FOKE’s evidence against TOD


Portfolio Committee No. 7 Planning & Environment Committee on the ‘Development of the Transport Oriented Development Program’, Macquarie Room, Parliament House, Sydney, Monday 20 May 2024

by Mrs KATHY COWLEY, President, Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment Inc.,

KATHY COWLEY: Thank you for the opportunity to address the inquiry this afternoon. FOKE wishes to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and pays tribute to Elders past, present and emerging. Before I begin, I want to draw your attention to two maps which I provided for all Committee members today. Basically, the first map shows the yellow colouring of the TOD, four tier 2 TOD areas, over-hatched with the red heritage areas. The second map shows, with the blue circles, the 800 metre which will be part of the low- and mid-rise SEPP. But, of course, those blue circles will continue up the railway line. The green areas are the dual occupancy areas of Ku-ring-gai that will be impacted again by the low- and mid-rise but concentrating on the tier 2 TODs.

Since established in 1994, FOKE has consistently expressed its concerns to successive New South Wales governments that their urban consolidation policies have entrenched cumulative negative impacts on Ku-ring-gai’s unique heritage and exceptionally biodiverse urban environment. FOKE is deeply alarmed at the State Government’s knee-jerk, undemocratic imposition of the tier 2 SEPP, which targets four Ku-ring-gai suburbs: Roseville, Lindfield, Killara and Gordon. The modelling justifying the selection of the TODs remains Cabinet in confidence. This not only undermines trust in government but violates the EP&A Act, which enshrines public consultation and the orderly planning, processing and assessment of development in New South Wales. The TOD SEPP is a one-size-fits-all planning instrument which effectively dismantles heritage and environmental protections for significant areas of Ku-ring-gai and of Greater Sydney—and, as we’ve heard, far more reaching than that.

The TODs abandon good planning, good design and amenity. They are not ecologically sustainable. Nor do they ensure the commensurate increase in additional infrastructure and services to meet the significant growth. The four Ku-ring-gai tier 2 TODs are all located within a narrow, five-kilometre strip along the North Shore rail line, a corridor that has been identified as environmentally sensitive land. The four TOD could result in 18,000 new dwellings. That is 4,450 per TOD. This is equivalent of three major TOD or tier 1 hubs within the rail corridor between Roseville and Gordon. The four TODs could deliver 36,000 new additional residents, of which approximately 5,500 may be of school age. It is expected that this growth will require additional schools, medical facilities, supermarkets and other services. Despite this considerable projected growth, the TOD 2s or tier 2s require no master planning, unlike the tier 1 hubs.

The claims that Ku-ring-gai TODs have existing infrastructure capacity to support this growth is flawed and wrong. The simplistic one-size-fits-all criteria ignore geographic, environmental and heritage constraints and the cumulative impacts of past developments. The SEPP will lead to significant and irreversible loss of Ku-ring-gai’s heritage, as you can see, with the red hatched areas on maps, and biodiverse landscape. The TOD SEPP undermines the principles of the New South Wales Heritage Act 1977, that was established to protect heritage. The TODs will have an unacceptable impact on Ku-ring-gai’s heritage conservation areas and local heritage items. Ku-ring-gai is known for having the best collection of twentieth-century domestic architecture in Australia and has been attributed of being worthy of national significance. The TOD SEPP will impact more than 530 properties within heritage conservation areas, including more than 100 listed heritage items. For example, “Eryldene” is State Heritage listed on the New South Wales heritage inventory for:
… outstanding cultural significance being the most intact surviving example of the work of William Hardy Wilson, the prominent early twentieth century Australian architect, artist, writer and advocate of the Colonial Revival style.

As stated in evidence to the Portfolio Committee No. 7 inquiry on the planning system and the impacts of climate change on communities and the environment, over 70 per cent of Ku-ring-gai’s endangered ecological communities occur on private land, and there is less than 1 per cent left of the Blue Gum High Forest. As well as decimating Ku-ring-gai’s tree canopy, the TODs will remove their capacity for regeneration through the inadequate provision of deep-soil landscaping and protection of seed bank.

FOKE believes the TOD SEPP will not resolve the housing shortfall or affordability across Greater Sydney. Whilst the housing crisis is acknowledged, providing more affordable or social housing for Sydney is more complex than economic-driven development and setting targets and building houses. The market cannot and will not create affordable housing, as it is profit-driven. The TOD SEPP is a blunt instrument to tackle a complex problem. All around the world, short-stay rentals are being closed down, empty homes are being taxed and long-term social housing is being built.

