Opposition strengthens to government plans for North Parramatta Precinct

Parramatta North artist's impression 2Is 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.”

NPRAG - postcard campaignInitially, 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.

Community opposition to the rezoning and development of the site is almost universal. The exception is Parragirls – Parramatta Female Factory Precinct, which broke away from the Parramatta Female Factory Friends in 2006, angry and frustrated that their contemporary experience of incarceration in the notorious Parramatta Girls’ Home within the same precinct was not acknowledged. There is demonstrable continuity between the harsh and often abusive management of 19th century female convicts and 20th century Parragirls. “Exposed to Moral Danger” was a frequent charge against both.  Artist and former “Parramatta Girl”, Bonney Djuric, has led the fight for recognition for a decade and won support from a wide range of institutions, including Manning House, Canberra, and UNSW Shopfront.
PFFP - artist team 0114They launched the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project in 2013 – “a social history & contemporary art project bringing together artists, historians, academics & Parragirls to document, record & interpret the history and heritage of the site and the institutional experience.” Above left are key members of the Memory Project team, digital artist Mike Chin, left, Parragirls Jeanie Hayes and Bonney Djuric, Aboriginal artist Leanne Tobin, playwright Alana Valentine and artist and teacher Liz Day.
Parragirls work to heal, educate and memorialise, and have developed the long term goal that the precinct should become Australia’s first Site of Conscience. This year, they have won a project grant from the expanded NSW arts funding program for a collaborative project titled Living Traces: activating and archiving the graffiti traces and memories of Parramatta Girls Home. “Parragirls, former occupants of the home, will be engaged with the production together with leading artists, specialist historians and academics.” Bonney Jeannie with Governorbelieves that the sale and redevelopment of the site is necessary to fund the preservation of the heritage. Others don’t agree. Sites of similar size like Melbourne and Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, and community centres like Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent, don’t require residential development to attract visitors and provide an important oasis for communities around them. Left, Jeannie Hayes is embraced by then NSW Governor Marie Bashir as they stand in front of Jeannie’s art during the 2013 Children’s Day at the former Parramatta Girls Home.
It seems that the vision espoused by Parragirls already finds support from Parramatta Council and the other community organisations. A heritage, arts and cultural precinct is a common goal for all of them and a symposium conducted by NPRAG, supported by the National Trust, in October, began the process of presenting a series of carefully considered alternate visions for the site. Community opposition to the state government’s proposal grows increasingly powerful and Parramatta Council’s decision is an important milestone. If you pay $5 membership fee before the next meeting of North Parramatta Resided Action Group on December 16, you can attend the meeting, hear how the campaign is developing and play your own part.

One thought on “Opposition strengthens to government plans for North Parramatta Precinct

  1. Pingback: Angry residents to march on Sunday in protest at state government plans | Western Sydney Frontier

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