The battle ran for well over four years and centered on the rezoning of 1 hectare of industrial land located at 67-73 Lords Road in Leichhardt. The developer, Platino Properties, was seeking to have the land rezoned to make way for an eight-storey building housing over 300 apartments.
The current site is home to 17 businesses employing 62 full time workers, with an additional 100 employed on part-time or contract.
The former Leichhardt Council, now part of the Inner West Council, stronger opposed the rezoning from Light Industrial to Medium Density Residential way back in 2014.
Why did the Council oppose the rezoning?
Richard Pearson, Inner West Council Administrator, said the proposal was “imprudent” and “ill-considered” because Sydney desperately needs what equates to 6% of all local industrial land.
The 2014 Leichhardt Industrial Lands Study found that there are only ten industrial sites in the area, and that losing another would threaten local businesses including art and martial arts schools, a gym, a furniture shop, a gym and a dozen others.
“There is an urgent need for industrial land within easy reach of Sydney’s CBD,” he said.
The study also found:
- Supply of industrial lands in Leichhardt is minimal and stocks are dwindling
- Demand for industrial lands is increasing
- Surplus industrial land is non-existent
- There is strong population-driven demand for industrial land in Leichhardt
Why did the NSW Government initially agree to the rezoning?
In July 2016, the Joint Regional Planning Panel determined to rezone the Lords Road site allowing for 315 apartments located in up to eight-storey buildings.
It argued that because local transport was close by including light rail, and because the mixed-use potential would mean more local jobs and affordable housing, the project should go ahead.
Project planner Mecone, meanwhile, said the apartments would be “affordable”, and families will be supported by a child care centre.
However, the furious Inner West Council asked for a review of the rezoning proposal.
But the Department of Planning and Environment rejected it on a technicality – the former Leichhardt Council initially turned down the chance to be the planning authority.
“Now, due to their decision, we have very little say about how this project moves forward,” said Council Administrator Pearson. “But this fight is by no means over.”
He wasn’t wrong. When the NSW Government put the development’s proposal on exhibition, the Council made a strong submission.
It also successfully lobbied to have the exhibition extended by over a month to the end of January, 2017.
And then, Inner West Council urged the local community to join the fight.
“We’re a large, strong community, so let’s bring that voice to bear on this proposal,” said Pearson.
And those local community voices, tipping the scales at over 1000 submissions, were loud and clear. They said the rezoning would increase congestion, worsen a parking shortage, and scar the aesthetic look of the area.
And many of the 17 small businesses at the Lords Road site argued that they would struggle to find new locations – endangering their livelihoods and up to 160 jobs.
Jamie Parker, the Greens member for Balmain, agreed that industrial land like the lot at Lords Road is “exactly what our community needs” for jobs and arts.
“What we don’t need is a residential skyscraper which destroys a thriving area of employment,” he said.
So what happened next?
The Sydney Central Planning Panel met in August 2017 to consider the rezoning. Two members voted for it and two against, with chairwoman Maria Atkinson using her casting vote to reject the plans.
She said the “compelling reason” for her decision was “to protect employment land”.
But the Panel members who voted for the development were not happy, and heading into 2018, chairwoman Atkinson’s ruling decision was still yet to be ratified by the NSW Government.
New Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne was furious, calling the Government’s inaction “outrageous” and threatening to take it to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Where’s the alleged corruption?
Mayor Byrne told the Sydney Morning Herald that the developer had been making “behind-closed-door submissions” to ignore the Panel’s ruling.
Greens member Parker agreed: “The truth is, the minister and his department will make the final decision and the panel is simply window dressing.”
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What was the outcome?
In the end, the vocal combination of Council, community and political dissent won the day – and the rezoning proposal has been rejected.
Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne said the Planning Minister’s hand was forced after Council and local residents stood up to the State Government’s reckless grab for inner west industrial land.
“This has been a very long hard fight for Council and the community,” said Mayor Byrne.
“Together we’ve kept up the pressure on the State Government to refuse the rezoning, and we have had a very significant win for the Leichhardt community.”
The NSW Government’s Department of Planning and Environment eventually decided that the loss of “employment land” was a good argument to say no to the plans.
But in the Plan Finalisation Report, the Government also acknowledged the “significant objection” of the community.
“This indicates that the current proposal does not have the support and agreement of key stakeholders, which is a key consideration for progressing rezoning proposals”, the Report added.
So is the Lords Road development dead?
At the time of publication, Platino’s project planner Mecone continues to list the Lords Road development – located on an “isolated industrial site” – as one of its active projects.
Mecone says the Lords Road site is “currently under-utilised” and will be perfect for apartments due to nearby services and the nearby WestConnex motorway “which will improve traffic in the broader area”.
And the Department of Planning and Environment says that if the developer addresses the issues that caused the objections, another rezoning proposal could be heard.