But these ad hoc decisions turn Sydneyâ€™s planning system into a dogâ€™s breakfast. The governmentâ€™s only priority appears to be saving seats.
The City of Parramatta, which has also applied for an exemption from the medium density code, arguably needs more of a breather than Ryde. It is forecast to gain an extra 150,000 residents between now and 2036, the largest population increase of anywhere in Australia.
Westmead, Wentworthville and Telopea have all been designated priority growth precincts. Meanwhile, the Camellia Master Plan would rezone industrial areas adjoining the Parramatta River to create residential skyscrapers of up to 40 storeys. As reported in yesterdayâ€™s Herald, developers are pushing to double the number of units from 10,000 to 20,000. In the words of Scott Lloyd, the former lord mayor of Parramatta, Camellia is a “goldmine”.
With a government in thrall to commercial interests – even its relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta involves creating a new super tower – progressive parties have a golden chance to offer an alternative population and planning vision. This would place a tighter leash on developers and fast-track desperately needed transport, health and education services.
In and around Parramatta today, the high rise always come first; residents only get the services if they are lucky. So, in Wentworth Point, the developer Billbergia runs a private shuttle to Rhodes Station because new housing was approved before new bus routes. In Carlingford, where towers loom above the train station, the government plans to terminate the proposed Parramatta Light Rail line instead of extend it to Carlingford Court shopping centre and the major transport junction of Epping. In Melrose Park, Stage 2 of the project is a distant dream. Without a vision for high-speed ferry capacity to service the riverside developments, new residents will be stranded for years.
Similar planning failures are evident in education. Population growth has created a ticking time bomb of school enrolments from Westmead to Girraween. At Carlingford West Public School, students are taught in a record 35 demountable buildings. Playground space is being eroded and there are queues to use the toilets. The government has moved to address this situation in the recent state budget but relief is still years off.
As for health planning, residents in overcrowded suburbs seek more than the redevelopment of hospitals five suburbs away sometime in the 2020s. Policies are needed now promoting new digital technologies that aid self-care in the home. There is also a place for community pop-ups close to where people live, such as nurse-run walk-in centres and after-hours clinics. These diagnose problems early, and are more cost-effective than funnelling patients into already overstretched hospitals such as Westmead.
Finally, development in Sydney would gain greater acceptance if it equalised housing opportunities, rather than entrenching wealth. For progressives, it should be a core value to get more young and working Australians into the housing market.
Labor would mandate that at least 15 per cent of development on privately owned land â€“ and 25 per cent on public land â€“ be offered at discounted rates, potentially via community providers. By contrast, the Camellia Master Plan proposes a target of just 5 per cent affordable housing. Thatâ€™s paltry given the 60,000 people on the stateâ€™s social housing waitlist and the doubling of homelessness around Parramatta in the last five years.
Development is failing us if all it produces is gold-plated apartments for the rich and tacky cereal packets for everyone else. Meanwhile, vital infrastructure and services to support that growth never arrive, and yes, kids canâ€™t play in the fresh air because thereâ€™s no garden or public park.
Faced with the dystopia of an overcrowded Sydney, centred on Parramatta and rippling out, commercial interests can no longer be allowed to let rip. Itâ€™s time for new communities â€“ including culturally diverse populations with less experience of activism â€“ to stand up for the services, amenities and values that should guide population expansion.
This is the only way to ensure that developers donâ€™t write the rules of a fast-changing city; but we do.
Alan Mascarenhas lives in Parramatta and is a former advisor to NSW Labor leaders Luke Foley and John Robertson