The TOD program has none of these elements and it will have a disastrous impact on destroying large swathes of the last heritage areas across Sydney, changing the environment, character and sense of place of our suburbs for the worse, with little or no benefit in terms of improved affordability for rent or purchase. It’s nothing but a gift to profit-driven developers. Finally, for all these reasons, FOKE calls on the New South Wales Government to immediately withdraw the TOD program because of the devastation it will cause not only to the natural and built cultural heritage of Ku-ring-gai but for Greater Sydney. Thank you.

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The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: Mrs Cowley might like to add to this as well, but in Sydney and in the Sydney region, despite the calls of the Heritage Council, we’ve actually seen that the seven TOD sites that have been turned on as of April 2024, four of those—which are the ones along the North Shore line—have very significant heritage constraints and nothing has been done in terms of master planning with consideration of the heritage conservation areas. That’s four of the seven. Does that concern you?

DAVID BURDON: Look, I think there is still cause for concern in those areas, yes.

KATHY COWLEY: Yes, I would have to agree. There is significant concern about these conservation areas. Ku-ring-gai, I understand, was one of the last council areas to have heritage conservation areas gazetted in 2012. These were after studies by the National Trust in 1997, which declared 28 urban conservation areas which were delayed in being, as I said, gazetted until 2012. In that time, we have lost significant heritage. We documented it in 2008. These were the areas impacted by the residential strategy set by the Labor Government in 2002, so we now have the layering of this and now the potential layering of the TOD, tier 2, which will be devastating. Already the developers are taking up options for these properties. This is a very urgent proposition for Ku-ring-gai in terms of dealing with this SEPP.

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The Hon. MARK BUTTIGIEG: Mrs Cowley, last year you noted publicly that you were concerned with the sacking of the general manager at Ku-ring-gai where it was alleged that the local member for Wahroonga may have been involved. Can you enlighten us as to whether that’s had an effect on the subsequent cooperation of the council to work with the Government positively on this housing proposal?

KATHY COWLEY: Yes. Of course, we were very upset to lose Mr McKee. He was a very loyal and trusted general manager, but our acting general manager has been incredibly supportive of the council and the community in respect to our concerns about these housing reforms that your Government has introduced. We’re all working together in consultation with each other to support the council, along with our MPs and local community groups.

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The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: If I can just pick up on the question about the complementary nature of heritage and development, I imagine there’s quite a big gulf in terms of what you can do to complement heritage in denser areas like Potts Point, which you were talking about, and an area like Ku-ring-gai, where you’ve got garden suburbs and the heritage is effectively in the plots themselves, in a sense. I’m interested in your perspective as an architect, Mr Burdon, as to whether that can actually be done.

DAVID BURDON: I think yes, it can, is the short answer. If we look at Ku-ring-gai and some of these places, we were talking about Eryldene. There are houses in existing suburbs with existing setbacks and existing—and that might be to the front of the street—green areas and all that sort of thing. There could be new development adjacent to any heritage item that is sympathetic to that item. But when you bring in blanket reforms that actually bring forward, say, all of the—so there are zero setbacks or very small setbacks, then you start to affect those things. In the National Trust’s submission, we outlined a recent student housing development in Summer Hill, a very well known heritage part of Sydney. It includes about 180 new student residences next to and incorporating the old ambulance station at Summer Hill, and it’s been done extremely well. Yes, this can be done, but it needs to be done respecting the existing controls.

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW: Mrs Cowley, did you want to add to that?

KATHY COWLEY: Yes. We’re talking about wall-to-wall six-storey apartment blocks with, as David said, no setbacks, virtually wall to wall. So how do you plan effectively for Heritage listed properties with such a blunt “lack of merit assessment” SEPP? As he said, a lot of these cases will end up in the courts being challenged, because the heritage value of that property will be impacted, presumably, by this blunt instrument which does not allow for adequate setbacks or for deep soil landscaping. It will destroy the heritage character of our neighbourhoods, definitely, we feel.

TOD Inquiry 20 May, 2024

Read TOD SEPP by:

Paul Scully, MP, Minister for Planning & Public Spaces State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) Amendment (Transport Oriented Development) 2024 under the Environmental and Planning Act 1979 HERE