Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Rhodes Peninsula, Sydney overdevelopment


ALAN JEFFERY povides a description of how the amenity of Rhodes is being destroyed by senseless overdevelopment as at the end of December 2010.

Rhodes Peninsula continues to be abused by both the State Government and Canada Bay Council. The Master Plan is being massively amended during construction of this residential/commercial/retail development to permit much higher residential densities and over double the height restrictions. This is producing greater developer profits but at substantial cost to the local community and, in particular, the local road infrastructure.

The following is a summary of some of the events and concerns surrounding this development. Whilst it is based on correspondence, documentation and recollections of the author, a resident of Rhodes for 35 years, due to the constantly changing nature of this development over more than a decade, not always to the community’s knowledge, no guarantee can be made that all facts, numbers, etc are absolute accurate.


Rhodes is a small suburb on the southern bank of the Parramatta River slightly more than half way from Sydney to Parramatta. The development site occupies the area of the suburb lying west of the railway line. Part of the proposed development site was badly contaminated by the previous heavy industry usage.

After lengthy “consultation” a decade ago a Master Plan (SREP 29) was approved by the State Government around the end of 2001 for the 0.43 square km site which approved (approximately):

· Commercial area for 2,000 employees (in addition to a further 3,000 employees elsewhere in Rhodes)
· Shopping centre with over 100 shops
· 3,000 residential units for around 7,300 residents

Members of the local community fought hard to limit this development during consultation for the original Master Plan, writing over 40 letters to departments, the Premier, Ministers, Members of Parliament, and meeting with Planning Minister Refshauge, Opposition Leader John Brogdan and Shadow Minister Barry O’Farrell. They also provided submissions to a Parliamentary Inquiry into the development, including a 40 page report into the transport issues. Yet the community concerns were effectively ignored.

Following the approval of the Master Plan, construction began with the shopping centre opening at the end of 2004 and commercial sectors opening progressively and they are now effectively complete. The residential component on the non-contaminated portion of the site commenced early in the project whilst the remaining residences waited for the completion of the remediation of the northern portion of the site. Currently about 1,000 of the original proposed 3,000 units have been built and occupied.

Contamination and remediation of the site

The following is understood to represent the circumstances of the remediation process.

Much of the Rhodes Peninsula site was heavily contaminated primarily by dioxins produced at the on-site Union Carbide factory being incorporated into reclamation landfill. A significant portion of the contaminated site was owned by the State Government which called for expressions of interest (EOI) to remediate the land after which the successful contractor could development the land in accordance with SREP 29. The EOI explicitly prohibited the use of direct thermal desorption (DTD) to remediate the soil. DTD is basically heating the soil in the open to evaporate the contaminants. The contract was awarded in the understanding that remediation would be undertaken using indirect thermal desorption (ITD) which heats the soil in a closed system to contain and collect any toxic gases.

To the best of the author’s knowledge here are just some of the concessions re this site:

1) After awarding the remediation contract, the contractor was subsequently permitted to use a modified form of DTD without a new EOI being issued. A professor from a New York university, with then 18 year’s of world-wide dioxin experience, had previously told a public meeting at Rhodes that DTD was so dangerous that under no circumstances should residents remain in the area if DTD was used; they should definitely move.

2) The remediation extent and standards were significantly reduced after the contract was awarded.

Both of these dramatically reduced the period and cost of remediation and thereby greatly increased developer profit – AFTER the contract was awarded.

The remediation is almost complete so nothing much can be done in this regard although who knows what health concerns may arise in the local community. It should be mentioned that the remediation was stopped for several weeks after it was found the process wasn’t satisfying the required standards, believed to be in regards to the emissions.

Q. Why did the State Government grant such remediation concessions to the developers?

The Amended Master Plan

About September 2009 local residents were advised that Canada Bay Council was exhibiting an amended Master Plan for the site. After apparently ignoring the major concerns of local residents, a few weeks ago Council approved amendments to the Master Plan to permit

· 5,300 units not the original 3,000*, and
· an increase in maximum height from around 10 storeys (in this area) to 25 storeys

* note the original 3,000 approved units had previously been increased to 4,500 units on the basis that the units had more 1 and 2 bedrooms although the number of residents had also been significantly increased. This increase appears to have been somewhat surreptitious as it was almost certainly not accompanied by an amended Master Plan but more likely incorporated into individual DAs.

Q. What was the purpose of the 2-year consultation period and a Parliamentary Inquiry if the Master Plan can be dramatically amended during the construction phase?

