BY ALEC SMART
A scaled-down Sydenham Creative Hub, a proposed arts and live music zone close to Sydenham Station in the inner-west, has been voted on and accepted by the Inner West Council after it threatened to divide the fractious chamber.
The Inner West Council (IWC) has clashed on several divisive issues since three constituencies, Ashfield, Leichardt and Marrickville, were forcibly amalgamated by the NSW Government and rubber stamped by public elections in September 2017.
Not least of these was the decision by Mayor Darcy Byrne, one of Labour’s five elected councillors, to side with the Liberal Party’s sole candidate, Julie Passas, granting her the Deputy Mayor’s role, and thus bypass The Greens, which also hold five seats on the new council.
That division between the two dominant entities on the IWC continues to cause friction when voting on development proposals or resolving community issues.
Latterly, the Sydenham Creative Zone, which in its original proposal envisioned “expanding creative industries, and adding food, drink and live music venues to the mix,” (IWC press release October 2016), raised concerns for the sustainability of existing industry and jobs in the 20 hectare site.
Advocating for the zone, the interim Administrator of the newly-amalgamated IWC, Richard Pearson, announced in October 2016, “Because this will never be a traditional housing area, it means making a bit of noise at night is not an issue. You won’t get the usual tensions between nightlife venues and neighbours who just want a nice, quiet neighbourhood.”
However, several factories within the designated area expressed concerns that their businesses would flounder.
Independent councillor Pauline Lockie revealed that the “Inner West Council recently received a damning report into the economic impact of the current proposal from SGS Economics and Planning, and the first recommendation was that we shouldn’t introduce any additional uses into most of the proposed Sydenham Creative Hub area, as this would place the existing industrial uses under threat.”
At the centre of the dispute is a chicken processing plant, M&J Chickens, which employs around 130 people and processes over 14,000 chickens every day. The chicken processors feared that rents would increase and the mixed use of the zone – trucks making deliveries and forklifts operating in an area where youth would congregate for entertainment – would create conflicts of interest. They resisted the proposals and said their operation would ultimately be driven from the area
“I think their heart’s in the right place, but you’ve got people invested here,” Michael Trigona, chief operations officer of M&J Chickens, told the Daily Telegraph in December last year.
Mayor Byrne, annoyed that the 20-hectare development proposal was significantly scaled down in the February 13 vote, posted on his Facebook page, “We lost a battle against the fun police but musicians and music lovers will win the war.”
In a public letter reprinted in Mixmag music magazine, Byrne decried, “”The factory has exactly nothing at all to fear from allowing arts and music activity nearby but as a wealthy property owner has lobbied to have the plan rejected.
“I can’t believe the Greens are actually now on the side of the mass chicken factory farming industry over live music. The Greens on the former Marrickville Council unanimously supported the plan and worked with us to create this project. I just can’t understand why these new Councillors have abandoned the musicians and artists of the Inner West.”
Independent Councillor Pauline Lockie countered, telling City Hub, “The original proposal has been scaled back to introduce additional uses across the entire 20ha site, to the 2ha area that runs between Sydenham station and Marrickville town centre.
“Additional uses have also been restricted to cafes, restaurants and small bars (which Labor was also proposing as part of their modified amendments).
When the IWC initially voted in December 2017 to scale back the project, cemented on February 13 this year, 36 high-profile musicians, promoters and creative professionals published an open letter supporting the original plans, stating, “It is very disappointing to hear that the new Inner West Council voted in December to severely restrict the land proposed for the Creative Hub. This would result in one of Sydney’s most promising opportunities to establish new creative spaces essentially abandoned by the newly elected Council.”
Pauline Lockie explained, “This revised proposal is in line with the findings of the independent economic analysis, the recommendations made by Council staff, and the concerns local businesses in the area have been raising for years. I think it’s the right way to balance encouraging new creative businesses to this part of Marrickville, without endangering the hundreds of industrial and creative businesses that are already thriving there.
“So while Labor is complaining that every other Councillor is unwilling to compromise and revise the Sydenham Creative Hub proposal to make it work, the reality is this is exactly what we’re doing. It’s not the Sydenham Creative Hub proposal Labor wants, but it’s the one supported by the evidence.”