An Orwellian five-member panel will be making planning decisions surrounding Sydney public land in future. Cui bono? NSW political reporter Alex Mitchell reports.
Get used to the name of the entity known as UrbanGrowth NSW, because you will be hearing a lot more about it over the next few years.
It is the Orwellian body created by the New South Wales Coalition government to control the levers of urban planning and development. It has a five-member board to administer multibillion-dollar projects that will devour public land and public spending while delivering massive profits to construction companies and their investors.
Already UrbanGrowth NSW has its hands all over prime Sydney Harbour land near Balmain, called Bay Precinct, the Parramatta CBD and the historic centre of Newcastle.
The state-owned corporation was established in 2012 by then-planning minister Brad Hazzard, a Manly solicitor recently elevated to Attorney-General and Justice Minister.
New Planning Minister Pru Goward, a former ABC presenter and John Howard’s handpicked Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, is now in charge of the body whose mission statement reads like something scripted by Rob Sitch, of Hollowmen and Utopia fame.
According to the official website, its task is “to drive urban transformation that will underpin the future prosperity of urban and regional centres across NSW. We collaborate with government, private and community stakeholders to create a united vision of a project, building a strong sense of placemaking in the renewal process and enabling its delivery.”
In future, major urban projects will be discussed and decided by UrbanGrowth’s cabinet-appointed board members without obstruction from meddlesome councillors, MPs, public servants, community groups or environmentalists.
“If the Coalition succeeds in rigging the ballot in favour of the business community in Sydney’s CBD, why not elsewhere?”
Just as James Packer collared a high rollers’ casino site from the Barangaroo Delivery Authority and VicUrban delivered the construction boom at Melbourne Docklands, so UrbanGrowth is poised to make super profits for developers, fund managers and overseas investors in urban centres in NSW.
It is fulfilling the catchcries of the Baird (and Abbott) governments: “We’re open for business”, “We want to be remembered for building infrastructure” (i.e. any infrastructure at any cost, regardless of its community or cultural value) and “we know best what should be built, where and by whom”.
Accompanying the pro-development push are authoritarian changes to the local government electoral system, starting with greater voting entitlements for big businesses in the City of Sydney.
Premier Mike Baird has given support to legislation proposed in the upper house by the reactionary Shooters Party to arm big business with two votes while ordinary citizens receive one, an objective long advocated by shock jock Alan Jones and The Daily Telegraph.
Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore, an independent, has become the centre of attention, as she claims the proposal to give businesses two votes is aimed specifically at her. But this is only half-true: Moore’s days are numbered anyway, and if she doesn’t resign at the next council election in 2016, when she will be approaching 70, she faces almost certain defeat.
Major CBD redevelopments in Sussex Street, Chinatown, Haymarket and Millers Point, all blue-chip sites for profit-hungry developers, are the primary considerations in the push for a pro-business Sydney City Council.
Will the embarrassing departure of Newcastle lord mayor Jeff “The Developer” McCloy following cash campaign donations he made to Liberal MPs at the 2011 state election lead to a greater voting entitlement for businesses in Newcastle as well? If the Coalition succeeds in rigging the ballot in favour of the business community in Sydney’s CBD, why not elsewhere?
Balmain MP Jamie Parker, the former mayor of Leichhardt and the first Green in the Legislative Assembly, has condemned UrbanGrowth’s compulsory purchase powers and its lack of transparency.
He has asked why there are no community representatives on the five-member board, which consists of chairman John Brogden, a former NSW opposition leader, Matthew Quinn, former managing director of Stockland (2000-2013), Robert Hamilton, co-founder of the Mirvac Group, Bonita Boezeman, executive with Time Warner for 23 years, and chief executive David Pitchford, chief operating officer of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and ex-general manager of the mega-development called Palm Jumeirah in Dubai.
“The names don’t fill me with confidence,” Parker told Crikey. “They are a who’s who of big-time developers and their friends.”
Architects, town planners and community groups are waiting for John Robertson’s opposition to commit to scrapping UrbanGrowth NSW and the proposed pro-business City of Sydney voting system.