James Cook Building at Waterloo. Photo: Supplied

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BY JOHN MOYLE

The re-imaging of the Waterloo Estate is the largest social engineering experiment ever undertaken by the State of NSW in Sydney’s inner city area.
It will also be one of the biggest real estate ker-chings into State coffers since the development and sell-off of Darling Harbour in the mid-eighties.

The undertaking by Family and Community Services (FACS), along with the Land and Housing Corporation, to redevelop the 19ha public housing estate is so large and audacious that City Hub is devoting a two-part story to the $22bn development to determine where the project is at the moment, and where it might be going in the future.
We will examine the development process of the State Significant Project as it is playing out and examine the social impacts of such a large-scale project on a tight knit and socially diverse community.

The development project calls for the demolition of the current high and low-rise public housing buildings on the estate and replace these with a mix of 70 per cent private and 30 per cent public residential units. “The State Government say they will maintain the current number of social housing units, but I would like to see that number increased,” Lord Mayor, Clover Moore said,

The developers for Family and Community Services, UrbanGrowth NSW, plan to provide 7,000 new dwellings, i.e. units, community facilities and retail and work spaces on the estate.
Taking these figures the proposed residential density will be around 700 people per hectare, or 70,000 people per square kilometre.
Pyrmont, currently Australia’s densest area, has 14,000 people per square kilometre, while New York and Paris have very few areas of this density, and London and Singapore have none.

The current estate was built in the early seventies and is made up of six main high-rise tower blocks named after Captain James Cook and people and places associated with him, and a large number of smaller buildings, including two and three story walk-ups.
Each of the six large tower blocks house around 200 people.

“The redevelopment of Waterloo will be completed in stages over the next 15-20 years and will bring social benefits to the area such as new and improved services, shops, community facilities, job opportunities and a new Metro station,” a FACS spokesperson said.

“There are 2,632 people on the books living here,” said Richard Weeks, founder and chairman, Waterloo Public Housing Action Group (WPHAG), “2012 units all up, half the residents are over 60, and one-third of them have lived here for more than 10 years.”

Ten per cent of the estate residents are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.
Established in 2015, WPHAG is the on-site residents’ action group that has fought many public housing tenants battles.
Waterloo Estate’s long term residents will remember that the rumbles of re-development came all the way back in 2004 when the Carr government realised that the large amount of land that the State held on the public register could be turned into cash and established the Redfern Waterloo Authority that suggested two thirds of the estate be turned over to private developers.

Plans developed for the estate in 2011 have never been released, but a few years later UrbanGrowth NSW decided that building the Waterloo Metro Station opposite the estate would provide the trigger for urban renewal for the area, including the Waterloo estate.
“The initial announcement about the station was made at the end of 2015, and at the beginning of 2016 they had a public meeting and at the end of 2017 they stated having conversations with the people on the estate about what they wanted for the estate,” Geoff Turnbull, spokesperson, REDWatch said.
REDWatch is a non-aligned residents action group founded in 2004 and covers issues in Redfern, Eveleigh, Darlington and Waterloo.

The Waterloo estate development is being undertaken by lead agency FACS, under Minister Pru Goward and the Land and Housing Corporation, which manages the public housing in NSW for FACS.
These agencies have engaged UrbanGrowth NSW with the technical work to develop a Master Plan, which will be integrated with the Master Plan for the Waterloo Metro.
When developed, the Master Plan will be reviewed by the City of Sydney for comment and referred to the Department of Planning and Environment for assessment, before being approved by the Minister for Planning, Mr Anthony Roberts.

“No developers have been appointed yet as they are still in the development of a Master Plan and somewhere between the end of March and June we will have three Master Plan options to choose from,” Richard Weeks said. “It will be a multiple choice that is designed to confuse and it makes it very hard to fight,”

Understandably there is anxiety about the development and how it is to be carried out, and it seems that the public agencies delivering the messages could do a lot better engaging the community and providing them with certainty.
“We all feel like we’re pretty much treated like mushrooms,” Richard Weeks said.

“There was a two year period where you had a community being told that the area was going to be redeveloped,” said Geoff Turnbull, “but no-one had any idea of what was happening, and this has made people more anxious than they need to be.
“They want to see something concrete so they know what their future is,” he added.

It will be at least another two months and possibly as late as June 2018 before the Waterloo residents get to see what their options may be.

  • Geoffrey Turnbull

    In understanding the impact of the redevelopment of Waterloo it is important to realise that there are many more people who live either, permanently or at various times, on the estate than the “2,632 people on the books”. The official FACS figures are believed, even within FACS, to be an under-estimate – hence the various pushes by FACS for people not declared to be disclosed to FACS. Estimates by some FACS staff indicate that there might be around 3,600 people living on the estate and some estimates are higher. The discrepancy comes from carers, family members and friends living unregistered on the estate. It has long been accepted that census returns on public housing estates are not a reliable indication either of estates’ populations because people fear if they disclose, other parts of government will find out and it will impact their benefits, housing and the amount of rent payable. As a result of these factors no one knows how many people actually live on Waterloo estate or how many may be impacted. It certainly is many more than the 2,630 official figure released under the GIPA request listed on FACS disclosure log.