The City of Sydney’s Waterloo Estate proposal puts people at its centre. Photo: City of Sydney

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BY JOHN MOYLE

On the eve of a State election that could spell doom to Glad the Impaler’s government, the City of Sydney has presented the tenants of Waterloo Estate with an alternative vision for the redevelopment of Sydney’s largest public housing estate.

Calling on the Government to scrap their current plan and hand control back to the City,  the plans released to the public on March 6 at the Alexandria Town Hall has brought into question the future of the NSW Land and Housing Commission’s (LAHC) plans.

The City of Sydney is a member of the project review board along with the Department of Planning, Transport for NSW and the office of the Government Architect.

“We’ve discussed the Waterloo housing proposal at length with the NSW Government, but like most of the community we’re surprised and disappointed with what they’ve proposed,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said.

Generally positive response

The alternative plans have been met across the Estate and the community with a generally positive response.

“We congratulate the City of Sydney planners in providing the alternative approach in such a short time,” said Richard Weeks, from the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group.

With Waterloo Estate being a designated State Significant Development, the City of Sydney has no say in the final decisions, but that could change with a new government this Saturday.

Tania Mihailuk is Labor’s shadow minister across a range of portfolios affecting the Estate including planning, housing and family and community services.

Ms Mihailuk responded to the City’s proposal, saying, “The Labor Government would sit down with the City of Sydney and the members of the Waterloo community and do things in partnership, rather than the Liberals and Nationals model of imposition and arrogance”.

The last-minute response has come after the Government gave the tenants three options while calling for the demolition of the existing towers. The Government would increase the density of the Estate from 2,012 dwellings to 6,800, with two-thirds of the population being housed in 17 towers up to 40 storeys high.

“Their [LAHC] argument is that they are still finessing the floor space and height calculations,” said Geoff Turnbull of REDwatch.

The City’s proposal calls for the retention and refurbishment of Matavai and Turunga, two 30-storey towers, with other buildings being between four and nine storeys.

The park would be ringed by buildings between 12 and 13 storeys.

“Remember, Urbangrowth have been working away in the back room with a team of consultants for over two years, whereas the City has had to put together its alternative very quickly without similar resources,” said Councillor Phillip Thalis of the City of Sydney, a practising architect.

The Government is also using public land to propose that 65 per cent of homes on the Estate will be private housing, with just 30 per cent dedicated to social housing and five per cent to affordable housing.

There has also been a decrease in the allocation of affordable housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with fears that this will denude the area of its first nation culture.

Local action group REDwatch is calling for a mix of five per cent Aboriginal and Torres Strait tenants in public housing and a further five per cent in affordable housing to ensure a viable Aboriginal community in the area.

Ms Tania Mihailuk said, “Labor is committed to ensuring that there will be Aboriginal Housing and a strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander presence at Waterloo and Redfern.”

When the Department of Planning and Environment was asked about the amount of affordable housing planned, a department spokesperson replied, “No decision has been made yet”.

The same spokesperson also said, “No decision has been made yet” when asked if final density levels had been decided.

ALP committed to social housing

Ms Mihailuk said, “Labor is also committed to a 25 per cent mandate of social and affordable housing on Government-owned land.”

The Government’s proposal also calls for two parks that will be overshadowed by tall towers in midwinter and impacted by wind.

The City’s response is a larger 2.2 hectare park at the Estate’s centre whereby “The major park is enlarged, the Metro Station precinct is open and far less overshadowed,” Cr Thalis said.

In response to the community’s four choices of development (though the City’s will depend on a change of government), Richard Weeks is calling a meeting and Q&A for 5pm at Redfern Town Hall for this Thursday to discuss all options.

“If by some miracle Labor gets in, and they hand planning back to the City, there will be significant changes,” Richard Weeks said.

Community member Karen Freyer has a change.org “Planning for People, Not Politics’ petition asking that the development be returned to the City of Sydney, and she will be door knocking the Estate over the weekend.