Werrington Downs Overdevelopment
|About this Item||Subjects||Landcom; Planning and Development; Penrith
||Speakers||Shearan Mr Allan
||Business||Private Members Statements
Mr ALLAN SHEARAN (Londonderry) [5.37 p.m.]: Today I relate to the House the efforts to stop overdevelopment in Werrington Downs and to report on how the community and local members of Parliament can join together to achieve significant results. At the beginning of this year local residents surrounding the area became aware of a proposal by Landcom to sell surplus land at Brookfield Avenue, Werrington Downs. While normally that may seem innocent enough, the siting of the land was on the edge of a drainage reserve which for a long time had been regarded by residents to be part of an open space area. Naturally, the residents did not want to have that section of land developed. The site I refer to was left over from a residential development that was approved by Penrith City Council and completed in 1981.
This small block of land is about four hectares and adjoins an existing public open space area of about 6.5 hectares owned by Penrith City Council. While the Landcom site is on the edge of an area that is essentially a drainage reserve, most local residents have regarded the whole site as being a popular local park that is used regularly by both children and adults for a variety of purposes such as walking, picnics, ball sports and other healthy outdoor activities. At one stage the local council had erected a basketball court on what has now been recognised as being Landcom property; and despite the basketball rings being removed some time ago, kids still use the area to play and ride bikes. Late last year this site was fenced off, alerting local residents that something was amiss.
In January the issue started to hot up with approaches by local residents Debbie and John Murphy, John Drennan and Rod Speechly, each bitterly upset that Landcom could even consider selling part of their park to a developer with a view to erecting five houses on the site. In response to those concerns I visited the site and, even though I was familiar with the area, I could not believe that such a proposal could have been conceived. It is like a sore on the local environment and is certainly an overdevelopment of the site. I immediately contacted the Minister's office, as his administration is responsible for Landcom. It was explained to me that the property was originally owned by the Department of Housing, which sold it to Landcom.
I discovered that it is currently zoned as residential 2 (b) under Penrith City Council's Urban Land Local Environmental Plan 1998. I understand that Landcom had offered the land to Penrith City Council for a reasonable price based on a fair market value, but in October last year council rejected that offer saying that at that stage it was not considered to be a priority. Accordingly, Landcom developed a sales strategy to maximise potential income from the proposed development. Needless to say the local residents thought the whole proposal was outrageous, and rightly so.
The people I mentioned earlier helped to form a residents action group, and signs with slogans such as "No House in Our Park" and "Save Our Reserve" rapidly appeared on the fence erected around the site. They organised public meetings both at the site and at the Werrington Downs Community Centre. Along with the local Penrith City Council North Ward councillors, I attended a number of community meetings, particularly one of the early community centre meetings. We all left that meeting with the very clear message that development of this site would not be tolerated. As a consequence I had a rather heated discussion with the Minister, who pointed out that he had a budget to meet and that surplus properties could not be maintained simply for convenience. I was, of course, conscious that the financial position of the State, while manageable, had been placed under stress because of continual funding cuts by the Commonwealth and the ongoing robbery evident in the goods and services tax funding arrangements.
Notwithstanding that, together with the energetic, vocal and effective action group and bolstered by the results of a petition I had circulated amongst local residents, I was able to convince the Minister for Planning that saving this reserve was more important than simply balancing the books: it was a part of the local environment for which further development was totally inappropriate. Fortunately, the Minister listened and agreed with the local residents and with me. For that I am most grateful. Landcom's original intention was to place the property on the market on 28 February 2006, but our representations led to the sale being put on hold. The Minister asked Landcom to resume negotiations with Penrith City Council to explore the transfer of the land to council ownership on terms to be agreed, thereby enabling council to combine the land with the adjoining public reserve.
I acknowledge the contribution to this community campaign by the former mayor, Councillor John Thain, and his north ward colleague and recently elected current mayor, Councillor Pat Sheehy, both of whom encouraged their council to examine the land swap proposal under which the Brookefield Avenue land will be transferred to council ownership in exchange for Landcom equity elsewhere in Penrith City Council's boundaries. I am delighted to report that last month the Premier visited the Brookfield Avenue site and confirmed that Landcom had agreed to such a proposal, thus overcoming a significant hurdle for council, which could not afford to purchase the land. Debbie and John Murphy, John Drennan and Rod Speechly deserve special recognition for their leadership of the action group. This is a huge win for local families, who had vigorously campaigned to protect this site. It is a win for people power and shows that the State Government listens to local communities.