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Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee (Sydney Harbour Federation Trust)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 27 May 2014

Senator RHIANNON: I want to take up the issues of the trust’s land on Middle Head, part of the headland park at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. I noted that the trust’s objectives under the act include 'to protect, conserve and interpret the environmental and heritage values of Trust land', and 'to maximise public access to the land' and 'to establish and manage suitable Trust land as a park on behalf of the Commonwealth.' In the context of the residential aged-care facility, how does such a development meet those objects of the trust?

Mr Bailey : To put that in context, the trust has—I can't recall the exact number—well over 200 tenants. The principle the trust has operated on from the outset is that in order to fulfil those objectives, particularly the ones relating to conservation of heritage and maximising public access, we have chosen to utilise the hundreds of buildings that we own across these sites and reuse them for contemporary uses. The key element of that is diversity. So the more diverse range of uses we have in our sites and buildings, the more reasons people have to come and visit those sites and to take advantage of the natural and environmental qualities of the sites. So aged care, we believe, presents the opportunity for the residents, in a peaceful and quiet environment, to take advantage of those natural assets which I think everyone agrees are beneficial to everyone's health, not just the aged. That is the rationale for it.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it the case, though, that the original and the revised proposal do not actually comply with the trust’s own management plan and that there is a contradiction there?

Mr Bailey : There is a minor amendment to the management plan proposed. There is a sort of hierarchy of management plans for the trust site. There is a comprehensive plan, which oversees all of the sites, and then there are detailed site specific precinct management plans. In this case the precinct management plan would require a minor amendment to enable both the demolition of some of the older and less attractive barrack buildings and incorporation into the park, and a slight height increase to permit a two storey development.

Senator RHIANNON: Most people don't see demolition as minor when we are talking about heritage. I thought that that would be interesting to explore. Is it correct that the development proposal seeks to virtually demolish most or many of the heritage listed buildings on the site?

Mr Bailey : No, that is not—

Senator RHIANNON: It has been claimed as adaptive reuse, but it is in fact a major removal of many of these buildings.

Mr Bailey : The first proposition is incorrect. It does not propose the demolition of most of the buildings on the site. This site is on the Commonwealth Heritage Register and includes a number of groupings of buildings. Some are barrack buildings—for example, the former 10 Terminal, which was an army transport terminal—and some are former Australian School of Pacific Administration buildings. The ASOPA buildings, which form the majority of the buildings on the site, have all been restored and are fully leased and tenanted by a wide range of occupants. There would be some partial demolition of the 10 Terminal barrack buildings under this proposal, if it is to proceed, and I need to point out that it has not yet received approval. It needs to go through the relevant approval processes.

Senator Birmingham: Either an EPBC Act approval or approval by the trust. So there are at least a couple of levels to go.

Mr Bailey : With the third grouping of three barrack buildings—which are it seems entirely unloved by the trust and the community—there seems to be general agreement that they should be demolished for the benefit of the parkland and to create greater green space.

Senator Birmingham: I think we could summarise that by saying that the site is a heritage site. The different buildings within that site are of different heritage values.

Mr Bailey : Correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that. Because of the time, I would like to move on to some of the issues that you raised about the peaceful and quiet asset and the benefit that would bring to elderly people if that is what ended up happening. But isn't the bushfire risk just enormous? Sydney has many of these wonderful sandstone headlands, but there is one way in and one way out. That is what is troubling people considerably—that you would be putting in an aged-care centre and making it virtually impossible for there to be a quick and rapid evacuation of people, particularly if the fire comes from the west, which is very possible?

Mr Bailey : That, along with many other issues—traffic, et cetera—are all matters for the accreditation and approval process. However, I would point out that there are numerous institutions further down the road than this and they have all been able to meet the bushfire requirements.

Senator RHIANNON: But the approval process in New South Wales is known to be incredibly weak. In fact, it is why we have so many ICAC hearings, because it created too many loopholes. So I think you can answer most of my questions correctly in regard to it fitting with approvals and planning, but is it the right thing to do? What consideration has been given to that? I recently heard about, and am particularly interested in, your steel fence. What is the purpose of the steel fence? Is it safety? I was worried that that could add to this problem of evacuation?

Mr Bailey : The steel fence is an incorrect proposition that the opponents of this proposal have put up. There is no steel fence.

Senator RHIANNON: Seriously?

Mr Bailey : Seriously. The trust is not bound by New South Wales law, but we comply with it as a matter of policy. So we would comply with all of those standards and fire requirements of the Rural Fire Service, et cetera. However, we have had our own detailed and independent fire assessment prepared, and in that document they have made recommendations for how to manage the risk of fire, one of which is to provide what they call a radiant heat barrier. The opponents have described that as a steel fence. I don't think any of us would like to see that. What it is more likely to consist of is landscaping in the form of mounds and lookouts that enable greater visual access and views of the harbour and surrounds, and it would from part of the parkland.

Senator RHIANNON: Would that involve clearing the native bushland?

Mr Bailey : No, it would not involve clearing the native bushland.

Senator RHIANNON: So no clearing?

Mr Bailey : No clearing.

Senator RHIANNON: Also, I am interested in some of the recent reports, and you would obviously know how much interest this is generating. What is the trust’s response to the new report by heritage and conservation expert Graham Brooks and Associates, which I understand strongly criticises the developers report as inconsistent with the Burra Charter for heritage conservation and for failing to address the relevant government guidelines? It was quite comprehensive criticism, and I am interested in your response.

Mr Bailey : Again, Senator, that is really a matter for the approval and review process that is being undertaken under the EPBC Act. The submission that you are referring to was submitted as part of that process, and I am sure it will be given due consideration.

Senator RHIANNON: That is why I noted your objects under the trust—that is, to protect, conserve and interpret the environmental and heritage values of trust land. When you get such significant and comprehensive criticism, surely you need to have a response to that. You can't just flick it off to the EPBC process, surely?

Mr Bailey : Ultimately we will have a response to it, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. When will that response be available?

Mr Bailey : We will first await the response to the EPBC process. The trust's position at the moment is that if this proposal does not cross that threshold and does not receive that approval, then there is no point in the trust giving it any further consideration. So we are awaiting that result. If it gets an affirmative result then the trust will go into detail and assess those sorts of things that you have raised.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Bailey, for your presence here today. I now call on officers from the department in relation to outcome 1.4, conservation of Australian heritage and environment. Senator Rhiannon, if you stay there I believe you have a couple of minutes of questioning in this next session. We could lead off with you.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, that is very nice of you.

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