Locals campaign against the twin tower building Photo: Save West Bondi Junction Facebook page

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BY VANESSA LIM

The proposed 11-storey twin-tower building at West Bondi has been recommended to the NSW Department of Planning, despite public disapproval.

The Independent Planning Commission has advised the NSW Department of Planning to proceed to the finalisation of the Stargate Property Group’s luxury apartment development.

But this proposal has received backlash from locals such as Catharine Munro, who manages the Facebook page “Save West Bondi Junction”. Ms Munro said, “We have been fighting this for seven years and the response from the community has consistently been strong opposition to it”.

Proposal twice rejected

This plan is also rejected by Waverly’s Labor Mayor John Wakefield, who said, “Council has twice rejected this development proposal. We continue to lobby the State Government to reject it. During the week I have again written to the Minister on behalf of impacted residents to seek his refusal of the project”.

A major concern that locals have voiced is the impact it will have on Centennial Park. Munro said, “When you’re standing in the park with the beautiful tree skyline and no buildings you feel like you’re out in nature, but that’ll be destroyed as you’ll have the block of apartments in the skyline. There’s also overshadowing in the corner of the park”.

With the developer’s proposal, the current height limit of four storeys will increase by 2.4 times.

Munro said, “In cities there are plans that limit heights so that you don’t end up with really unpleasant urban landscapes”.

The four terrace heritage sites have also raised concern for locals. Mill Hill Bondi Junction committee member Ilana Cohen said, “Other issues are that they will take the heritage protection off the terraces, this could set a precedent, and a mass clearing of the terraces in the area could start.”

There is also worry that when a couple of high-rise buildings are developed, other landowners will soon follow suit.

Munro said, “If he does that just for his land, other landowners will come out and say ‘Well we want the height limits changed for our land too because he got it so why can’t we? That’s where people are concerned.”

Mill Hill Bondi Junction committee member Georgia Koutsandrea has experienced the effects of urbanisation in Bondi.

She said, “I have lived in Bondi Junction for the last eight years and experienced first-hand the gradual worsening of these issues as the high rises have gone up”.

This potential domino effect isn’t the only thing the community is worried about. Chris Matthews from the Bondi Resident Action Group said, “Insufficient data collected on traffic impacts to Oxford Street, especially in light of the recently approved community cycleway, will further narrow this already overly busy intersection (cnr of York Road, Oxford Street and Syd Einfeld Drive). This is the main exit/entrance to Waverley Bus Depot, (itself under threat)”.

But local council and community efforts opposing the proposal, due to its negative impacts, have been disregarded by the NSW Department of Planning.

Munro said, “When a bureaucrat as opposed to a politician gets told to assess a proposal, they have to have parameters for assessing it. Their guidelines are about putting lots of high rise close to public transport. So if that’s your main consideration for assessing this proposal it gets a big tick. But when you take into account environment, heritage, community needs and traffic impact, it’s a bigger picture that needs more consideration”.

Chris Matthews also voiced his concern about the approval process. He said, “Since the current State Government took the planning powers from local councils in August 2017, the rate of developments in Bondi Junction and all over Sydney has accelerated significantly.

“Although some change is inevitable with the growth of our populations, it should not be at the expense of the existing suburban population. The current government is driving change at such a rapid rate that there is a cost associated with this process, the degradation of our happiness and our homes.”

Questionable guidelines

Munro said, “Power taken away from the local community, that is of major concern, but we also just need good analysis and assessment.”

She cited the questionable guidelines.

“What’s happened is that they’ve had narrow guidelines for considering it and perhaps guidelines that aren’t all that relevant. These are luxury apartments where everyone will own a car and probably not need public transport.”

The NSW Labor and Greens have both agreed to review the approval process but NSW Liberals have yet to take action. NSW Labor Candidate for Coogee Majorie O’Neill said in a media statement that the Liberals need to, “rule out sneaking this approval through in the final days on the election campaign”.