It’s been 5 years since the NSW Government signed off on a plan for the 536 hectare site of the former Tallawarra power station on Lake Illawarra. A lot has happened since then, almost none of it good.
Back in 2013 Energy Australia, who owned the site, had shelved plans for a second gas fired power station and instead was pushing ahead to rezone the site for development.
There was a lot of community concern at the time about the loss of open space, the lack of adequate infrastructure and contamination.
Energy Australia dealt with the concern by saying they weren’t being greedy. They wanted a balanced development proposal that they said would deliver a mixed use development with benefits for the community.
In addition to 1,010 housing lots the plan was to have a 200 dwelling retirement village, 360 hectares of open space, new recreational facilities, a neighbourhood centre and over 60 hectares set aside for job-creating industry.
That was the package, a fair chunk of development in return for a series of public benefits. Once that was approved by the NSW Government it felt like the fight had been had. Some wins, some losses, and the community opposition dissipated.
In 2014 Energy Australia decided having got the approval it wanted to sell the site. Not finding a buyer for the whole lot they eventually agreed to sell just the bit set aside for residential development to a property developer called Bridgehill Group in 2017.
Having agreed to purchase the bulk of the residential component, without having taken on the burden of delivering the open space, retirement village or recreational facilities, Bridgehill did what developers in NSW do, they wanted more.
Earlier this year Bridgehill proposed increasing the number of residential lots from 1,010 to 1,480 (an almost 50% increase). With that came a proposal for smaller lot sizes and higher densities.
This is a very substantial increase on what was originally approved as part of the concept plan. It is also higher profit development because there is less infrastructure required by way of roads, power and sewerage to deliver each housing unit.
There is still no retirement village, no new jobs and no additional infrastructure.
If this all sounds familiar it’s because it is. Just south of Tallawarra is the Calderwood development. Again there was strong opposition to the initial plans by an engaged community and the local council. Very similar concerns were driving the opposition there.
Once again, this time after a legal stoush, the state government approved plans for a large residential development with a bunch of associated alleged public benefits.
Roll on to 2018 and now that the opposition has fallen away from exhaustion that developer, Lend Lease, has a proposal to increase the development yield on their site from the present 4,800 homes to more than 7,000.
There’s a pattern here. Face down community opposition with an initial less greedy development plan. Once that’s in the bag and the community has stopped watching, stop being nice and go for as much as you can.
We know that there are real problems with the expansion of these developments. The local roads will not cope, the lake will see more run off and sewage pollution and the chance to restore and treat Lake Illawarra as a beautiful natural gem is fast being lost.
People are sick of being sold a dummy by the planning system in NSW, and rightly so. Local communities are shown attractive green developments, with open spaces and wild pockets.
But what is ultimately built has more houses, more units, smaller lot sizes, more crowded facilities and no infrastructure to cope with the new demand.
We need a planning system people can believe in. This means making developers stick to plans once they are approved.
No creeping increase on housing yields, no cutting back on green open space and if you promise jobs and a retirement village, then deliver on that before bringing in thousands of new residents.
That’s all people want, and it’s not too much to ask.
David Shoebridge is a NSW Greens MP.