Angry residents and supporters will march on Sunday, June 5, to protest the NSW Government’s plans to demolish Parramatta Pool and develop the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. Not only have these plans proceeded with minimal or no consultation (as with the pool), the government now controls the development approval role of Parramatta and other councils. In the process of amalgamating local governments, the state government has placed the new enlarged councils in the hands of government appointed administrators. There will be no local government elections until September 2017, so in the meantime, the NSW Government can ensure approval of its plans by councils. So much for democracy, while the fox looks after the hen house! Local schools, churches and community organisations are all supporting this event.
Organisers say “We will assemble in the carpark in front of the Pirtek Stadium at the lights of Victoria Road and O’Connell Street for a briefing before starting our walk with our banners. We are really pleased to announce that Western Sydney Samba will be showing their community support by supplying us with cool beats to keep us marching. We will be escorted by safety marshalls waving our banners and chanting to save Parramatta’s community pool and green space from private development. We will walk along O’Connell Street, and after Parramatta Leagues Club turn down Fennel Street, along Fleet Street to arrive at the Cumberland Oval in the Cumberland Hospital Precinct.” Jack Mundey, above, one of the union leaders who led the Green Bans of the 1970s, at last year’s community rally where extension of Green Bans over the entire Cumberland Hospital site was announced.
“For those that won’t be able to participate in the march please join us at the Oval at midday where the community will meet for some short inspirational speeches from community leaders. Afterwards you can help support First North Rocks Scouts who are fundraising for vital repairs for their hall and cooking on the BBQ to sell us a lovely sausage sizzle on the grounds. Bring your family, Bring your neighbours, Bring your friends!”
Since the first “community consultations” conducted by UrbanGrowth NSW in November 2013 about the future of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct, a tide of community concern has been growing. Initially, the “community” was represented by very few people and the options they could consider were strictly limited. The site was little known and largely hidden from public view in Fleet St, North Parramatta. Above, is an artist’s impression of the redeveloped sports field in the precinct.
The precinct is the site of some of Australia’s most important Aboriginal and colonial history, including the convict Parramatta Female Factory from the 1820s and the 1840s Roman Catholic Orphanage – subsequently the notorious Parramatta Girls Home. Many of the buildings on the site are currently in use by Cumberland Hospital, which is gradually transferring its mental health services to other locations. The 1840s Parramatta Gaol adjoins the site, but is not part of current considerations.
The state member for Parramatta, Dr Geoff Lee MP, says that NSW Government needs to sell most of the 30 hectares of land in the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct to fund the conservation of its heritage buildings. Sale of the first super lots will begin in 2017. Although adjustments have since been made, apartment blocks of 20 and 30 storeys high are still among proposals by UrbanGrowth for residential development.
If these proceed, one of the first consequences could be the loss of World Heritage status for Old Government House. On a recent Heritage Week walk with Brian Powyer, vice president of the National Trust NSW, Brian pointed to the northern view from just behind the house, which encompasses the North Parramatta site. Currently, it is a soft vista of grassy parklands, trees and the flow of Parramatta River. One of the conditions for maintaining World Heritage listing is that there should be no intrusion of multi-storey buildings into that view. Brian explained that it was only when Parramatta Council insisted that the multi-storey towers currently being constructed on the old DJ’s site be moved one metre back from the riverbank, to the east, that the status was granted in 2010.
Parramatta Council’s 2005 Arts Facilities and Cultural Places Framework was developed as a 10 year plan for the future provision of arts facilities and associated projects across the City of Parramatta. The first major venue was to be in Civic Place, the second was to use The Old King’s School and the third to be a mixed use site in the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. Little has been heard of stage one. After years of lobbying by the local and regional arts community, The Old King’s School has been taken over by the NSW Department of Education. After 20 years of discussion initiated by the Carr Labor Government about arts facilities on the North Parramatta site, a community meeting in February this year was told by UrbanGrowth representatives that the Minister for the Arts was not interested in the site.
North Parramatta Residents Action Group has been strenuously lobbying for a delay in planning, while the community draws up alternative proposals. With the support of the National Trust, Parramatta Chamber of Commerce and many other community organisations, they conducted a very successful symposium last year, above left, which heard from a broad range of experts. Brian Powyer continues to receive widespread support for his proposal that a formally recognised community consultative committee should be appointed to the North Parramatta Project. UrbanGrowth points out that they work under the instruction of their political masters. Advocacy for change must be directed at them. That’s what Sunday is about.