Barangaroo review – affordable housing and a skate park?

This week, after much anticipation, the report of the review into Barangaroo was released to the public.  My Greens colleague David Shoebridge and Australian’s for Sustainable Development  (a group of which I’m proud to be a part) have made plenty of comments in the media about the various wins and losses the report contains, such as a recommendation to remove the hotel in the harbour but leave the grossly expensive  headland park as planned and pass off many of the controversial decisions to the good graces of developers Lend Lease. 

I want to talk about two other issues covered in the report that have received less attention – housing and the planning of Barangaroo Central.

First on housing.  City of Sydney recognises the need for social and affordable housing and aims for each of these modes to account for 7.5% of all homes in the City by 2030.  The Barangaroo Delivery Authority, on the other hand, committed for Barangaroo to have a pitiful 2.3% affordable housing, and to have it provided offsite.

Barangaroo is continually touted as the next big hub of the finance industry in Australia, however not everyone who’ll work there will be a high-flying corporate type.  With so much new office space in the area there will be a big increase in demand for people in important but lower paid occupations, such as security guards, cleaners and cafe staff. 

With the very high price of real estate in the City such employees will likely have to live far away from where they work if affordable housing is not provided.  This means long daily commutes, often very early or late in the day, creating a very poor work life balance for these workers that we all take for granted.

That’s why I’m pleased to see the review recommend a doubling of the affordable housing target for  Barangaroo, although at less than 5% it is far too low.  As planning for the residential component of the project progresses I’ll be doing all I can to make sure this new target is adhered to as an absolute minimum and preferably increased to the City’s target of 7.5%.

The review sadly dismisses the need for social housing on the site, saying there is plenty in the area.  However I think this may reflect a lack of local knowledge on the part of the Melbourne based review panel – they note that there is plenty of social housing in Millers Point, seemingly unaware of the persistent desire by successive state governments to have this sold off privately.

The second recommendation of the review that I want to talk about is the suggestion that the central precinct of Barangaroo be planned by a committee consisting of representatives from both the Barangaroo Delivery Authority and City of Sydney.  Up until this point the City has been almost entirely shut out of the decision making for Barangaroo, despite being the body that will have to deal with it’s ramifications for decades to come.

If the City is to become formally involved in the planning process for Central Barangaroo, the part of the precinct to contain residential buildings as well as community and cultural facilities, we hope to see some positive outcomes. 

In particular this would bode well for two projects I’ve been supporting for some time that the City has also gotten behind, namely an Aboriginal cultural centre and a skate park.

An Aboriginal cultural centre is conspicuous by it’s absence from Sydney’s otherwise impressive list of galleries and museums and creating one in an iconic location on the shores of Sydney Harbour would open up the world’s oldest surviving human culture to a huge range of tourists, locals and school groups. 

A skate park on the site would give it enormous appeal to young people, for whom the current plans provide very little, and encourage City kids to get involved in a healthy, sustainable recreational pursuit.  There is a dedicated community group pushing for a Barangaroo skate park and if the City is to become part of the process than it looks a lot more likely to come to fruition.

While there are quite a few disappointments in the Barangaroo review, these are two bits of good news that I felt should be highlighted to show that things can be achieved when the community stands up to the government and big business.  Watch this space to see what progress we can achieve as a result!

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