Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill 2021
(Debate, 17 November 2021, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Green open space is essential to a city's health, liveability, attractiveness and sustainability. It provides opportunities for respite and recreation such as walking, picnicking and sunbathing, and important environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, pollution reduction, shade, reduced flood risks and habitat for wildlife. Green space is especially important in the inner city where most land is built up and residential areas are densely populated with apartments, which have little access to private open space. As our population continues to grow and more people live in high‑density apartment buildings across the metropolitan region, the need to protect and expand urban green space will continue to escalate. But the amount of times green space has been sacrificed to resolve a planning challenge is a sad indictment on successive governments' attitude to public parklands.
In the inner city alone, we have lost public green open space to bridges, shopping centres, art galleries, public transport infrastructure and roads. We also regularly alienate public green open space for car parking and commercial events. By creating an umbrella organisation to act as a trust for multiple parklands across Sydney, the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill seeks to create a stronger advocate for green open space, helping to protect it. The hope is that a bigger trust will have more resources and capacity to defend green open space. I welcome legislation that aims to elevate Sydney's public open space in government priorities. But, ultimately, what matters is the willingness of the government of the day to fund, invest in, protect and expand urban green parklands. The Greater Sydney Parklands Trust now acts as the trust for the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust, which serves the densely populated communities in my electorate. The parklands are part of the Lachlan Macquarie bequest that set aside land for the recreational needs of future Sydney populations. Much of that bequest is gone and we must urgently act to preserve what is left.
The former showgrounds site at Moore Park is part of that bequest and is presently at significant risk of permanent alienation. The land has been the subject of backroom deals for around three decades, but the latest poses the biggest threat ever. When the showgrounds moved to Homebush, plans to rezone the land for sale and development were only stopped in 1992 by my predecessor, the then member for Bligh, Clover Moore, through her private member's bill. The land was then leased to Fox Studios with a State environmental planning policy drawn up to limit the use of the land to film, television and video and associated commercial, entertainment and educational activities for 40 years. The lease expressly stated that on its expiration, the land and buildings—including any new buildings constructed on the site—must be returned to the State.
In 2003 Fox onsold part of the lease covering what is now known as the Entertainment Quarter. In 2012, this Government passed laws to increase the length of leases for the land from between 20 and 50 years to 99 years. Two years later, the lease was onsold again and the owners are looking to completely commercialise the precinct with office towers and a hotel. Unsolicited proposals should never be permitted on public land dedicated for recreation. Any changes to planning use should go through an open and transparent public tender process that considers community input. Leases of 99 years are essentially freehold ownership and should never be permitted on public recreation land. Leases on such land should be strictly limited to purposes that relate to public recreation objectives.
It is the role of Parliament to approve long leases on public open space to ensure that the public interest is being upheld. The Greater Sydney Parklands Trust Bill must protect the former showground site if it is to be a true advocate for the city's green open space. I foreshadow that I will move a number of amendments to that effect at a later stage. I welcome the bill's move to finally remove cars from Moore Park and I thank the Minister and his office for working with me and the community to accept this requirement in the bill. I acknowledge the hardworking advocates of Moore Park who have been working for this change for decades, including Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Michael Waterhouse and the Saving Moore Park community organisation, and the Centennial Park Residents Association. This outcome will be an important legacy in the bill.
What could be worse than using green open space that had been set aside for the community's recreation needs as a car park? Moore Park provides rare expansive green open space in the inner city, with pockets of wild nature. But event car parking has alienated the parklands from public use for decades and the resultant damage to the grasslands and the inability to landscape the area has further hampered the potential for public use. With events cancelled during the pandemic, the extended removal of cars brought Moore Park back to life for picnickers, dog walkers, joggers and children. Adjacent communities want to use Moore Park for recreation. It should never have been treated as the stadium's car park. The expanding and already massive populations of the adjacent suburb of Green Square make protecting Moore Park even more important.
The community has been promised many times that car parking would be removed, including when the Eastern Distributor carved off large chunks of Moore Park; when alternative transport options, such as light rail, were introduced; and through the Moore Park Master Plan. I am pleased that parking will be removed from Moore Park north immediately and that a date is set for its removal from the rest of Moore Park. It is not as soon as the community wants, but it is a date that the community can hold whoever is in Government to account on. The creation of community trustee boards—modelled on the Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust Community Consultative Committee—will provide for community engagement, but trustee boards for each parklands estate are not a requirement of the bill. Each estate must have a community trustee board and consultation with those boards must be genuine and meaningful. There is concern that they could result in a tick-a-box notification exercise rather than be used as a resource that could improve outcomes for parklands.
There has been dissatisfaction at times with the way the Centennial Parklands Community Consultative Committee has operated, with former members reporting poor communication and little real consultation. Community trustee boards should allow State representatives to attend meetings, and I will move amendments at a later stage to address this. Community trustee boards are important but they should not replace strong connections between the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust and the community. The wider community must have access to Greater Sydney Parklands Trust members to discuss vision, priorities and operational issues and to be kept informed about plans and proposals for the parklands. It is the local communities that know and care for the parklands. I hope that the Greater Sydney Parklands Trust can achieve this needed grassroots involvement.
Population densities in Sydney continue to grow rapidly. Redevelopment projects such as the Sydney Fish Market, Central to Eveleigh, and Darling Harbour, as well as planning targets to increase densities will result in the vast majority of Sydney's population having no private open space. We will have healthy communities only if we expand the city's parkland estate, and this must be a fundamental role for Greater Sydney Parklands Trust. The trust should investigate new opportunities to add to its portfolio. It should assess government and privately owned land that could be rezoned for recreation. I would specifically like to consider unused Roads and Maritime Services land on William Street in Woolloomooloo and the Paddington Bowling Club land in Woollahra, which has been left neglected for decades. If we are to support healthy urban communities and environments, government budgets and planning must give public green open space the priority it deserves. I hope that this bill flags a new approach for Sydney that results in more green open space. I commend the Minister and his staff for their hard work on this legislation.