29 August 2016
(Speech in Reply, 25 August 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I am appalled at the response from the government and opposition.
Both sides of the house claim to support transparency and accountability in the planning system, but neither will support it when it comes to their mates in the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust.
The exemption from planning laws for development proposals on SCG land makes absolutely no sense. By removing this exemption, the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Amendment (Development Assessment) Bill would restore fairness for people living adjacent to trust land and help improve development outcomes.
It would ensure that any development proposal is independently assessed by planning experts based on planning laws established to protect environment, heritage and neighbourhoods following a public development application or public environmental impact statement. The bill would enable people in the community to raise concerns with decision makers before a determination.
Currently planning decisions occur behind closed doors. This government removed the extraordinary discretion of the planning minister under Part 3A, it should remove the even greater ministerial discretion afforded to the sports minister which includes sign-off without any independent expert assessment.
I would like to stress that we are talking about public land dedicated for public recreation – originally set aside as part of Governor Macquarie’s 1811 Sydney Common bequest for the recreation needs of present and future Sydney generations. SCG land sits within public parklands and the densely populated areas of the inner city and inner east. Development on this site can be sensitive and even controversial and it requires independent and expert assessment and community input.
Over the last decade construction on the site has been ongoing. The Rugby Centre for Excellence and the Sports Medicine Clinic were built, and construction on the six-storey Australian Rugby Development Centre with sports science facilities began earlier this year. Mature trees have been cut down on the Gold Members Car Park.
All these occurred without any form of local community notification, consultation or input, or any independent expert oversight and assessment. Local residents only find out when they see development commence.
I have heard a number of rumours that there are further development plans for the land and I remind the house that laws were changed in 2006 to allow commercial, residential and tourist accommodation buildings on this public land, otherwise dedicated for recreation.
Developments are no longer for public sport matches with the focus now on medical and education facilities and centres of excellence.
The SCG Trust Advisory Group that the trust is establishing in response to my bill may be a welcome step, but it cannot replace an open, transparent, independent and rigorous planning assessment process. The trust will continue to be able to do what it wants without any expert assessment and approval, residents will have limited representation and non-disclosure agreements could be imposed.
I’ve heard no credible justification from either side on why land managed by the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust should be treated any different to land owned and managed by developers, schools, universities, hospitals, churches, jails, aged care facilities or government departments all of which are subject to local government and planning laws. This is clearly about favours to the SCG Trust.
The state’s planning systems result in the approval of most planning proposals; the bill presents no risk to the SCG Trust from getting its plans through. Rather, the bill provides an opportunity for proposals to be improved through community input, assessment and conditions. I would have expected more faith in a process that the government and opposition helped establish.
The bipartisan support for such an extraordinary exemption shows how powerful the sports trust is now. I have spoken to many sport fans who watch matches at the stadia: they tell me that they are appalled by the way the trust behaves, viewing the public land held in its trust and adjacent public parkland as its very own development site.
I understand that the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Act 1978 is set to be reviewed in the next two years and I ask the government to commit to reviewing the inappropriate exemptions in the act from planning laws for potential repeal.
It is only fair that residents adjacent to the SCG have the opportunity to see all relevant planning reports on proposed buildings including on traffic, views, overshadowing, heritage and trees, and be able to raise any concerns and have them considered as part of a final determination by an independent planning authority. This is what my bill would do.
I commend the bill.