Is a decision taken by Parramatta Council last Monday night, December 7, enough to clear the fog of smoke and mirrors created by an announcement by the NSW Minister for Planning, Rob Stokes? On November 20, Mr Stokes announced that his department had approved UrbanGrowth’s revised application to rezone the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct. UrbanGrowth NSW manages state government land holdings and investment in transport infrastructure. The rezoning would provide “around 3,000 new homes and 2,000 new jobs over the life of the project,” he said. There would be some adjustments to proposed new building heights, particularly those adjacent to heritage buildings and the addition of a design excellence clause to ensure future architectural quality of the area.
The artist’s impression above is one of several constantly used to publicise UrbanGrowth’s proposals, showing a romanticised view of the former playing field, which is unlikely to remain publicly accessible. High rise buildings in the background are scarcely visible. North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) President Suzette Meade responded, “It’s another case of ‘second best for the west’ – being told we have to self fund our heritage restoration and cultural amenities- when Sydney city gets massive government funding for the Art Gallery, White Bay and Macquarie Street without selling Hyde Park or the Domain for residential apartments.”
According to a Sydney Morning Herald report “Mr Stokes said key archaeological investigations at the site would start immediately, followed by the repair and conservation of heritage buildings. There has been no decision yet on how restored heritage buildings will be used. The sale of the first sites is expected to take place in 2017, and although the land has been rezoned, development applications will still need approval from the NSW Heritage Office and Parramatta Council.”
Initially, the announcement sounded like a genuine reduction from 4,000 to 3,000 new dwellings. Then NPRAG identified the claimed 30% reduction in the rezoning approval is due to 30% of the land (approximately nine hectares) being withheld from the proposal for submission later. Among the National Trust’s concerns is “that the archaeology, historic buildings and landscape of the Cumberland Hospital, Female Factory, Wistaria Gardens, Parramatta Gaol and the former Roman Catholic Orphan School be conserved and protected intact and interpreted to serve as a much needed passive recreation area and historic/arts precinct”. Above is a copy of the recent postcard expressing community opposition to the government’s proposal, hundreds of which were submitted on the last sitting day of parliament by members of NPRAG.
By a clear majority, Parramatta Council voted to call on the government to reverse the decision to re-zone the Parramatta North Heritage Precinct. Councillors voted to “pause any urban renewal process of the site for six months for genuine and transparent consultation with the community, stakeholders and Parramatta City Council about the future of the site. This should include exploration of any alternate visions for the site.” The decision has the support of Parramatta Chamber of Commerce and gives clear support to the position taken by NPRAG.