FAVOURITES – 16 September 2010 – Demolition may have started at the Barangaroo site on Sydney’s old industrial waterfront but it will take a lot more than bulldozers to remove the accusations of lack of transparency in the planning process and misuse of public land being thrown at the NSW government and the sole developer of the site, Lend Lease.

On the eve of last week’s deadline for public submissions on Lend Lease’s latest plans for the site, controversy about the development was not going away, with the development’s sustainability credentials the latest thing to be called into question.

Most of the public criticism of Barangaroo has so far centred around the amended Lend Lease plans, including a hotel that extends into the harbour on a pier, and the planning process itself.

But City of Sydney Greens councillor Chris Harris last week said in a media statement that most of the important sustainability claims by Lend Lease and the Barangaroo Development Authority have made for the site were misleading and in some cases “simply false”.

In an intensive hour and a half briefing session for The Fifth Estate that included five representatives from Lend Lease and the BDA, the Barangaroo developers defended their sustainability claims. They said the project would move sustainability performance beyond leading sustainable buildings into leading sustainable precincts, which would combine the very best of both building and infrastructure thinking.

But in a briefing by the developers to City of Sydney councillors, Cr Harris said it was difficult to get straight answers to questions.

In his media statement he said: “Their claims of zero carbon, positive water and zero waste are simply false.

“When I questioned Lend Lease staff about precise details of their zero carbon strategy it emerged that only three per cent of the energy used on the site will be from renewable energy with the balance being accounted for by offsets that will be purchased off site.

“There is no commitment to trigeneration aside from a vague statement about discussions with the City. On the face of this briefing claims of zero carbon, which have also been publicly touted by BDA Board member Clover Moore, are at best spin and at worst blatantly untrue.”

Cr Harris also rejected claims that the development will set benchmarks for sustainability, with all potable water to the site to come from Sydney’s water system and all waste to be removed from the site, 13 per cent going to landfill.

“The facts are that waste will be removed from the site. This is no different to what the City does with part of its own municipal waste and will not lead to a zero waste solution for Barangaroo. The City takes about half of its residential waste to an alternative waste treatment out at Jacks Gully but it’s still got to be driven out there,” Cr Harris said.

Lend Lease and BDA say sustainability commitment is real

Lend Lease and the BDA are adamant they are committed to sustainability at Barangaroo. Representatives from both organisations told TFE in last week’s briefing on the development that they stood by their sustainability claims for Barangaroo.

Todd Murphy, development director for the BDA, said that the Barangaroo design had not been done in isolation but had evolved after feedback from a range of stakeholders including Council, residents, the BDA and external experts including internationally-renowned Danish architect and urban planning expert, Jan Gehl, and landscape architect, Peter Walker, who designed the proposed Headland Park on the northern end of the site.

Mr Murphy said the amount of public domain land had not decreased in the latest plans. He said it was important to note that the land would stay in government ownership under freehold title and would be leased to Lend Lease on a 99 year lease. All public domain land would be handed back to the government by Lend Lease on the completion of development in 10 to 15 years.

The latest plans for the site include 325,000 sqm of office space, 30,000 sqm of retail, 800 apartments (2.5 per cent of these for key workers) a hotel and cultural facilities, the details of which are still to be finalised.

Mr Murphy said the BDA had a responsibility to balance public access to the waterfront with the economic sustainability of the city.

“Planners talk about the juxtaposition of urban density and parkland. These are a manifestation of economic and public space and the city can’t take for granted that economic component.

“It is important that Barangaroo offers workplace configurations for the 21st century, including large office floorplates. At the same time the public has a right to open space on the foreshore.”

In the TFE  briefing Lend Lease stressed that sustainability was about a combination of economic, social and environmental factors. The company said it had worked closely with other organisations to get its sustainability blueprint right. These included Bio Regional Victoria, BedZED (UK’s largest mixed use sustainable communities and the prototype for the One Planet Communities program), the Clinton Climate Initiative and City of Sydney and its 2030 Plan.

David Hutton, Lend Lease group head of development, told TFE that Barangaroo would move sustainability performance beyond leading sustainable buildings into leading sustainable precincts, which would combine the very best of both building and infrastructure thinking.

“The idea for Barangaroo is to become a world leader, with an overall approach to sustainability, which includes not just environmental and economic initiatives but importantly also starts to influence and change how people live and work in our cities.

