BY ANNA FREELAND
The Inner West Council has forfeited their right to act as the Relevant Planning Authority (RPA) for the proposed rezoning of a Lilyfield industrial site after failing to meet the deadline set by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE).
A Rezoning Review of the site, located opposite Callan Park on Balmain Rd, was requested by the owners The Roche Group to allow the construction of 142 residential apartments, up to six storeys high.
The request was sent to the Sydney Eastern City Planning Panel in October who recommended that the proposal proceed to DPE’s ‘Gateway’ process.
In accordance with this process, the panel invited Council to be the RPA, which is the body that negotiates on behalf of the community and contributes to the final design and development standards.
According to notes from the November Council meeting, the invitation was received on 16 October and Council was given 42 days to reply. While they intended to accept, the matter was one of 12 agenda items unresolved during the meeting and they subsequently missed the deadline.
Greens MP and Member for Balmain Jamie Parker said, “This is an embarrassing mistake.
“It’s an enormous let down for the community and residents are rightly furious because of the incompetent way they run their meeting process,” he said. “The council has to be more competent when it comes to prioritising these issues.”
Mr Parker, formerly the Mayor of Leichhardt, said while it is a newly amalgamated council and teething issues are to be expected, “There should not be mistakes like this.
“It begs the question: what else is going wrong?”
In a video posted to Facebook last week, Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne blamed the loss of the Council’s planning consent on Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Greater Sydney Chief Commissioner Lucy Turnball, saying they directly ‘intervened’ to fast-track development.
A media release published on Monday also claimed the government had ‘bypassed’ Council and that the DPE would proceed without community consultation.
The Mayor was quoted in the release as saying, “[Developers] no longer have to go through the process of dealing with Council – they can pretend to, and then they go to Lucy Turnbull’s Greater Sydney Commission, and the State Government’s Department of Planning, who will process their application, and ignore the views of the inner west.”
A spokesperson for the DPE rejected the claim and said, “The Premier and Lucy Turnbull have absolutely not intervened in this decision.”
A spokesperson for the Greater Sydney Commission also confirmed that they were not involved.
“The Planning Panels are independent of government and are not under the direction or control of the Department of Planning and Environment or the Greater Sydney Commission,” the DPE spokesperson said. “Council was offered the role to take the proposal forward but declined the offer.”
The Council was contacted for further comment but declined.
“The Council will always be requested to be the RPA,” said Mr Parker. “It’s ridiculous to suggest that there’s some huge attempt by the state government to take over planning.
“I’m incredibly critical of the state government and their planning processes but, on this matter, it’s the council that’s made the mistake and they should own up to it and apologise,” he said.
According to the DPE website, Planning Panels are well within their rights to self-appoint as the RPA if, following a rezoning review, if the council does not take up the responsibility.
Currently home to several businesses and artist studios, rezoning of the 6,000sqm site from ‘Light Industrial’ to ‘Mixed Use’ will now be determined by the DPE with input from the Planning Panel who will prepare the report and conduct community consultation.
Mr Parker said, ‘The Council can make a submission but they will now take a backseat.
“They will be just like any other stakeholder because they sat having a meeting for hours and didn’t get to one of the most important planning issues in the community.”
Felicia Finlayson, an artist from One + 2 Art Studios at the site, said, “You would think this would be a very important thing to put at the top of the Council agenda.
“I was quite disappointed with the Mayor. The video caused quite a panic, especially for residents who thought they’d been taken out of the planning process when, really, the state government had taken the correct pathway,” she said.
Ms Finlayson says the Council has failed the community and is now concerned about what will happen to the 50+ working artists who rent the space.
“There are places all over the inner west, such as this one, that artists are using, that are being quickly rezoned for residential development. Soon, they will have nowhere to go,” she said.
Ms Finlayson says more consideration needs to be given to developing creative spaces as part of community planning.
“While there is investment in the major arts organisations, there are very few spaces for emerging artists to practice,” she said.
Fellow artist and advocate, Christine Webb, said, “One of the unfortunate things that is accepted in Sydney is that people can buy up industrial sites with a view, not to continue the industrial work there but, to file an application for development.
“As a normal part of capital development, the small people, like us, aren’t considered. It’s just really wrong,” she said. “What we have here is something precious that’s grown over time and can’t be created.”
A spokesperson for the DPE said, “Any potential relocation of the existing artists’ co-op is not a matter for the Department.”
However, they did confirm that the proposal will be publicly exhibited early next year and community feedback will be sought before any decision is made.
“The site across at Callan Park where the art school is will be vacant next year and would be a perfect location for a creative hub for the inner west,” said Ms Finlayson. “That’s what I’ll be lobbying the NSW government to consider when they’re looking at the redevelopment of our current site.”