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planning 14

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 25-Oct-2006

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Comment

Page: 15

Wordcount: 885

3A projects add a new dimension to rules

Elizabeth Farrelly. Elizabeth Farrelly writes on planning, architecture and aesthetics for the Herald.

THE real problem with the arrogance that typically afflicts our upper echelons is not that it’s offensive and tedious – which it is – but that it quickly becomes a learning disability, condemning sufferers to repeat their mistakes ad nauseam. That’s if you weren’t sick the first time.

Not surprisingly, the symptom is most marked in those who cocoon themselves with legions of head-patters, back-scratchers and toe rags. This makes Macquarie Street a hot spot. And sure, there are medics on hand. But they need your support, too. Not just your votes and taxes; they need your sympathy and understanding.

Which may be why they’ve bothered to mount the microscopic exhibition on the development formerly known as East Darling Harbour. You can visit or read the propaganda on the net.

But to fix your eyes on the substance of the 400-odd page document, since there’s no takeout copy, it’s back to the 54 slow-loading PDF files lined up like Daleks on the departmental website.

East Darling Harbour, or Barangaroo if you want its new moniker, is one of more than 70 projects in the metropolitan area – with as many again in the rest of the state – to be called in to the minister in the new planning legislation’s first year.

Officially, some are “state significant” or “critical infrastructure”. Others are merely “major projects”. Colloquially, however, they’re all known as “3A projects”, after the part of the act under which they are arraigned; the part that gives the minister unprecedented discretion.

Because the economy’s problem, as you know, is not that we spent two euphoric weeks peeing a gazillion up against the Olympics wall and are now in the decade of paying for it. The problem is that councils have consulted too wide and long with their constituents, impeding important development projects, starving the coffers and shrinking the economy.

So the Government was forced to add part 3A to the Planning Act “to facilitate infrastructure and other planning reform; and for other purposes”.

At the time, no one took much notice. Since then, though, as developers crawl on broken glass to have projects 3A-listed and community after community has been stonewalled or sidelined, the rumblings have grown.

Quite properly, 3A projects include coalmines and wind-farms, road tunnels and rail terminals, hospitals and power stations. They also include cash oozing behemoths such as the Foster’s site on Broadway and East Darling Harbour.

As well, hidden among 3A’s smoke and mirrors are a number of lesser projects whose statewide significance isn’t immediately obvious: the low-rise residential Pemulwuy Project on The Block in Redfern, which the minister has vocally opposed; the Government’s development of the old Redfern school, which he presumably supports; a two-storey, six-unit building by Rose Corp at Canada Bay; a huge development, also by Rose Corp and refused by both council and court, on ecologically sensitive land at the coastal mining town of Catherine Hill Bay; the reviled Coca-Cola warehouse in Northmead; the 11-storey St Vinnie’s Caritas residential development in Darlinghurst; the new law building at Sydney University; the Global Switch building in Ultimo; the Australian Film TV and Radio School building at Fox Studios; and the proposed lime and cement terminal at White Bay.

Less “infrastructure and planning reform”, more “other purposes”.

Which, of course, is where the arrogance comes in. Fast-tracking in NSW has left a trail of white-elephant skeletons, such as Darling Harbour and the airport rail link, but does the Government learn? No way.

The act gives the minister immense discretion about not just content, but publishing his criteria, or even his decision. At the same time it suspends, for the occasion, virtually all other planning legislation – conservation, heritage, bushfire, fisheries, coastal management and threatened species – and leaves the public with severely curtailed rights of appeal.

No wonder this is a club every developer in town wants to be in.

Less apparent, but no less significant, is the new 3A Alliance, a collection of disaffected and disenfranchised community groups. It’s the first sign that planning in NSW may get muscular yet.

High on the 3A projects list is, of course, East Darling Harbour – renamed Barangaroo with the same cynicism that saw Harry Triguboff deliver his anti-tree rant with an Aboriginal painting as backdrop. After announcing the winning Hill Thalis Berkmeier competition scheme in March, the Government commissioned the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to prepare a new East Darling Harbour Concept Plan.

It was always a gentle, polite kind of scheme. Now, with every soupcon of panache or personality (and virtually every mention of the architects) surgically removed, it recalls two sobering facts: that “concept plan” now means what you have when there is no concept; and that we still, as a culture, have huge difficulty shedding the suburban house-and-lawn mindset.

There’s no commitment to any further consultation. Zero.

So while the blurb wishfully cites Bilbao, London’s Southbank and Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz as exemplars, it forgets that city-changing architecture needs flair, content and intense local flavour – plus, ideally, a Pritzker-winning architect.

A bit of warmed-over North Ryde office park, grown to 60 storeys, probably won’t do it.


PHOTO: Ministerial discretion … the East Darling Harbour development.


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