Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Restrictions, too, in Sydney’s other water dilemmas
ELIZABETH FARRELLY. Elizabeth Farrelly writes on architecture, planning and aesthetic issues for the Herald.
The law of unintended consequences holds that any human action has at least one unforeseen result. User pays is meant to enlist private interests in protecting public ones. More often, though, it has the opposite effect.
Like when you go for a few innocent laps at the local pool and find most of humanity crammed into three of 10 lanes and even those (lanes, not humans) half their proper length. Never mind that you’ve paid once as a ratepayer and again with your exorbitant user pays entry fee, just because some water polo for the extravagantly unborn or hydro-psycho-jazza therapy class has gazumped you by paying yet a third time to corral their piece of water against the pliantly twice-paying public.
And you’re supposed to act like that’s fine, like it’s your anger and your problem. Like 40 or 50 short, fat, angsty laps are some kind of substitute for 20 long, serene ones. This is not just selfishness, though there is that. Underneath is a generalised confusion over “public”, and exactly what it means. Consider our larger, less chlorinated waterways: our harbours, rivers and beaches. You might expect, especially with an election looming, some clear direction on whether these are public or not, accessible or not, commercial or not, shared or not. You might, in short, expect sense. Strategy even. But you’d be disappointed.
For a while, with the erasure of the working harbour, the all-out shack attack on the heritage fibros in the Royal National Park, the continuing removal rumblings over the private jetties and boathouses fringing Port Jackson and Middle Harbour, and, most recently, the proposal to extort 500 per cent rent rises from skiff clubs that subsidise their commercial sponsorships with licensed restaurants and pokies, it looked like the Government might have a direction. A wrong one, but a direction nonetheless.
That it might, for instance, be serious about its Sharing Sydney Harbour plan, even to the point of momentary (God forbid) socialism.
The moves would still have been misguided. The working harbour would still have been a catastrophic loss. The national park cabins – which only belong to government because the owners lobbied for resumption in the 1940s to protect their tiny, walk-in settlements from the ravages of development – would still have had a moral right to remain. The jetties and boathouses, however private, would still have been picturesque, like so little of our built fabric. And the not-for-profit boating clubs would still have been vibrant harbour causes, their skimming flying-fish forms a reminder, albeit commercialised, of Sydney’s glorious harbour history. Those would be the sad facts, but at least they’d make sense.
Closer inspection, however, shows that public access to public assets is not it at all. The real pattern is far stranger, especially for a government that still, despite appearances, calls itself Labor. The real pattern is more like ridding Sydney’s waters of the small and impecunious, while ensuring their availability to the powerful and the rich and the well-connected.
Paranoid, you say? Overprotected? Consider this. Of the four examples above, the two that jeopardised the private property principle – the Royal National Park cabins, and the jetties and boathouses – each ended in government backdown. The right decision, if for the wrong reason.
The other two cases? Well, the working harbour is no more, despite its rhetoric still echoing hollowly through government documents, and skiff clubs are still threatened with the kind of rent increase that could restrict waterfront clubs to those such as Mosman Rowers, stuffed to the gunwales with poker machines.
Meanwhile, on the quasi-public territory of Unions NSW’s camp Currawong, on Pittwater, the Government has steadfastly refused to prevent the property’s cut-price sale to developers determined to bring McMansion-style improvement to that bushy old national park.
Similar improvement is on the cards, too, for the harbour, as the marina debate resurfaces. The latest massive Rose Bay marina redevelopment proposal is from Denis O’Neill’s Addenbrooke, which acquired the Rose Bay and Point Piper marinas in 2004, just before the Government lifted the marina moratorium that had stymied similar proposals.
The Addenbrooke scheme replaces 172 swing moorings with 159 marina berths, shrinking the occupied area but greatly increasing both the solidity of cover and the size of vessels, expected to be increasingly of the injection-moulded, 20-metre diesel-fuming variety, supported by a 75,000-litre fuel tank. These white plastic phalanxes will flank the Rose Bay beach park like guardian lions, with a roar and a skimpy, 75-metre view between.
The deal, designed to relieve the public purse of burdensome public wharf, is that the marinas get long-term leases in exchange for public pick-up points and fuelling facilities for the two-stroke tinnie and half-cabin fisho hordes that comprise the majority of NSW boat owners. Just how welcome the fishos will feel, on those glamorous corporate marinas solid with gleaming plastic McGloat-boats, remains to be seen.
It’s the marine version of incentive zoning, where developers earn extra storeys for the grotty colonnades and through-site links that masquerade as public benefit. Well meant, maybe. Only when nothing but fairy bread remains on our harbour will we see its unintended consequence.