The developers, after having been given financial benefits by massive remediation concessions, are now being given even further concessions. Canada Bay Council stated that the changes were needed to satisfy development targets set by the State Government.

Impacts of the Amended Master Plan

Some of the impacts of this development, and the amended Plan in particular, are:

· unacceptable population density (detailed below)
· overwhelming traffic problems (detailed below)
· stress on educational facilities (discussed below)
· overloading of public transport particularly the nearby railway
· massively increased overshadowing of existing developments

Population Density

If around 5,300 units are approved the original population of Rhodes will increase around 16 fold in little over a decade. The final population of around 11,200 people (700 original plus an expected 10,500*) in a suburb as a whole of around 1 square kilometre is equivalent to fitting the world’s population in about 80% of NSW. Yet Rhodes, as a very small suburb, is just not residential development but includes:

Ø a six lane arterial road
Ø a train line with four track potential
Ø a 62 bed aged care hostel
Ø a large church
Ø parkland (almost 10% of the suburb)
Ø existing light industrial use (app 5% of the suburb)
Ø employment for around 5,000 workers
Ø shopping centre with over 100 shops

* whilst the exhibited plan referred to an estimated population of 10,500 residents, the local newspaper report refers to an additional 12,000 residents (see transcript at the end of this document)

Q. How can the State Government believe that a suburb residential density equivalent to fitting the world’s population in 80% of NSW is good planning?

Traffic Problems

Perhaps the major concern with this development, and that which the author is most knowledgeable, is its impact on traffic in the area due to its proximity to Ryde Bridge and the restricted access to the area.

Currently most of the retail and commercial development is complete and occupied but only around 1,000 of the original 3,000 units are occupied. Yet traffic problems are already diabolical. The development is immediately adjacent to Ryde Bridge and traffic is at a standstill throughout most of the morning and evening peaks on this crucial piece of Sydney’s road network.

There are only two access roads to Rhodes:

1. Homebush Bay Drive coming from the south-west which becomes Concord Rd and continues past the site over Ryde Bridge, and
2. The old Concord Rd (south) which comes northward from Strathfield and joins Homebush Bay Drive near the southern boundary of the development.

Hence all traffic visiting or passing through Rhodes has to travel on part of the Homebush Bay Drive and/or its extension along Concord Rd to Ryde Bridge.

Based on the original Transport Management Plan (TMP) adopted by the Government the average delay in Concord Rd at the Homebush Bay Drive intersection will exceed 12 mins (for 2,000 cars an hour) under the 3,000 unit proposal. An analysis of this shows that in just one hour enough petrol will be “wasted” by cars queuing at this one intersection for a car to drive around Australia. Yet with only 1,000 units occupied these delays are already being significantly exceeded. The author recently surveyed the traffic one afternoon on a normal day (no rain, breakdowns or accidents) and cars in Concord Rd were taking over 13 minutes to get through the set of lights at Homebush Bay Drive. Apart from the environmental concerns, additional traffic delays within Rhodes (due to the original 3,000 unit development alone) can be shown to cost the community over $10 million a year in lost time.

Q. How can the environmentally-conscience State and Local Governments consider such a waste of precious fuel resources and the associated CO2 and pollution production acceptable?

The original TMP projected post-development flows on Ryde Bridge are up to 1,900 cars per hour per lane. This means cars have to travel around 1.9 seconds apart; much closer than the RTA recommended 3 seconds and even closer than the 2 seconds which is illegal in many countries (eg New Zealand).

Q. The State Government was repeatedly informed of this fact so how can they condone this unsafe driving practice?

The traffic flow figures in the original 3,000 unit TMP demonstrate that because of the proximity of the development to Ryde Bridge, this development is going to generate traffic volumes equivalent to the modelled increase in traffic arising from around 16 years of background growth i.e. Sydney-wide development. That means this vital piece of infrastructure will have to be augmented or replaced 16 years before previously necessary just because of the original 3,000 unit development; or much more than 16 years if 5,300 units are approved.

Q. How can the State Government justify approving a development with such disproportionate negative impacts on important infrastructure?

The community repeatedly advised the Government that insufficient parking was being provided based on an existing very detailed survey of transport use in the suburb e.g. car use represented over 80% of journeys whilst the Government ideologically assumed 55%. Despite drawing their attention to this survey the Government refused to reference it in the studies and failed to provide sufficient parking. Previously quiet local streets are now parked out by workers who then walk for 15 minutes to their offices.

