Councillor Meredith Sheil has made a long comment online regarding The Trust’s open letter to Council following the finalisation of the sale of publicly owned property to the developer of the site.  Click here for the full text of the Open Letter.

Councillor Sheil should not be surprised by The Trust’s attitude towards Council’s role in the redevelopment of the GSV site.  Our view is long standing and has been canvassed on a number of occasions.

In our submission of 7 November 2013 objecting to the original Moch Pty Ltd proposal for the GSV site, which was subsequently withdrawn we argued that:

It is an overdevelopment of the site.

  1. The revised DCP, which sets the planning controls, is flawed and misleading.
  2. It will have an adverse impact on the character and amenity of the surrounding residential and commercial areas.
  3. It will exacerbate existing parking and traffic problems.
  4. It creates a poorly designed gated community physically separated from the rest of the area and fails to provide a safe and healthy environment for its occupants.
  5. It involves the demolition of a building of considerable heritage significance, which was on land previously owned by Council.
  6. The proposed GSVD redevelopment is a cheap and very ordinary proposition that is driven by commercial profit and pragmatism.
  7. The Council, as a stakeholder in the proposal, has failed to properly represent the community by taking a leadership role in its development

(The items in bold relate specifically to Hunters Hill Council’s role in the development.)

Click here for the full text of The Trust’s 2013 submission objecting to the proposal.

A flawed Development Control Plan

In summary we argued that a major reason for the overdevelopment of the site is because Council accepted the revisions to the LEP and DCP in the Newbold Review of 2009.  The revised DCP increased the density and height allowed on the site on the basis that the previous controls would not deliver financially-feasible redevelopment” of the site.  The Trust argued: “ this clearly puts the developer’s financial interest ahead of the community’s interest and the maintenance of the amenity of the surrounding area”.

The demolition of 10 Cowell St

In the 2013 submission The Trust also took Council to task for its failures in relation to the publicly owned heritage building at 10 Cowell Street.  Since the submission was written Council moved to have the cottage heritage listed but, as we noted in the open letter,

The Trust was shocked to discover that it excluded the curtilage of the property.  This is unique for a Schedule 5 property listing in Hunters Hill’s LEP.   The exclusion of the curtilage was designed to allow the developer to remove the house from the site and erect it somewhere else.  It was to ensure that heritage issues did not interfere with the overall development of the site.  It has meant the density of the site’s development will be maximized and has precluded the possibility of a lower scale development that is nuanced by the retention of the historic cottage.  

Council failed to properly represent the community by taking a leadership role in its development

Our 2013 submission noted that Hunters Hill Council’s landholdings are essential to the amalgamation and redevelopment of this site.  Council is therefore in a powerful position to be able to set the agenda for what the development should achieve and to be an active player in developing design solutions to benefit the wider community and to ensure that Hunters Hill’s heritage is preserved.

Council has deliberately relinquished a leadership role in the development.  Instead it has passively sold off its land holdings to the developer and allowed the demolition of an important item of Hunters Hill’s heritage that was previously under its stewardship.

Moch Pty Ltd 2013 DA withdrawn

The developer, Moch Pty Ltd, in the face of criticism from Council’s planning consultants, withdrew this Development Application.  There was a big sigh of relief all round and The Trust addressed The Council meeting on 14 July 2014.  We noted in our address that Council now has this terrific opportunity to

A) Reassure the community that it is a trustworthy custodian of our heritage and

B) That it has the mettle to revisit the DCP’s controls to ensure a much better outcome.

 We also set out what any new proposal should include.  For the full text of the address to Council, click here.

An even bigger development

However, Moch, having fired their original architects and employed another group of consultants, has now submitted a Planning Proposal that proposes trashing the existing planning controls to allow for an even more intense development of the site with a consequential greater negative impact on the surrounding area.

Blame the State Government

In her response to The Trust’s open letter, Councillor Sheil has argued that that Hunters Hill Council has no responsibility for what is happening on this site and that it is all the fault of the State Government.

While it is fully understood that The State Government has increasingly taken over planning controls and even as we speak is in the process of extending complying development to include two-storey density development housing, that does not remove Council’s responsibility for the development of the GSV site.

