(Private Members Statement, 6 November 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Fox Studios and the Entertainment Quarter are situated on public land that provides a vital inner-city open space resource. The site was originally part of Governor Macquarie's bequest in 1811 that the 405-hectare Sydney Common be used for outdoor and recreational needs of present and future Sydney generations.
It later became the Centennial and Moore parklands. From 1881 the site was used by the New South Wales Royal Agricultural Society to host its Sydney Royal Easter Show until it moved to Homebush Bay. In 1995 the then Carr Government leased the site to Fox Studios in an opaque process that excluded a competitive tender process and provided concessions, including a cap on payroll tax, a cap on land tax, stamp duty exemptions, a subsidy to refurbish on-site water, electricity and gas services, and asbestos removal from heritage buildings. Fox Studios was exempt from paying rent until 1999.
In a 1997 Performance Audit Report the Auditor-General concluded that the process failed to ensure the best outcomes for this important public site. While the purpose of the lease was to provide a world-class film, television and video production centre with ancillary retail and entertainment activities, the initial film studio concept has been diminishing and non-studio activities bear no relation to film production expansion. In 2003 the lease for the then Family Entertainment Precinct—which is now named the "Entertainment Quarter"—was onsold. That transfer further transformed the precinct from film studio purposes that had been used to justify the private use of this public land.
The site, which was set aside for the public outdoor recreation needs of the people of Sydney, is now dominated by shops, bars, cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues, providing little public benefit. In late 2011 the initial concept plan was amended to allow for six new buildings and to transfer potential built land from the working studio precinct to the Entertainment Quarter. While development on the land is restricted by the State environmental planning policy 47, a broad range of purposes are permitted, including restaurants, shops, parking and fuel storage. On 4 June the Daily Telegraph reported that the site lease was under negotiation for onsale to a private company for a figure $10 million above what the former owners expected and was pending approval of the landlord as required by the initial 1995 lease.
In a Sydney Morning Herald report of 4 June, one investor referred to the potential redevelopment opportunities as "endless". Any future development of the site must not stray further from the initial film-related intention of the site and must not further erode open space. Reference to serviced apartments is of particular concern. It is vital that community spaces such as the Showring, which hosts the Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the children's playground are protected. The site lease period is 40 years from 26 April 1996, with the potential to extend the period by 10 years. Being close to 20 years into the lease, it is worth reminding the House that the original lease expressly states that, on its expiration, the land and buildings—including any new buildings constructed on the site—are to be returned to the State. Local residents, the wider Sydney community and I will monitor this site into the future to ensure that it is handed back, as was promised in 1995. Any lease renewal, particularly under new provisions that allow for 99-year leases, that is essentially freehold land would be adamantly opposed and would demonstrate that governments cannot be trusted.
While the site lease provides vital funds to the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust—thanks to Clover Moore's Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust (Macquarie Sydney Common) Amendment Bill— expanding commercial ventures would further betray the initial intent of the lease and Governor Macquarie's bequest, and would deny the public of much-needed future open space opportunities.
Furthermore, the financial benefit to the trust from increased commercial returns is limited because the 1995 lease capped revenue-based rent. The inner city is experiencing significant residential growth, particularly in suburbs surrounding the parklands. The Green Square redevelopment alone will see 40,000 adjacent new residents living in apartments with no private open space. Older adjacent suburbs such as Paddington and Surry Hills also have lower ratios of open space and face increasing populations. Urban consolidation is only sustainable if ample open space is available, but there are limited and diminishing opportunities for this.
Future uses of the Fox Studios and Entertainment Quarter site during the lease period must respect the primary purpose of the lease for film production and ancillary-related activities as well as the site's history, heritage, social significance and open space potential. In the longer term this public land must be returned to the much-depleted Macquarie bequest, adding to the parklands and expanding recreational and open space for the high and increasing inner-Sydney populations.