“The ambition is not to simply treat sustainability as a feature of Barangaroo but to make sustainability the very essence of all aspects of what is being created” Mr Hutton said.

A rally against plans for Bararangoo earlier this year

Emissions and energy
The development aims to be carbon neutral when measured against the “business as usual” operation of the City of Sydney. This include 71 per cent reduction through on-site energy initiatives (including 75 per cent improvement in building performance), 9 per cent reduction in transport emissions, three per cent waste emissions and the remaining 17 per cent would be offset through use of off-site renewable energy.

The development is targeting a 20 per cent reduction in embodied carbon, which Lend Lease says will offset construction emissions.

On site renewable energy from rooftop solar PV panels is expected to generate enough power for the public domain area and water treatment.

Surprisingly, given the push for trigeneration technology at the precinct level, including by the City of Sydney in its 2030 Plan, there will be no trigeneration used at Barangaroo. The main reason for this, Mr Hutton said, is that Lend Lease did not want to rely on or embed the use of fossil fuels, but  would seek to go a step beyond and push the renewable energy envelope in order to contribute to a carbon neutral precinct.

“To this end we are targeting to develop a dedicated renewable energy farm off-site, a first for a large precinct or city development like Barangaroo,” he said.

“All electricity servicing Barangaroo will effectively be from on or off site renewable energy sources. Whilst the vast majority of energy will come from off site renewables, we will also be utilising green roofs, and generating power on site through rooftop solar PVs (photo voltaic panels). We have also examined options for on-site wind generation and will continue to do so.

“While our current strategy doesn’t rely on trigeneration, we will continue to explore options to integrate with the City of Sydney’s trigeneration masterplan where Barangaroo can contribute to an improved city solution.”

Lend Lease said it was committed to co-developing a dedicated off-site renewable energy farm which will be connected to the grid. It is currently doing feasibility planning for this and says all tenants and owners on the site will pay a premium to use this power.

“In developing this new dedicated facility we are doing something that is additional to the existing Federal renewable energy  legislation which requires a certain percentage of energy to come from renewables,”  Mr Hutton said

Lend Lease claims Barangaroo would be “water positive” by reducing water usage in buildings by 13 per cent, recycling 33 per cent of water on-site and using harbour heat rejection to reduce the water needed for cooling towers.

Non-potable water would be supplied through rainwater capture, on-site sewerage treatment and sewer mining of the main sewer system, as well as back-up from its blackwater system. The company expects to export water to other commercial buildings in the CBD.

But all potable water will come from the normal Sydney Water supply, something Lend Lease told TFE it is legally bound to do.

However, sustainability consultant (and TFE columnist) Michael Mobbs, who has used harvested rainwater for drinking and all other purposes in his own house for many years and designed systems for doing so in a range of development projects, disputed that there was a legal requirement that potable water must come from the mains water supply.

He said that while the NSW Health recommended using mains supply for drinking water where it was available, federal, state and territory health agencies supported the use of rainwater for drinking.

NSW Health states in a publication on the use of rainwater that: “Premises that serve the public or employees and use rainwater for drinking and/or cooking should comply with NSW Health’s Private Water Supply Guidelines.”

These guidelines suggest having a water management plan and specify that: “Operators using a private water supply to provide drinking water or prepare food for others have a responsibility to make sure that the water will not harm the health of those people.”

The guidelines also suggest that local councils should  assess businesses or organisations that want to use rainwater for potable water on a case-by-case basis.

It does seem that a leading development such as Barangaroo, currently the world’s largest, is the perfect opportunity to provide leadership in this area, particularly as Lend Lease plans to harvest water from surrounding city streets as well as on-site and said it would like to see a societal change in the way rainwater is used. Certainly there appears to be no legal impediment to doing so.

According to Lend Lease waste would not be treated on site at Barangaroo. Instead it would be sent to an advanced resource recovery and recycling service. These services focus on recycling waste resources and reusing the organic material for compost and energy production. Thirteen per cent of the waste from Barangaroo will end up in landfill.

Lend Lease gets to its figure of projected zero waste by factoring in offsets for recycling waste for other businesses outside Barangaroo.

David Hutton defended the waste strategy, saying there was no point in coming up with bespoke, one-off solutions that were only applicable in isolation to a single development.

