BY JOHN MOYLE
After more than four years of struggle, the Inner West celebrated a win last week to save a stretch of light industrial land from a developer’s wrecking ball.
The disputed land at 67-73 Lords Road, Leichhardt, near Market Place, currently houses 17 businesses employing 62 full time workers, with an additional 100 employed on part-time or contract.
Describing the background for the battle with property developer Platino, Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne said “ We were fighting this at the former Leichhardt Council for years, we’ve done our analysis and have worked out that we can’t afford to loose another inch of industrial land that provides jobs and services.”
Platino, in conjunction with development planners Mecone, envisaged removing the tenants and buildings and that have serviced the area for years and gifting them with an eight-storey block housing 315 apartments.
Leichhardt Council, now part of the Inner West Council amalgamation, first resolved to not support the development in August 2014, resulting in the developer approaching the Department of Planning and Environment (DoPE), and the battle was on.
“I was away on holidays when one of my students forwarded me a letter from Council about the rezoning,” Jennifer McNamara, owner, Art Est Art School said. “As a long term tenant and having Platino as my landlord, I was concerned, so I contacted them about the project. Platino didn’t deny the development, they just played it right down.”
“It went to Council and they refused it, saying that they believed that the area was important to protect, and they then went to the Sydney Planning Panel, the so-called independent panel that the Liberals established to make decisions on these issues,” Jamie Parker, MP Balmain said.
The Planning Panel seven months ago said that it shouldn’t proceed as it would affect employment and a range of other issues. The Department of Planning then sat on it for seven months and we were outraged that a so-called independent panel can make a decision and they were trying to overturn it.”
The State Government has appointed the Joint Regional Planning Panel to oversee proposals for rezoning land from light industrial to medium density residential.
“We thought that we had been victorious last year when the Planning Panel had refused the proposal and were shocked and outraged that it became clear that the Department of Planning were seeking a back door approach,” Mayor Byrne said.
“The Department of Planning has become the consent authority of choice for developers right across Sydney, and they are skipping local councils knowing that they will get a more favourable hearing from the Department.”
Last week the combination of resident, Council and local MP action brought the development to its knees.
Inner West Council objections included the argument that the Draft Greater Sydney Region Plan and the Eastern City District Plan state that industrial land must be protected from rezoning and support creative industries.
Leichhardt has already lost six per cent of its industrial land, and the employment and services that comes with it, and will face increasing pressure in the near future from development applications already in the pipeline.
“Even in just the Inner West there are over a dozen proposals like this where developers outside of the normal planning controls have lodged applications for rezoning,” Jamie Parker said.
We know that these fights have just started, and this win demonstrates the importance of employment zones, and I predict that a lot of developers will be disappointed that the potential of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits with just a stroke of a pen won’t come because they won’t want to fight a living community.”
The Valuer General says that in 2016 industrial land in the Inner West has increased by an overall 18 per cent, while industrial real estate agents Colliers say that Sydney could run out of industrial land by 2023.
“There was a calculation done by Council that this development would have an uplift in the value of $90 million just by rezoning, so its no wonder that that developers are throwing everything at lobbying and experts to try and overturn sound decisions.”
Business diversity across the Lords Road light industrial hub ranges from the art school to a busy tae kwon-do school with over 300 students, carpentry workshop, fashion label, and a mechanic.
For Jennifer McNamara the fight was one for her very existence as a local business woman, and to remain relevant she had to stay local.
“Many of my students live locally, and Leichhardt has always been a creative hub and I think that we have contributed to the local landscape,” Ms McNamara said.
We provide a community service and it’s really important that we can run businesses like this where the services and the customers are local, and we couldn’t survive if we had to relocate elsewhere.”
The forces that have pitted residents, councils and a politician against a developer will continue to be played out across Sydney, but Lords Road proves that community that fights can win.
“We have a proud record in the Inner West of taking on governments that make a bad decision and in this instance praise has to go to the local residents and businesses that planned and fought the campaign,” Mayor Byrne said.
Jamie Parker says there is more pressure from developers to come and “Residents have to remain vigilant and they need to engage and participate as an active community is a well-protected community.
While developers always hope for a quick profit, they can be slow to get the message.
As the City Hub went to press, project planners Mecone still lists Lords Road on their website as a project in progress.