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

Revealed: how Redfern will be reborn

THE SECRET PLAN FOR SYDNEY'S NEW CBD $5 billion development

Gerard Ryle and Debra Jopson and Darren Goodsir
Sydney Morning Herald
29th November 2004

The State Government has a $5 billion plan to redevelop Redfern and the surrounding suburbs that involves seizing control of Aboriginal housing on the Block and letting private developers take over two-thirds of the area's public housing estates.

Under the 10-year plan, the Government will tear down the residential towers in Waterloo and privatise $540 million worth of public assets in a bid to double the area's population to 40,000, create 20,000 new jobs and give the central business district room to expand.

In a major piece of social engineering, 20,000 new private renters and owners will be brought in to balance out the 7000 public housing tenants in the area, many of whom are poor, old and disabled.

The Herald's investigations team has sighted details of the plans in cabinet documents dated October 2004.

The southerly expansion of the CBD into 340 hectares of Redfern, Eveleigh, Darlington and Waterloo will be overseen by the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, the establishment of which the Premier, Bob Carr, announced last month.

According to the papers, consultants have told the Government, which owns almost one third of land in the area, that the redevelopment of the notorious Block would increase certain property values by 30 per cent.

"The NSW Government is the largest landholder in the ... area. The estimated market value of developments in the area is approximately $5 billion," the papers say.

"In order to maximise social and economic returns, the Government must be able to offer planning certainty to the market within a strategic planning framework."

The papers contain masses of comprehensive costings from government departments advising on specific aspects of the project, right down to details on the possible political and legal risks. The papers describe the plan as a "a radical departure" from previous initiatives.

The Government rushed legislation to set up the Redfern-Waterloo Authority through the lower house 10 days ago and, according to the papers, expects the authority will be in place by January 1.

The authority will have powers to override local councils and heritage laws, to grant concessions to private developers, including the$34.5 million makeover of Redfern railway station, and to acquire land compulsorily.

Some of the sites earmarked for sale are Redfern police station, Redfern Public School and the Rachel Forster Hospital site.

Residents who now have only half the open space of other inner-city suburbs will have only a quarter of the space once the population is doubled, the papers reveal. The Government has been advised to provide additional transport to take these overcrowded residents to places like Bondi Beach.

The minister responsible for the authority, Frank Sartor, told Parliament this month he would "consult widely with the community and all levels of government when developing the plan" for the authority.

However, the public is still in the dark. For instance, the Government has not revealed that the authority will take effective control of the Aboriginal Housing Company, which owns the Block and other homes in the area, and that help to refurbish the Block will come at a price.

According to the papers, the Aboriginal Housing Company, a registered charity, will be required to give the Government a 10-year lease over its land and impose stricter rent agreements. Tenants could be required, for instance, to be drug free. The papers warn that some members of the Aboriginal Housing Company may challenge the plan as "inequitable and oppressive".

The Government has secretly audited the company and found it is in financial trouble, with debts of more than $1 million.

So sensitive is this audit that the October 2004 papers state it should be withheld from the parliamentary committee that investigated the death of the Redfern Aboriginal teenager T. J. Hickey, which caused riots in the suburb in February.

The papers say that in the absolute worst case, the Redfern-Waterloo Authority could compulsorily buy the Aboriginal Housing Company's land and "then implement the long-term arrangements on that land for affordable housing for Aboriginal people".

The papers even include a draft memorandum of understanding to be signed by Mr Carr and the chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Housing Company, Michael Mundine - although it is not known whether he is aware of all the details.

A spokeswoman for Mr Sartor said yesterday that there was no plan. She said a plan would be worked out once the authority was in place.


$27m redevelopment


$34.5m redevelopment to place it at heart of a new commercial CBD

518 units plus 43,000 square metres of office space and 800-seat theatre

Loss-making operation to be taken over by new authority

Unrestricted by City Council planning rules

To be sold

Public housing towers demolished. Private developers to get 15 hectares of public housing land worth $540m.