admitted that Hands Off Glebe’s posters were targeted in preference to other posters in response to a complaint (letter 27/5/2011).  Members of the Hands of Glebe group can foreshadow that any political material posted by future Council candidates can expect the same treatment.

 

The LEP has not yet been gazetted.  Perhaps someone on Council should move a rescission motion.  This situation means that the present DA must be considered against the present planning controls.  If it is assessed properly it will be found to fail to comply and should be rejected.

 

The Present DA.

Councillors need to consider whether:

–          They have already made up their mind;

–          They can do nothing, their hands are tied; or

–          They are willing to genuinely listen to the community and promote its interests.

 

Unless you are prepared to do the last mentioned, you shouldn’t be in the job.

 

High Rise

High rise development is entirely unsuitable for public housing tenants, the elderly or infirm or anyone else who will be spending the majority of their time in the home environment.  Any community forced to live in such conditions will be dysfunctional.  Just ask Housing about Franklyn Street, which is a high density albeit low rise development.  Council still contributes significant sums of money in attempts to keep this development functional, 30 years after it was built.  The nearby John Byrne high rise flats on Wentworth Street were offloaded by Council in the 1980s.  They were unmanageable.

 

Solar Access

On the northern end of the complex the upper units may get some sunlight.  Those built to face internal light wells or south will get very little sunlight.    The applicant says that 73 – 96% of the units will get 2 hours of sunlight.  No prizes for guessing who will be living in units without any direct access to sunlight.  The social housing units appear to be designed to get either no sunlight or the merest occasional glimpse. 2 hours is in any event insufficient to comply with the standard, which requires a minimum of 3 hours in respect to living areas and private open space.

 

The development will also have significant shadowing impacts on all development along Queen Street to its south.   These premises will be deprived of their present levels of solar access and for some the level of solar access will be reduced to less than the 3 hours per day minimum for the project.  A couple of places will be deprived altogether of any significant solar access by this development.

 

The applicant claims to be unaware of any impact on views, but at present there is a pleasant open aspect of trees and skies looking to the north.  Many of the houses on the northern side of Queen Street are  single storey.  The visual impact of high-rise will overwhelm and dwarf adjacent development in Cowper and Queen Streets.

 

In addition to shadowing impacts, the development will result in a loss of privacy to surrounding development.  The development aims to ‘maximise casual surveillance’ but the result is intrude upon the visual and aural privacy of the mainly terrace house construction in Cowper and Queen Streets.  The intrusiveness of the development will be emphasised by the perimeter block layout and rooftop gardens.

 

Open  Space

There is virtually no open space proposed and what open space there is will be in shadow most of the time.  All the existing 170 trees are being removed.    Meanwhile Council is studying the impacts of stormwater on the Wentworth Park area.  Go figure.

 

While the applicant is unable to identify any adverse effects on air quality, it is obvious that the bulk removal of vegetation and wildlife habitat will have adverse impacts on the environment including on air quality and heat, wind & humidity control, as well as the removal of shade and visual screening.

 

Size of Units

The gross floor space of the units is 38,260.  Allowing 20% for common property including lifts, stairs, foyers, passageways and the like, the average unit size including balconies is 62m2.   It is not clear whether the car parking spaces, where provided, are additional or included in the gross floor space.   It is proposed to include 3 bedroom units in the private and affordable blocks, with the result that some of the studio and 1 bedroom units will be very small indeed.

 

Annexed is a table of project density and dwelling mix.

 

The proposed FSR is 2.4:1.  The standard for Glebe residential is 0.7:1.

 

Parking

Parking for about one third of the number of units is entirely inadequate.  Nor does it comply with the SEPP ARH.  If Council is serious about reducing use of motorised vehicles it would include a condition, to be noted on the strata plans, that occupiers do not own or use cars, other than persons who hold disability permits from the RTA.   That requirement would also serve to drive down the price and make the units more ‘affordable’.  But Council is not serious about reducing traffic or about making housing more affordable.  Its car usage policy is in this instance being used as mere window dressing to allow developers to build denser development and hang the effects on the community.

 

Transport

The transport report refers to proximity to public transport routes.  In previous submissions, this writer, and others, have advised that it is very difficult to catch public transport because most services are full, particular at peak times, by the time the services arrive.  None of the applicant’s consultants has included consideration of that matter in their reports.  Perhaps that is because the facts do not assist their application.

 

Elger Street

Extending Elger Street to Bay Street will encourage traffic into the back streets of Glebe particularly at times of frequent gridlock.

 

Landscaping

The applicant claims that over one third of the existing vegetation is weed species.  That leaves well over 100 trees, many of which are mature, which are not ‘weed species’.  These trees and other remaining vegetation should be left to continue to provide a habitat for birds and other wildlife.

 

Conclusion

This proposal will cost a fortune without providing an inch more of social housing.

 

The existing units have been stripped out but remain standing.  The appropriate alternative is to retrofit them and use them for their intended purpose of housing persons on low income.

 

The proposal should in any case be rejected as it will create intractable traffic and parking problems, substandard housing, adverse affects on the natural environment, and nearby development will be subjected to overshadowing, overlooking, and loss of aural and visual privacy.  It will also detract significantly from the existing streetscape.  There is not one reason why this development should be approved.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

 

Michele Fraser



[1] Or should that be ‘hallucination’.

[2] ‘Social housing’ seems to refer to housing for welfare dependant tenants, and will be used in this document to that effect.