The NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DOPE) has allowed the Planning Proposal to rezone the Wellington Street Tennis Courts from RE2 (Private Recreational Space) to R3 (Medium Density Residential) to proceed through the “Gateway” (when DOPE accepts a Planning Proposal to proceed to public consultation before deciding to rezone or amend a zoning) and is now accepting public submissions via Waverley Council until November 5th.
The Wellington Street Tennis Courts, situated at 105 Wellington Street, Bondi Beach had been in continuous use for more than 70 years until the developers, Sports Properties Ltd, closed them down a few months ago. The courts were a community hub, providing a healthy outdoor recreation option for hundreds of residents per week, tennis lessons and camps for local school children, a social function destination and a critical and irreplaceable piece of recreational space in an otherwise densely populated neighbourhood.
Waverley Council planners have produced three thorough reviews in the past four years that have established the many reasons why this site should remain recreational space. In spite of this, a decision has been made by the DOPE to take the decision out of the hands of the local Council and local community that has voiced its objection in a number of widely supported campaigns and community forums.
The decision to allow this Planning Proposal to proceed through the “Gateway” to this point contradicts this Government’s promise to “return planning powers to the local community and …to give communities a say again in the shape of their neighbourhood”.
This rezone is one of many examples of a perceived bias towards developers within the current planning laws in the state of NSW. The introduction of the Pre-Gateway Review in 2012 allows developers to override local councils and communities when their proposals are rejected. Developers must pay for this review and there is currently an 86% approval rate to proceed to further assessment. This system has seen local communities and local governance increasingly sidelined in favour of development without an overarching plan for infrastructure, transport, recreational space, environment and community.
- Sports Properties Ltd (SP) submitted a Planning Proposal to rezone 105 Wellington Street from 6a (Open Space) to 2c1 (Medium Density Residential). The proposal consisted of apartments and a large community centre for a local minority group.
- An unprecedented community response to the application to rezone resulted in over 850 letters of objection in less than two weeks from the local community and more than 1200 petition signatures.
- Waverley Council Planning & Environmental Services Department recommended refusal in two planning reports.
- Waverley Councillors then endorsed Council Planner’s recommendation. This is where an application to rezone would normally end as it cannot go to the Land and Environment Court like a DA.
- SP lobbied then Minister for Planning Tony Kelly to intervene after Council’s refusal. Minister Kelly saw merit in the proposal and referred it to the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) during government caretaker mode.
- After the change of government, Planning Minister Brad Hazzard withdrew the proposal from the PAC stating in a letter to Council that “In line with the NSW Government’s priorities for the planning system, the decision on whether or not to proceed with the planning proposal is the responsibility of Council as the local planning authority”.
- SP again submitted a Planning Proposal to rezone, this time from RE2 (Private Recreational Space) to R3 (Medium Density Residential)(Waverley LEP 2012). The proposal involves plans for 42 apartments, however the applicants stated in a public consultation that they would not commit to this lower number and could seek to increase this as part of the DA process.
- SP engaged a community consultation firm, Urban Concepts, to facilitate a community consultation evening. The 60+ attendees were unanimous in their passionate opposition to the proposed development.
- The Department of Planning & Environmental Services at Waverley Council again recommended refusal after a thorough review of the merits of the application. Council endorsed this recommendation unanimously.
- The applicants paid DOPE for a Pre-Gateway Review that was granted and subsequently referred to the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP). Council Planners and the Mayor presented to the JRPP yet they recommended that the Minister refer the proposal for Gateway Determination. Despite acknowledging that “the provision of open space generally, and tennis courts I particular, in Waverley is well below the average for the Sydney region” they were “.that the site is poorly located for tennis courts…because of lack of parking and ..because it is so close to three and four-storey apartment buildings”. These justifications are incorrect as (1) parking pressure will be increased with the addition of 42+ apartments as proven by the lack of improvement in evening parking since the tennis courts were shut down; and (2) the site only has three and four-storey apartments on one side, which were post-date the tennis courts. They also considered the applicants’ Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA) to provide tennis courts elsewhere which would have to be on pre-existing public land thereby resulting in a net loss of 4000 m2 of recreational space for Waverley residents.
- The Deputy Director General of DOPE, on behalf of the Planning Minister Pru Goward, accepted the JRPP’s advice and determined that the Planning Proposal should proceed through the “Gateway”. This despite a over 500 letters of opposition being hand delivered by the Hon. Gabrielle Upton to Minister Goward; as well as meetings with Rescue Bondi, Waverley Council, Gabrielle Upton and DOPE, requesting Minister Goward to withdraw the application, as done by her predecessor in 2011.
- We now have until November 5th to have our say on the ongoing replacement of recreational space with apartments.