BY JOHN MOYLE
On an ordinary Thursday in April a group of disparate community organisations from across Sydney came together under the Tree of Knowledge in Sydney’s Domain to launch the Save Sydney Coalition.
From the lower Blue Mountains, to Canterbury and out to the leafy suburbs in the north and northwest, they are uniting against what they say is the unprecedented scale of over development across the Great Sydney Basin and the lack of transparency of the Liberal National Government.
“Save Sydney Coalition is a group of community based organisations and individuals throughout the Sydney metropolitan area that have formed as a result of over development across Sydney and we are requesting a seat at the table with the Government in regards to future development,” Barbara Coorey, co-convenor, save Sydney Coalition said.
The group includes members from the Sydenham Bankstown Alliance, Save Marrickville, Canterbury Close Streets, Keep Our Area Suburban, Save Rose Bay, Rozelle Against WestConnex, Community Action for Windsor Bridge and the Residents Infrastructure and Planning Alliance, an alliance of 16 community groups in the north and north west of Sydney.
“There is a groundswell of protest happening across Sydney against the tsunami of overdevelopment,” Mark Gould, videographer said.
Actor and activist Michael Caton, best known for his roles as The Castle’s Darryl Kerrigan and in his long term efforts to save Bondi Pavilion does not have his view of the new group clouded by idealism.
“At the first meeting I warned them that they are going to have to coalesce and put some of the things that they have worked for on the back-burner and go for the big picture,” Michael Caton said.
“It’s not going to be easy but I think it is worth the attempt.”
In January 2018 the Australian Bureau of Statistics published figures showing a 30.6 per cent rise in apartment approvals for November 2017, bringing a total of 21,055 new dwellings in total for that month.
“We want development to be sustainable with infrastructure and the character of the area must be maintained and the Government is not ticking off any of those boxes at all,” Barbara Coorey said.
Over development of apartments has already impacted in Green Square, an area taking in Waterloo, Zetland and parts of Alexandria and Rosebery that is set to Australia’s most densely populated part of Australia by 2030 when it will have 22,000 people per square kilometre.
The whole Green Square area is expected to have more than 61,000 within 12 years, but is already experiencing infrastructure problems with an overcrowded rail station, little in the way of public amenities, schools, medical centres and with the exception of the Zetland Hotel, no pubs.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said that residents were experiencing daily the “looming disaster” of the public transport system.
With WestConnex’s true cost blowing out to around $45.3 billion from a projected $28.5 billion, the cost blowouts on the light rail and the debacle surrounding the rail system it is unlikely that any government will be able to find the money to fast track any further infrastructure to the area.
“In local government there is no register of lobbyists and now you are seeing such as level of development that you haven’t seen since the Second World War and residents have a right to know who is a lobbyist in their area,” Barbara Coorey said.
For year many of these community groups have worked quietly in their local areas, often with remarkable results.
Recent actions in the Windsor area have seen 6,000 objections against one proposal, 600 people turn up to object to stop 240 hectares of land being destroyed for housing and have maintained a five-year picket against the development of Thompson Square, a Guinness Book record.
In Kings Cross 540 written objections and 12,350 change.org signatures halted a development and provides a strong base for future objections.
But with a government that does not listen and is opaque in its behaviour, the mood across Sydney is changing from social media and petitions to the realisation that the community has to be seen to be heard.
“I have never seen Sydneysiders so fed up and civil disobedience is the only recourse that we have left,” Peter Hehir, convenor, Rozelle Against WestConnex said.
“We want to get People Power back onto the streets,” Barbara Coorey said
Save Sydney Coalition intends to start uniting their members through meetings and disseminate the information through social media, with the hope that people will eventually overcome their apathy and comfort and make themselves visible.
“The problem is that people are living in fear and that is palpable, but I have never seen Sydneysiders so fed up and civil disobedience is the only recourse we have left,” Peter Hehir said.
It’s going to take a big effort to unite even some of the 150 groups in the Greater Sydney Basin, but if this can be achieved the outcomes can be enormous.