The ultimate conflict of interest? Premier Kristina Keneally takes over Barangaroo
Barangaroo Lend Lease Model
The news will do little to quell the criticism that the NSW Government is "steamrolling the public" on the Barangaroo development as alleged by Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore when she resigned from the Barangaroo Delivery Authority Board last week. If anything, it will only confirm the perception.
Even when Planning Minister, Ms Keneally, saw no conflict of interest of promoting her support of development projects prior to formal assessment of the Development Application by the Department of Planning and the Minister. When the Minister of Planning determines a Development, the public expectation is that he or she should do so objectively and impartially, treating applications from the Government in the same way as they would from a private company.
As the owner of the land and a State Authority overseeing development the site and the process taken from Council hands and given the State's Department of Planning, the need for the Government to demonstrate accountability, transparency and impartially is even greater given the potential for conflicts of interest.
Now with the Premier stepping in, taking back the project she initiated and spriuking the benefits of the development, any pretence of objectivity is gone. Rather than bowing to pressure from Clover Moore and others for more transparency, she is taking a hard line. The message seems to be one of 'this is my vision for Sydney, it is my government's land, the Delivery Authority I set up and I'll make sure it is approved'.
Clover Moore's new found voice on Barangaroo puts it differently. Essentially Clover's line is, 'Barangaroo doesn't belong to the Government it belongs to the people, it is a complex site and public consultation and planning should not be rushed or approval fast tracked'.
The Lord Mayor agrees with the Premier that the site will transform Sydney but disagrees that this means it must be approved under an artifical deadline, which is essentially tied to political objectives and next March's election.
“The Barangaroo project is an opportunity to re-create part of Sydney Harbour, and it is generating significant international interest, as demonstrated at this week’s Forbes CEO Conference in Sydney,” Ms Keneally said today explaining her decision to remove Tony Kelly from the project.
Keneally said that Barangaroo will set new standards in environmental sustainability as one of only 17 projects in the world to be identified as a Clinton Climate Change initiative, but climate change is not what local residents are worried about. Opponents are more concerned about the height of buildings, excessive density on the site, shadowing, lack of public transport and existing toxic waste on the site, than carbon emissions.
The Premier sees Barangaroo in an international context as part of a plan to make Sydney a 'financial services capital for the Asia-Pacific region', a point she made during her recent visit to the Shanghai World Expo but locals say it must first and foremost work for Sydney, not Asia.
“Few cities get such an opportunity to do something iconic and visionary as Barangaroo,” Ms Keneally said.
“Sydney has shown the world that it possesses creativity, vision and daring with the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and Barangaroo is another once-in-a- generation opportunity to show the world why Sydney is Australia’s only global city,” argued Keneally.
Ms Keneally is dismissive of Barangaroo's opponents saying that they are only 'a small group in the community who want to derail the project'.
“But I am determined that Sydney will not lose this unique opportunity. That’s why I am taking direct responsibility and control of Barangaroo,” said the Premier.
City of Sydney's Deputy Lord Mayor Marcelle Hoff, an outspoken critic of Lend Lease's Barangaroo South proposal and the process undertaken by the Government sees the Premier's intervention as a step in the wrong direction.
“With an election looming in March, the State’s first female Premier now has the job of trying to clean up another NSW Labour mess. There is a real concern that, by taking direct control over Barangaroo, the Premier and the NSW Labour Government are again moving away from tried and tested planning checks and balances. Will this unorthodox step incur a further loss of transparency and public accountability in the development of Barangaroo? Does this reassignment of responsibility for Barangaroo mean that the Premier and her Government are scared of (in the Premier’s words) a “small group in the community who want to derail the project”?”, said Independent Councillor Hoff.
The Barangaroo development includes more than 500,000 square metres of new commercial, residential and retail space on a historical waterfront site in Sydney’s CBD and including a hotel to the built in the harbour and the dedication of parkland in exchange for excess height and bulk being allowed elsewhere on the site. The Baragaroo Delivery Authority and the NSW Government have refused to release details of the contract with Lend Lease, despite FOI requests from the Greens.
Ms Keneally said that the Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly, would now focus directly on the newly created Sydney Metropolitan Development Authority. This new Authority, continues the NSW Government's commitment to taking more planning powers from local councils and shows that NSW Labor is not backing away from it's strategy of consolidating planning power in State hands despite the outcry from residents and almost universal opposition from local government, including those held by Labor locally.
“The SMDA, announced as part of the NSW Government’s Metropolitan Transport Plan, will drive the development of new sustainable urban centres around key transport modes,” Ms Keneally said.
“I introduced the Barangaroo Delivery Authority Act when I was Minister for Planning. It is a project of highest priority for the NSW Government, for the economy of our state and our community,” said Keneally making clear her thoughts on Barangaroo's importance to NSW.
What do you think?
Should the Premier be taking over responsibility for Barangaroo? Or should it have been left with the Minister for Planning, Tony Kelly? What do you think of the Barangaroo project? Share your views with the community..