The Clover Moore independent team in the City of Sydney is particularly good at this tactic. They play the moderates against the LibLab bully boys, and sure, those guys suck even more, but it's the narrowness of this debate that does the most damage. 'They'll fire the council', 'the developer will take us to the land and environment court' is what we get next. Whoopdy-do. Bring it on! But hang on, the council wrote a letter to the state government asking for more infrastructure, so we've done all we can do, m'kay? So many blindly trust this argument without questioning the situation further.
My own analysis of the situation at Ashmore, Erskineville, reveals the Clover team to be complicit in a development deception, that will see multiple 9 storey apartment buildings foisted upon a community demanding a return to a previously agreed 5 storey plan. This all in a dense area with terrible traffic, prone to flooding, and desperate for decent public transport, more schools, childcare and open space.
The deception lies in the main claim made by the Clover team that 9 storey approval is necessary to meet housing targets set by the State Government in the Metropolitan Plan.
Council - "The proposed planning controls seek to maximize the opportunities Ashmore offers as an urban renewal site to contribute to achieving the NSW Government’s dwelling targets for the City of Sydney..."
The problem with this though is that the rate of housing growth required by the State actually fell during the same period that Council increased the density. Further, the recent actual rate of housing growth exceeds the required rate by 77%!
A timeline hopefully makes this clear:
2005 - State target for CoS set at 2037 dwellings per year2006 - Ashmore DCP drafted; maximum of 5 storeys
When Friends of Erskineville, myself and others put this point to Council in official submissions, it was willfully ignored and brushed aside. See below the Council grid summarising the submission and their response on the right:
Submission - "The targets are being exceeded, and have fallen slightly. No need to increase density."
Response from Council - "We don't set the targets."
How can a supposedly professional council so blatantly fail to respond to the logic of a simple argument?
So Friends of Erskineville pressed this point in a further letter to Clover Moore. And here is the response:
"The NSW Government hasn't reduced overall housing targets for the City. The Government's Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney 2031 was released in March this year. The strategy plans to provide an additional 545,000 new homes across the wider Sydney metropolitan area. The City is included in the Central sub-regional area, which has a target of 82,000 new homes by 2021 and 138,000 new homes by 2031. The City's urban renewal areas in Ashmore, Green Square, Harold Park, Barangaroo and the former Carlton United Brewery site will all contribute to meeting these targets."
[see here for the full response]
Another bait-and-switch. For starters, these newer targets can't post-hoc justify the Ashmore plans that pre-date them. Also, since the targets are progressively updated and the process is always ongoing, what's important is the rate of building, not the absolute total. Further, these targets are now over a much wider area that includes Ryde, Botany and Strathfield. Well one published estimate puts the increase at 17% over the targets set in 2010. That would still leave a buffer of 60% over recent completed construction rates.
So when Clover states the logical no-brainer that Ashmore contributes to meeting the targets, it would be far more honest to say that Ashmore contributes to far exceeding them. And while the apple-pie claim "it's sustainable practice to build homes that are close to existing services and transport" seems obvious, surely it's not sustainable to reject a community's demands and build large numbers of new homes in areas where those services are already overloaded.
It gets worse though. Early this year, on the western half of Ashmore, Leightons was granted approval to build 8 storey apartments. This was approved while the official Development Control Plan limited the site to 5 storeys, but was given the go-ahead because council thought the denser DCP to come was a fait accompli. This makes a mockery of the community 'consultation' process. This is also the Leightons currently imbroiled in an Iraq corruption scandal which has seen their share price tank.
Residents were also recently asked for feedback on controls over the eastern half of Ashmore, owned by Goodman. Most previous plans had this half at least as dense as the other half, so what hope can residents have that it will stick to 5 storeys when 8 is currently under construction next door?
That's why I think it's fair to call the Ashmore situation a deception. Go back through South Sydney council archives and you'll see plans that have half the area as green space. The community didn't want some 2000 new dwellings back in 2006, but now we are being forced to swallow over 3200 to meet fake targets that ignore the real issues. The community should not back down.