Educational Facilities

In January 2010 a local newspaper reported that a nearby school principal said all local schools were experiencing capacity problems. During the original Master Plan the matter of inadequate schools was raised by the community which noted that age demographics in a study for the Master Plan demonstrated over 600 school age children would reside in the 3,000 unit development. This fact was not directly disclosed in the study and recollections are that there was never any discussion by government of a new school. It is understood that Council is now, with only 1,000 units occupied, discussing with the Department of Education the possibility of a new primary school in the eastern/older portion of Rhodes.

Q. Why was the community’s call for a school to be incorporated in the new development ignored but now there is talk about a new school to be located outside the development?

Current Situation

Despite significant local opposition, this increased development has been recently approved by Canada Bay Council and it is understood it is awaiting the signature of the Minister for Planning.

According to the local newspaper report that follows, the Mayor said the council had decided to back the plan for high-density living on the former industrial site because it was a better way to meet the State Government's population targets than spreading medium density living across the whole of Canada Bay. Perhaps he should ask the opinion of thousands of drivers who already frequently take over 30 minutes to traverse the 1.6 km long suburb.

Lastly, what precedence does this set for the rest of Sydney? Even the local ALP MP (Angela D’Amore) is so concerned that 20 odd storeys may become the norm around the quiet neighbourhoods in her electorate that she called a well-attended public meeting and continues to fight the increased height restriction although she has said the increased population numbers don’t concern her.

Less than ten years ago, Rhodes was nothing more than an industrial village but the State and Local Governments have decided to make it another Chatswood purely because it is near a railway station and the industrial land was ripe for picking. Both these Governments have chosen to totally ignore the negative impacts of this development whilst such developments are directly or indirectly responsible for most of the woes they face.

Official documentation for the proposed amendment is available on the Canada Bay Council website at

HIGH DENSITY FUTURE 12,000 more for Rhodes Peninsula

Inner West Courier 26 Oct 2010 Hannah Parkes

A plan to bring 12,000 new residents and seven skyscrapers to the Rhodes Peninsula was adopted by Canada Bay Council last week. The approved Rhodes West Master Plan comes after a 30-day public exhibition period and will allow the previous eight-storey building limit to be increased to allow construction of five towers at 25 storeys, one at 20 storeys and one at 18 storeys.

Mayor Angelo Tsirekas told the meeting the decision to approve the plan was "difficult". "We're in a bit of a dilemma, we'd like to walk away from it, it's not an easy decision," Cr Tsirekas said.

He said the council had decided to back the plan for high-density living on the former industrial site because it was a better way to meet the State Government's population targets than spreading medium density living across the whole of Canada Bay. "Unfortunately we now need to handle this. We need to provide 10,000 new dwellings under the new metro strategy" he said.

He said the council had done its best to provide for the future community including the construction of a $13 million community centre and increased open space.

Drummoyne State Labor MP Angela D'Amore said she would continue to oppose the development. "If developers and council get their way, this will open the door for 25-storey residential towers to be built in anyone of my suburbs," she said.

Addressing the meeting, Rhodes resident Paul Hanly spoke of his concern about the scale, high speed limits and lack of community facilities. Mr Hanly asked the council to set aside $20,000 for a comprehensive recreation plan to provide community activities which would help create a social fabric on the site. "You can't just have a centre. I would like to see organised team sports, dragonboating, stuff the community can get involved in," Mr Hanly said. "What I'm worried about is that all these people will not be able to build a community, activities like this help people meet and get to know each other."

Despite the significant increase in population, the area has yet no plans for new schools or childcare centres to be built. Liberal councillor Helen McCaffrey said while she did not enjoy approving the plan, the focus now had to be on making it as good as it could be. "People wanted more open space and there is going to be a 28 per cent uplift in open space," she said.

Greens councillor Pauline Tyrrell was the only councillor to vote against the plan.

The plan will now be forwarded to the Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly, who will decide whether or not to approve the plan.


Anonymous said...

As an outsider Rhodes seems fine. The meriton buildings aren't great but the rest look good and there is activity and life on the street. community will look after itself, bonds will form naturally and the place will develop its own character. i get the feeling that rather than the 'slums of future' parts of the city like this will leave the older lifeless 'suburbs' behind

Joe Flood said...

It's old, but the very first national study on the costs and benefits of urban consolidation (to which I wrote an introduction) was the Housing Costs Study commissioned by Bryan Howe in 1990. The project was won by Travis Morgan because they were so pro-consolidation. When they did the study, they conceded that the rising costs of land caused by consolidation completely outweighted any so-called benefits.

I will try to get this online in my sites

Joe Flood