A short documentary history of the Block in Redfern
Material from the Gary Foley Collection

Redfern plan threatens cultural identity, critics say

Sherrill Nixon Urban Affairs Editor
Sydney Morning Herald
15 April 2006

A PLAN to build 18-storey office towers near Redfern train station while reducing housing around the Block has raised fears that the area will become a mini-CBD, losing its cultural identity and heritage in the process.

Community and welfare groups doubt the Redfern-Waterloo Authority's draft plan for the area will provide jobs for residents, despite the addition of 440,000 extra square metres of employment space.

They are also worried about the lack of open space, the failure to protect heritage buildings and the absence of a transport strategy in the draft plan.

The harshest criticism comes from the Aboriginal Housing Company, which owns the Block and says the authority's plan for the symbolic heart of Sydney's Aboriginal community is unfair and racially discriminatory.

The vision for the Block changes the site's zoning from residential to "mixed use", encouraging business developments in buildings with a three-storey height limit but allowing only 30 homes. The restrictions kill off the Aboriginal Housing Company's proposal to build 62 new homes.

In his submission responding to the authority's draft plan, the company's chief executive, Mick Mundine, questioned why the Aboriginal-owned land was the only zone in the Redfern-Waterloo area for which reduced housing densities were proposed.

"It [the plan] proposes an unfair and racially discriminatory treatment for different land owners in Redfernwithout any legitimate planning rationale," Mr Mundine said.

His submission was backed by the lawyer John Mant and planner Richard Smyth, who said the treatment of the Block was inconsistent with the State Government's Metropolitan Strategy, which encourages increased housing density near train stations.

The draft plan was released in February by the Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, who said the creation of 18,000 jobs and 2000 homes in the Redfern-Waterloo region over the next 10 years would "break the cycle of opportunity". It foreshadows a revamp of Redfern train station, including the development of an "urban boulevard" linking it with shops and other businesses in nearby Redfern Street, and 18-storey office towers along the main roads near the station.

In its submission responding to the plan, the NSW Council of Social Service says the huge commercial developments would make Redfern a larger business hub than Chatswood. It urges the Redfern-Waterloo Authority to better explain what the social and environmental aspects of such development would be.

While the authority says the new office blocks and other businesses will provide jobs for local people - one of the most disadvantaged groups in Sydney - community groups and the City of Sydney Council disagree.

Geoff Turnbull, a spokesman for the local community group REDWatch, said: "The sorts of jobs that are going to be on offer are not the sorts of jobs that the people in our housing are qualified for."

The City of Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor, Verity Firth, called for a greater focus on developing small businesses that would create appropriate job opportunities for local people.

In its submission, the City of Sydney has called on the Redfern-Waterloo Authority to defer the draft plan until it could provide further detail on several matters, including the provision of affordable housing and open space, and heritage protection.

The deadline for submissions is Tuesday.