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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 1066

Mrs GASH (7:30 PM) —I rise to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the federal government’s funding to the New South Wales government to provide low-cost housing has resulted in the community being totally bypassed in the decision-making process. Mr Rudd has used the guise of ‘nation-building stimulus’ to help the state throw up concentrated ‘development without consent’ housing estates. They have written their own rules to self-assess and override the usual democratic planning process—which involves local government expertise—and ignored the pleas of nearby residents. My office has received numerous complaints about these projects. As a result, I have held two public meetings in my electorate with the view that if Mr Rudd will not hold New South Wales to account for the federal money being handed over then I will, and if the state government will not consult the community or the council then I will.

Here is some of the feedback I have collected for the benefit of the Labor governments. Nearby residents would like to know who will be living in the units and whether Shoalhaven residents will be given preference. If the units are intended for seniors, we would like to know why the design does not cater for seniors who might have difficulty with stairs. There is no privacy for neighbouring residents—they can plant trees but are liable for any damage that might be caused by falling branches. Overshadowing—the height of these buildings will now block sunlight from the roofs of nearby properties, rendering their solar panels absolutely useless. There appear to be no environmentally friendly measures in place for the new buildings. This is another example of power being taken away from local governments—and JRPPs is another one. Owners have not been informed, only direct occupants have. The look of the units does not appear to fit the style of each area. There are no open spaces.

New residents have moved to the area without receiving any information about the developments, as most people in the street have not even been informed about construction plans. Some have tried to sell their homes to escape the prospect of exacerbated social problems and have suffered diminished property values. There is a severe lack of transport and employment services in the sites earmarked for development. These are not buildings that council would typically approve. A serious lack of parking is likely to lead to overcrowded streets. The cost for occupants to get to medical and employment services would be extremely high, given the isolation of each site. The units will be extremely small and unpleasant for occupants, given the high density. Concentrating low-income earners in small spaces away from central services will only disadvantage them further, with copious research proving that estate-style living is not effective.

Direct neighbours have been given little or no chance to comment, while those who did write failed to receive a response of any kind. Over 400 people have attended local meetings on this issue and dozens more have signed a petition calling on the state government to give planning powers back to local government. It is a disgrace that the federal government is sitting back watching as the state government overrides the usual democratic planning processes to throw up units today with little or no thought for tomorrow. I have written to both the state and federal housing ministers, with no response. I urged them to ensure that a new approach to these projects is taken—one that moves away from high-density developments, one that utilises the expertise of local governments and, most importantly, one that genuinely consults with the community. We can do without the current method, which involves simply issuing a letter to only the direct neighbours around two weeks before demolition.

Sending a response to their letters of concern should also be a no-brainer—but apparently not. Lost in action is our state member for Kiama, Matt Brown, who has taken a back seat on this issue despite admitting that the state government has mishandled the projects. Other MPs have been scrambling to try and minimise the damage by seeking assurances about environmental impacts et cetera—knowing full well the community’s feelings on this—but Mr Brown has so far failed to even attend a public meeting. In a further blow to the community it has been revealed that a Sydney construction company using building materials from China has picked up the job. This proves that bulldozing ahead with these projects under the guise of stimulating the local economy is nothing more than a convenient justification for the state and federal governments. They are more concerned about making announcements and bragging about multiple new dwellings than creating a better future for low-income earners and the wider community, or even boosting the local economy. After all, we are now so over-stimulated we are seeing interest rates rising at excruciating levels for mortgage holders.

If the New South Wales and federal Labor governments have any credibility left they should note these loud and clear concerns and take action. It is not too late to intervene in the case of at least some of these proposals, and with 9,000 dwellings going up around the state it is no trivial matter. I take offence at the Labor Party saying the opposition are against public housing. We are not against public housing, but we do believe in a fair go. We believe the community should have a say, as should local government. (Time expired)