“It is important that the solutions we come up with are replicable and can also benefit other surrounding buildings and parts of the city. It is also important to consider when renewing precious public waterfront land such as Barangaroo we carefully consider what facilities are located on or off the site.

“Barangaroo is seeking to contribute initiatives that are usable by other parts of the city. Our non-recyclable mixed waste will be combined with other waste streams at an alternative waste treatment facility to create renewable energy and it also promotes the use of advanced resource recovery services for the wider community,” Mr Hutton said.

On transport issues, Cr Harris also said that sustainable transport solutions for the site were “another example of the wool being pulled over eveyone’s eyes”, as both Lend Lease and the BDA admitted that while light rail was desirable there was no certainty it would be delivered and that it was the responsibility of state government.

The NSW government recently committed to extending the light rail that currently terminates at Lilyfield in Sydney’s inner west, through to Dulwich Hill. A feasibility study is currently underway into extending the network through the city to Barangaroo. Cr Harris said he had little confidence in this process.

Subsequent to TFE’s interview with Cr Harris, the Keneally state government announced today it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Sydney to establish a transport plan for the city that includes light rail.

“It is absolutely essential that Barangaroo is linked to the rest of the city by transport but the state government has zero commitment to light rail. The only reason the Dulwich Hill section is going ahead is because it goes through labour electorates. There’s no reason to believe they will do the same in the city,” Cr Harris said.

However, Lend Lease said it would create 14 kilometres of public cycleways that would connect with the rest of the city’s cycleways to provide 2000 cycle parking bays and change facilities for cyclists in all office buildings. It was  also “working pro-actively with the BDA and government” to have light rail connect to the site.

Cr Harris said that the fact that Lend Lease’s first project on the site would be the construction of an 800 plus commercial car park showed just how little commitment there was to keeping cars out of the precinct.

There have also been contamination issues.

The state government was recently forced to make public documents related to the planned car park. These revealed construction of the car park would involve disturbing contamination left by an AGL Gasworks, which operated on the site until 1921.

Lend Lease told TFE it saw the cleaning up of contamination on the site as a “great opportunity”.

Legal challenge on car park
However, City of Sydney councillor John McInerney told The Fifth Estate that if the car park construction was approved a legal challenge would be mounted by a collective consisting of City of Sydney councillors, the Environmental Defenders Office and a range of community groups.

According to Cr McInerney, the way the Barangaroo development had been run was highly questionable.

“It is an example of the inability of the NSW state government to manage projects. It [the government] has been driven by the proponent, Lend Lease into a solution approximately twice the scale in terms of floorspace and height of the original prize winning plan,” said Cr McInerney.

“It has been persuaded by property interests to move the overseas passenger terminal away from the site and also persuaded to put a 45 storey hotel into the harbour.

Cr McInerney says there should be a review of every significant decision made on the development. This should include a review of all legal decisions and what could and could not be negotiated out of.

“We still have no idea of the contract that has been signed between government and Lend Lease,” he said.

When asked what it would take to make these things happen, Cr McInerney said both political parties would have to be “so frightened of the public reaction” that they would act.

The Barangaroo development has not just divided public opinion, it has caused a split amongst City of Sydney councillors. Those councillors opposed to the development are concerned that Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s position as a member of the BDA board has compromised the City’s ability to oppose the development.

Chris Harris recently made a formal code of conduct complaint against the Mayor when she voted against a motion to put Council money towards fighting Lend Lease’s car park development. Cr Harris said he had advice Ms Moore had a conflict of interest when voting against the motion.

“I’m not looking for Clover’s scalp – I just want this motion passed. I have legal advice that she had a conflict of interest when she voted against the motion so if that is determined to be correct I will call an EGM [extraordinary general meeting] and she won’t be able to use her vote to defeat the motion.”

Cr Harris said he would also put a motion for Council to inform the public about what was happening at Barangaroo.

“We should be holding forums and showing people what we think should be on the site. It is our role to educate the public about this.”

Public submissions on the latest plans closed  last week and these will then be examined by the Department of Planning, followed by the proponent, Lend Lease.

Lend Lease is hopeful that if planning approval was received soon it might be able to start construction by the end of the year.

But with another public rally to protest against the development held at the site last Sunday and plans by City Of Sydney councillors to challenge the first part of the construction if it is approved, that does seem a little optimistic.


The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news

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  1. The casino is going to be a failure. For all that it is worth, I hope that people stand up against it to protect an area that could be so successful.