Residents rally to save Marrickville. Photo: Alex Davies

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By John Moyle

The government of Glad the Impaler recently suffered a crushing blow as people power drove a stake through the heart of its proposal for a Sydenham to Bankstown metro link.

The proposal would have had 13.5km of metro line replace the existing Sydenham to Bankstown railway line, and have included an initial development of around 16,000 high rise dwellings in buildings reaching up to 25 storeys.

A submission to Preferred Infrastructure on 17 July 2018 stated that one of the community’s strongest complaints was “that by converting an existing railway line, rather than building a line to suburbs that don’t currently have rail, the government is wasting an opportunity to extend Sydney’s rail network.”

The submission also criticised the 53 weeks over five years the rail line would need to be closed and that 19,000 commuters would be forced to change trains daily because of the conversion.

It has attracted further criticism for its adoption of the metro system which only had the capacity for 378 passengers per eight carriage train, as opposed to 896 seats on the current double decker carriages.

Immediately after the project’s announcement, developers swooped with proposals for an extra 25,000 dwellings along the corridor, which would wiped out entire communities.

“It’s a huge win for the Inner West, and particular credit needs to go to community groups like Save Marrickville and Save Dully (Dulwich Hill) who have been very forceful and effective and successful advocates for returning control to our community,” said Mayor Darcy Byrne of Inner West Council.

From the time the second phase of the proposal was released in 2015 a wave of community groups along the length of the corridor began grassroots actions.

“The Dulwich Hill, Hurlstone Park and Belmore (residents) were the first people to object and put in submissions, share information, and read the Environmental Impact Statements, and I went through all the responses on the Marrickville submissions,” said Heather Davie from Marrickville Residents Action Group.

Ms Davie collated the Marrickville submissions into a document which showed only five of the 255 submissions were in support – one anonymous submission stating ‘well done planning’ – while the vast majority expressed concerns about heritage, character, height and loss of community.

Complaints about the 6,000 new apartments within 800 metres of the metro line attracted 92 objections, overdevelopment 94, bulk, scale and reach 105, over shadowing 93 and loss of views 58.

“The plans looked like someone had just got a compass out and drawn circles 400 metres and 800 metres and then got out their coloured pencils and said this can be 12 storeys and this can be 15 storeys without regard as to what was there,” said Kelsie Dadd of Save Marrickville.

Lack of infrastructure for current and future populations was another major concern and attracted 76 objections, while 173 objected to the lack of schools, 102 the lack of hospitals, 154 the lack of current and future open spaces and 184 the danger of flooding.

Kelsie Dadds said “we were shocked that the plans were so dense and was putting a lot more people into the area that was already having problems with infrastructure.”

Many of the respondents objected to the poor consultation process.

“It was just a broad brush non-consultative approach that just took the community for granted, and as most of the corridor is held by Labor they just felt that they could get away with it, the same way that they got away with privatising 400 buses in this area,” Peter Olive, Sydenham to Bankstown Alliance said.

“The Government is completely out of touch with the community and they see themselves in a position of power to do what they see is right, and what they see is right is often what their developer mates want.”

The scope of development was expanded to Mirvac’s proposal for Marrickville’s Carrington Road light industrial area which currently houses a mix of over 100 local businesses supporting over 1,000 employees.

“Mirvac’s proposals for 35 storey skyscrapers would have a new justification under State planning legislation and would have likely have been forced through in one shape or another,” Cr Byrne said.

“That proposal is now confined to the dust bin of history and under the existing Marrickville Environmental Plan the site at Carrington Road is zoned for industrial usage, and I don’t see why that should change.”

“Carrington Road is not part of the Sydenham to Bankstown Urban Renewal Corridor, it stands outside of that, but is going through the Gateway process which is still problematic, despite the powers being handed back to Inner West Council,” Peter Olive said.

As Mirvac has shown interest in pursuing the Carrington Road development there may be more community action in the near future.

“It seems to me that the big thing on the horizon is the state election in March 2019 and that will determine what will happen next,” Peter Olive said.

“This victory for the community is great, however we should be aware that the State Government still gets to set density levels for the Councils, and in the lead up to the next election the Liberals are trying to make themselves a small target.”