From The Trust’s perspective, Council, as a 25% owner of the land, had an opportunity to play a major part in the pattern of development of the site.  Items 2, 6 and 8 in our 2013 submission all relate to Council’s direct responsibility for how the site could have been developed.

Councillor Sheil’s argument that Hunters Hill Council was powerless to do anything also seems more than a little ironic considering how much Council is spending in time and effort in an attempt to convince Hunters Hill residents of its continuing relevance and capacity as a stand-alone council.

Community consultation

Councillor Sheil also refers to the Council’s efforts in community consultation.  A number of Trust committee members attended the Future of Gladesville Community Workshops”, which were held in November 2014.

In a letter to the General Manager The Trust was strongly critical of this process.    We also took issue with the online survey, its design and intent.

We concluded that we believed – the survey and consultation meetings run by Place Partners were so deeply flawed that they will not enhance the prospects for the Future of Gladesville.   We think the process has taken two big steps backwards and suggest that if Council wishes to engage the community in the planning process for the Future of Gladesville in any meaningful way it needs to ignore Place Partners’ contribution thus far and start again.   

For the full text of the letter about the Future of Gladesville Workshops click here.

Hunters Hill Hotel development

Councillor Sheil cites the development of the Hunters Hill Shopping Village with a positive spin.

This ramshackle agglomeration of badly designed buildings does not necessarily represent a plus for Council.  As well, the process by which it came into being is not something that Council can take much pride in.

The intention of the planning controls in the DCP for the Hunters Hill Village is to preserve the existing two-storey scale of the area.  However it does allow a third storey provided it is set back from the face of the lower two.  Council signed off on a plan submitted by the Hunters Hill Hotel that allowed the it to build a three storey building on the street front with an additional 4th storey above that.

The Trust fought hard to prevent this happening but Council finally gave in to the developers and did not even challenge their argument that they had “existing use rights” over the old ground level car park, which somehow delivered them the ability to trash the controls to build an additional storey and, as a consequence, to change the intended two-storey scale of the shopping village.

Before the Village Plan was adopted Councillor Sheil may also remember the massive Town Hall meeting held to protest Council’s original proposal in the draft DCP for the Hunters Hill Shops to allow four-storey development thoughout.

The role of The Trust

Councillor Sheil accuses The Trust of hurling emotive insults and accusations at council and claiming that a merger(sic) mega-council would do any better.  I don’t see this accusation holding up to any close scrutiny – our language has always been restrained, unemotional and not insulting.

She also wants to “encourage the Trust executive to re-appraise their position and to endeavour to be more objective” 

Here Councillor Sheil seems to misunderstand one of the essential roles of The Trust and one of the principle reasons why it was formed.  A major part of our relationship with Council has been one of “keeping the bastards honest”  (to quote Don Chipp).  As a consequence the relationship from time to time been combative and adversarial.

This has been the case from the beginning.  As Richard Temple and Greg Martin wrote in The Vision and The Struggle, An account of The Hunters Hill Trust’s First Twenty Years, The Trust was formed by a group of concerned locals “at a time when the climate was ripe for residents’ protests against the bureaucratic indifference of the Council and the threat to the unique character of this suburb”.

Even the account of the iconic battle for Kelly’s Bush had Council on the other side of the battle; The Vision and The Struggle notes: “on November 4th 1969 Council, against all the public opposition, voted to rezone Kelly’s Bush to allow (the development of two-storey town houses proposed by AV Jennings)” and that “The Trust was not only in conflict with The State government over Kelly’s Bush.  The majority of Council was also opposed to retaining Kelly’s Bush as open space”.

Temple and Martin go on to note: “It is interesting how Council officers and former aldermen, who at the time were either all for compromise or quite opposed to The Trust’s views, are now proudly asserting the value of such a recreational area in the municipality”.

A word on amalgamation

In our letter to members encouraging individuals to make their own submissions, we made it clear that The Trust is not advancing the case for amalgamation.  However in the event that this were to occur and given the Trust’s Aim in maintaining the unique and historical character of Hunters Hill, we believe we need to put our energies into advocating for the inclusion of those things we have set out in our submission in any new merged Local Government Area.

Tony Coote

President, Hunters Hill Trust