CommentOpinionTransportWaterloo redevelopment

Metro Quarter railroads public housing tenants

A decision to split the Waterloo Metro Quarter and the Waterloo public housing estate master plan engagements and to fast-track the Metro Quarter exhibition has broken undertakings given to public housing tenants that they would not be rushed into commenting on master planning.

To date the engagement on both sites was handled together, with Land and Housing Corporation (LAHC) handling the engagement on behalf of UrbanGrowth NSW Development Corporation (UGDC) and Transport for NSW (TfNSW).

Tenants and local agencies negotiated with LAHC for a six-to-eight-week gap before being asked to comment on the master plan. The time was to start from the release of the report from last year’s visioning and the release of the summaries of key consultant studies, giving space to capacity building and study groups, so public tenants could understand the complex issues dealt with in the master plan before making informed comments.

With only two weeks’ notice of the split, a pre-arranged mapping workshop, as part of the capacity building, now happens after the only two public Metro Quarter information sessions. Government-run study groups on nine key consultant reports will now be delivered after the close of the draft Metro exhibition they were intended to inform.

The government says the two plans still mesh. They may for the government, but the community will not have both to see how they interact. What shadows will fall across each project from the other? Where across both sites do people think community and health services would best be located?

While a three-month process will be used to develop the Waterloo Estate master plan, this consultation will have just started when the Metro Quarter master plan is formally submitted to the Department of Planning. Any community input into the Metro Quarter master plan arising from the estate planning process can only be made by the community towards the end of the year during the formal exhibition process.

The two non-government agencies funded to support tenants during the redevelopment, Counterpoint Community Services (CCS) and Inner Sydney Voice (ISV), joined with REDWatch in a media statement to protest the railroading of tenants that has resulted from the decision to speed up the Metro Quarter engagement.

Charmaine Jones from ISV said: “It has taken a lot of hard work to bring the community along on this latest ‘redevelopment’ journey, given the high levels of apathy due to previous ‘planning’ ideas having never led anywhere. The community was promised that this time would be different. When community is ignored, it is not only government’s integrity that suffers, but ours as well. We spend many hours building trust and relationships within the community and in one fell swoop, government destroys it.”

Michael Shreenan from Counterpoint said: “It is ridiculous by any standard to only give three weeks to ‘consultation’ for social housing residents on the most significant part of the redevelopment. Their talk about social housing residents ‘being hard to reach and engage’ hides the reality that it is easier for government to ignore them than it is to make sure they have equality and ownership over any planning process that affects their community.”

Alice Anderson, co-spokesperson for REDWatch, said: “The focus of the planning system is supposed to have moved to get people involved early in the planning process, which is the stage that is happening now in Waterloo. Public housing, however, is not your average community; it is the place where government concentrates vulnerable people. As a result, there is a greater need for capacity-building and time for public tenants to have their say about complex things like planning. Overriding agreements negotiated with communities about how they will have their say ruins the trust in the planning system and disenfranchises those who are supposed to have a say at the beginning of the process.”

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