The Illawarra Mercury reporting team is bringing you a weekly series of behind-the-scenes stories, exclusive to our subscribers. Today, Ben Langford shares some insight into what is looming as a major battle for the heart of Thirroul.
We haven't yet seen the day that Facebook comments are taken into consideration in deciding development applications.
But Wollongong City Council has confirmed that comments made on the popular Planning Alerts web platform will be counted as submissions to be considered in the assessment of the redevelopment of Thirroul Plaza in Wollongong's northern suburbs.
It's not common for a development proposal to attract such a chorus of similar opinion, but residents from Bulli to Scarborough are only too familiar with the gridlock which besets Lawrence Hargrave Drive each morning and evening peak.
The problem is largely one of design and infrastructure - or a lack thereof. LHD ("main road") has just a single lane going each way, and the narrow bridge over the train line at Thirroul, with traffic lights either side, ensures bottlenecks aplenty.
The area's desirability, and property value, has combined with planning laws that allow dual occupancies to be built on (once) single blocks, ensuring the resident population has grown substantially. The public transport response has been to provide less direct train journeys, not more, with a trip to Thirroul now necessary for many under the "hub" plan.
Traffic gets even worse whenever there's a sunny day and the overheated residents of southwestern Sydney join locals for a day at the beach in Thirroul, Austinmer or Coledale.
Residents blow steam out their ears when it takes 30 minutes to get from Austinmer to the other side of Thirroul. Getting kids from one soccer game to the next can be impossible. People have moved to different suburbs as a direct result. It wasn't like that even six, seven years ago, people say. You can't begrudge folks visiting or moving to a nice place. But the nice place is looking more like the big city many moved there to escape.
Thirroul Plaza is old and ugly, with communal space poorly utilised and shops doing it tough. Few doubt the need for a revamp. But the redevelopment plan includes 82 apartments smack bang in the middle of the traffic jam. An extra 550 vehicle movements are predicted each morning and each evening peak. On the weekend, it's an extra 730.
People know a major test is looming - will the once sleepy seaside town soon resemble the congestion of a Cronulla or Bondi? Not, it seems, without them making their voices heard in the process, in whichever ways they can.
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