Aug 19, 2012

Eastlakes Shopping Centre: An outrageous overdevelopment

I have had for several years very great concerns of the actions of the developer of the Eastlakes Shopping Centre in their approach to the former State Government. Those approaches were to seek the development application being assessed under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, were totally inappropriate and designed purely to avoid proper and local scrutiny of any development application.

Council has indicated publicly and clearly, and repeatedly, to the developers that it has no objection to the redevelopment of a modern shopping centre for Eastlakes. To say that the existing shopping centre is tired and in urgent need of revitalisation is stating the obvious. 

However, the developers see their pot of gold not in the redevelopment of the shopping centre. No, far from it. The rainbow leading to the pot of gold is found in the high rise, residential flat buildings over the shopping centre. 

Council has repeatedly said that the Eastlakes Shopping Centre development and the surrounding residential flat buildings are a disgraceful example of overdevelopment. Probably, the worst in our City. The existing structures are classic examples of what occurred in the 1960’s. They are also classic examples of what happed when this State was run by the Liberal Party under Barry O’Farrell’s predecessor Sir Robert Askin – a man not noted for turning his hand away from an ill-gotten gain. 

What all of us know all too well – there is little open space and amenity for residents and this area cannot tolerate any further residential density. 

What Council did do was that it indicated it would support a Master Planning Proposal, involving a shopping centre and residential development. But there was a proviso. Council strongly advocated the acquisition of the residential flat buildings at the corner of Racecourse Place, Gardeners Road and Evans Avenue as well as a detailed environmental master planning process. 

These were not prohibitive provisos – they would have enhanced any proposed development and given a focus for further redevelopment in the surrounding area. 

The approach to the former Government and the designation that the application would be determined under Part 3A were two strikes against sensible redevelopment. I had thought we had a glimmer of success with the change of government in 2011. I thought the people of Eastlakes would be protected by the mandate given to Premier O’Farrell to abolish the Part 3A provision. 

Premier O’Farrell after scrapping the Part 3A Provisions on 3 April, 2011, announced he had given increased planning powers back to local councils. There was, as I’ve said, that glimmer of hope. But, tragically, Premier O’Farrell has shown he is another opportune-seeking politician and his promise to devolve planning powers to local government, have been borne out to be a broken promise. 

I had written to the previous ministers of planning on a number of occasions to express my and Council’s concerns about the developer’s activities. Our entreaties fell on deaf ears. The developer made no genuine attempts to acquire the buildings Council identified to improve the quality and amenity of the proposed development. 

Rather, he directly and indirectly approached a number of previous Premiers and Planning Ministers in the former government. Personally, I had a bad feeling that something underhanded was happening in relation to these usual and totally inappropriate approaches. It was unreasonable and in stark contrast to Council’s reasonable approach. 

In my view, there was always something shifty about the communication with the Department of Planning at the very least. 

I have previously written to the Former Minister of Planning about a private meeting his Director General sought with the Council’s former General Manager about this application. I indicated in that letter that it was grossly improper for there to be private discussions with Council’s General Manager and the Director-General of the Department of Planning. 

The development application was referred to the State Government’s Planning and Assessment Commission and, in my view, the Commission deliberately listed the hearing of the matter on Jewish New Year. They knew full well I would not be able to attend. The conduct between the proponents and the former government in my view left me a very uneasy feeling – then and now. 

I was much relieved when the O’Farrell Government made the announcement on Part 3A assessment and the return of planning powers to local government. When it made the announcement, I wrote to the Planning Minister seeking for the application to be returned to Council for determination. 

However, for some bizarre reason the Minister for Planning, the Hon Brad Hazzard, refused to return this application to local government, namely to our Council in accordance with Barry O’Farrell’s promises and the mandate he received to keep those promises. I urged the Minister for Planning to examine the correspondence I have had with his predecessors. 

I advised the Minister that the developer seemed to have manipulated the government processes to this point and urged the Minister that any such application under Part 3A should not be retained for determination. I requested removing his department as the Consent Authority and send the application back to this Council in accordance with the stated O’Farrell Government’s policy. 

I advised the Minister that as the Eastlakes Shopping Centre was full of three storey walk-ups it was a planning disaster of the sixties and, as such, was very difficult to address. In addition, the population densities were far too great and any application had the opportunity not only to rectify the previous planning disasters but to generate some economic investment in this area. I urged the Minister for his personal intervention. 

Despite the Minister’s stated planning objectives and his Government’s policy, he refused to remove the application from the Provisions of Part 3A and said:

“I have asked the Department to further explore with a proponent to Council the option of acquiring the adjacent flat buildings as to integrate them into the development proposal. Failing this, it will be necessary for the project to show how redevelopment of the site can occur without isolating or compromising the ability to redevelop adjacent sites.”

Despite this assurance, there has been no discussion with Council whatsoever. All we’ve seen, or been given, is a Development Application received by the Department and which is to be placed on exhibition. The application, which is currently on exhibition, is the worst and most disgraceful overdevelopment of a site I have seen in all my 31 years as Mayor of this Council. 

The application contains 12 five to eight storey residential flat buildings with many containing room sizes that do not even match the State Environmental Planning Policy. Tragically, the designs suggest the buildings are smaller than the disgraceful developments of the sixties and seventies, which dot the adjoining streets. Worse still, the high rise buildings stand straight, right next to Eastlakes Reserve and provide, in effect no open space. 

Council’s Planning Officers are currently assessing the application and obtaining independent experts in an effort to deal with it on a merit basis. However, Council needs the support of the people of Eastlakes and the surrounding streets in opposing this application. 

Very often, in respect of dreadful attempts to redevelop parts of this area the public has trusted its Mayor and Councillors to represent their interests. This is an occasion where we urgently need the peoples’ support. 

I can’t help feeling it is too coincidental that the timing of this application being placed on exhibition is at a time when I am to leave the Office of Mayor. This could have been a deliberate action in the same way it was to refer the matter to the Planning and Assessment Commission. 

So bad is this application, and the stage it has reached, that I cannot but genuinely suspect there has been some gross impropriety not only for many years but also now. And that feelings flow from the former government to the present government. 

Council has also decided to refer the application to the Independent Commission Against Corruption with all the correspondence exchanged between the Mayor and the Council and the Department and Ministers with a view of the Commission using its powers to ascertain whether or not there has been any corrupt activity involved in the way in which this application has proceeded. 

I do not make this assertion lightly, and I have no evidence of it other than the fact that the nature of the application and the conduct of various participants is so bizarre and contrary to proper principles. As well, the costs of making the application in a manner in which it is made could not have occurred without aid and comfort being provided to the applicant. 

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