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Redeveloping Waterloo – here we go again

While the announcement came as a shock to many tenants, the redevelopment of public housing in Redfern and Waterloo has been on the agenda of both Labor and Liberal governments for over a decade.
In 2004, in an address to the Committee for Sydney, Bob Carr compared Redfern Waterloo to Darling Harbour and said the transformation of the area over the next 25 years would be similar to what Sydney had seen in the preceding 25 years at Darling Harbour.
Based on work undertaken by the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project in the Premier’s Department, Redfern Waterloo got its own Redfern Waterloo Authority (RWA) and Minister (Frank Sartor) in late 2004.
The Sydney Morning Herald, in “Towers demolished as aid to social levelling” in November 2004, reported that confidential government documents dated October 2004 proposed that the “the distinctive high-rise public housing towers of Redfern and Waterloo could be pulled down … About two-thirds of the department’s 23.4-hectare Redfern-Waterloo estate would be handed to private developers”.
While the RWA undertook a number of studies, it was not until January 2011 that it released a copy of its Draft Redfern-Waterloo Built Environment Plan Stage 2 (BEP2), which outlined its plans. This consultation dovetailed with Housing NSW undertaking a federally-funded Preliminary Master Plan for the redevelopment.
Much of 2011 was taken up with consultants, studies and arguments about the benefits or otherwise of the proposal. Despite undertakings that the material assembled would be shared with the community neither the final BEP2, the Housing NSW Master Plan, subsequent studies undertaken by the government architect nor the Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority’s growth studies have ever been released.
It was not until UrbanGrowth NSW’s Central to Eveleigh project came along that locals learnt that BEP2 had been rejected by government on the grounds it was not financially viable and that much greater densities than that consulted on in 2011 would be needed for the redevelopment to become viable.
The decision to place a metro station in Waterloo provides UrbanGrowth with the rationale for the much higher densities needed to redevelop the Waterloo estate. Under the draft BEP2 the 2013 units of public housing on the estate were to more than double to about 4270 units of social, affordable and private housing, of which 40 per cent (1708 units) would have become public housing – a net loss of 305 units of public housing from the area.
From media reports of the December announcement, the new proposal is for 10,000 units on the estate (five times more units than currently) but with no loss of “social” housing.
“Social” housing includes community housing providers, so there is no guarantee the new stock will be under the control of Housing NSW, however the Minister has provided an assurance that tenants will not lose their existing entitlements. Such entitlements would not normally transfer to community housing.
BEP2 did not touch the public housing within the heritage conservation area predominantly in Waterloo, however after the Millers Point sell-off, tenants will be watching very carefully to ensure that this public housing stock is not lost while the focus is on the Waterloo estate renewal down the hill.
Over the next couple of months the government will have the opportunity to put its case for its proposals, and hopefully tenants will be able to interrogate the proposals and see if they would really deliver what has been promised. There is much suspicion about government intentions from the earlier consultation, and this could be addressed in part by government releasing all the studies undertaken over the last 10-15 years so the community has all the information necessary to understand the current proposals.
Old-timers and students of inner Sydney history will know that during the building of the present Waterloo estate battles literally raged between those trying to stop the development and the NSW Government, which saw the development as much needed urban renewal.
The public housing within the conservation area is a remnant saved by the community action and green bans that stopped even more of Waterloo being sacrificed to the very housing estates government now wants to redevelop.

As the next renewal chapter starts everyone should re-watch Tom Zubrycki’s film Waterloo, which documented the earlier struggle. Hopefully we can all learn from all earlier debates about urban renewal and try to get it right this time.

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