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UrbanGrowth finally speaks about Waterloo public housing

Over the months since Brad Hazzard announced the Waterloo redevelopment, I’ve heard a number of different takes on the sincerity of the NSW government’s planning body, UrbanGrowth – from the diplomatic (“They may be over-promising”) to the charitable (“I’m sure the people involved now are truly serious planners, but by the time decisions are made they’ll all be gone”) to the blunt (“Liars”).

At REDWatch’s most recent forum on May 5, we invited UrbanGrowth to explain and answer questions about the Central to Eveleigh project, of which the Waterloo redevelopment is but one part. While not all the attendees at our meeting fit into that blunt category, it was quite clear that many did. A few stormed out, some directly accused the speakers of lying and many of UrbanGrowth’s promises were met with open scepticism.

The irony of all this drama was that, for those so inclined, UrbanGrowth’s presentation and answers to questions gave some room for optimism. For instance, REDWatch had been assuming that the 30 per cent social housing promised at Waterloo included any affordable housing to be built during the redevelopment. But on further questioning, it became apparent that the affordable housing will be included as part of the 70 per cent of proposed private housing stock.

Mark Attiwell, UrbanGrowth Project Manager for the Waterloo Estate Redevelopment, assured us that UrbanGrowth’s hopes were to build additional social housing units on the site. Residents were also explicitly told that construction at Waterloo will be staged, an announcement that might have saved the community much anxiety if it had been made six months ago, as it makes the Minister’s promise that every tenant could return to Waterloo more plausible (or less preposterous – your call).

That is not to say that the speakers covered themselves in glory. Questions about the compulsory land acquisitions for the metro station were met with a rather craven round of buck passing. Answers about employment prospects for residents beyond temporary construction jobs were so vague as to be meaningless. There was no sign of concrete planning for affordable housing beyond the housing estate and the existing stock at North Eveleigh. Rather than building a new school, UrbanGrowth says the government is planning to increase the capacity of the existing ones with high-rise expansion.

Residents from areas apart from Waterloo and North Eveleigh were told that there were at present no plans for their suburbs – someone should have told the people responsible for their massing diagrams.

In the end, it all comes down to trust. The perplexing decision to announce the Waterloo redevelopment, then leave months without any serious clarifications, has allowed fears to multiply and used up the limited amount of goodwill that the government had. If there is any substance to UrbanGrowth’s protestations that the consultations on Central to Eveleigh are more than simply “ticking boxes” then they will have to endure many more nights in crowded community centres before they win back our trust.

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