18 June 2010 – Is the Frasers Property Group to become Sydney’s BP?

Frasers is excavating six hectares of a huge project at Broadway on the fringe of the CBD — more than 1600 units; more than 2000 car parking spaces; a shopping centre, several buildings over 30 storeys high — and is getting ready to sell the first lot of units.

It will take more than 15 years to build.  It may never be finished, if the financial markets decline or fail.

That’s a long time for trucks to be going in and out of the bare-soil site, for a lot of rain to fall there, and for a lot of stuff to leave as stormwater, sewage, air pollution and waste.

Frasers claims it’s going to be a “sustainable” project.

Let’s hold up in one hand some media from Frasers, and in the other some recent photographs of the pollution gushing from the site works. Imagine pollution for the next 15 years or so like that in the photos.

What Frasers Property Group says of its Broadway project:

“The project is underpinned by exemplary social and environmental sustainability initiatives – creating a new, people-centred gateway to Sydney’s CBD.” (1)

What a construction company said in a May 2010 circular to the community:

  • “Night works in Abercrombie Street (between Irving Street to Broadway)
  • “Christie Civil Pty Ltd on behalf of Frasers Broadway Pty Ltd will be undertaking the installation of a stormwater pipe along Abercrombie Street . . .  The installation of this stormwater pipe is an essential part of the construction works for the public park at the centre of the future ‘Central Park’ precinct . . . [From June 2010] . .. the expected duration for this works is 6 – 7 months.”

For seven nights a week, over six months, excavators, trucks, pipes, drainers and machines will dig a stormwater trench there. About 200 metres of Abercrombie Street – which runs along the western boundary – is to be dug up to hold this super drain, or about 40 metres a month. That’s some drain.
Such a drain invites questions like:

  • How big is the pipe to take away stormwater from the park (and which will take more than six months to install), and how much stormwater will it send into Blackwattle Bay?
  • Would such a pipe carry just the excess runoff water from the Central Park precinct?
  • How much rainwater is to be used sustainably – i.e. kept on site and reused, and how much is to be wasted?

What the photos say:

  • When it rains now, a river of stormwater pollution flows off the site. There are photos showing stormwater running under hoardings around the site, along driveways and joining up in a series of flooding causeways on Broadway, Abercrombie and other streets
  • During the past six weeks of rain we saw tonnes of polluted, sediment-brown water gushing out of the site on Broadway and flowing thence to the waters of Blackwattle Bay.

Burr estimates that more than 2 million litres (or two Olympic-sized swimming pools) of polluted water left the site in the first week of June.

(There are missing photos and they include: the murky waters beneath the surface of Blackwattle Bay; the consultants’ company names and promos with the word ‘sustainable’ in them; the lush, daily-cleaned reception areas of Frasers Property and the spotless first-class aeroplane seats their folk travel in; the cleanly-dressed Minister for the Environmental Protection Authority; the grand, well-cleaned vestibule of Town Hall, the glossy community consultation papers …)

What the fish and little critters in Blackwattle Bay say:

  • Who knows? We can’t hear them.
  • If we could speak for them, we might croak something like, “Man, we’re loving Frasers’ ‘exemplary’ and ‘sustainable’ gift to us and our water world, but we just have to go somewhere else less exemplary”.

What has Frasers done since the May and June rains?

Last week it dug a 20-odd-metre drain in a day or two to take stormwater under the footpath so it discharges, unseen, directly into a stormwater grate. No one will see it now (perhaps). Cute.

Any fish still around will continue to get it in the neck, though.

And governments?

So far, nothing doing, not even by the agencies with ‘sustainability’ in their governing legislation, agency titles or news releases; nor City of Sydney council and EPA officers, some of whom probably travelled past the brown sediment torrents on their way to work.

What they can do is prosecute and fine the authors of such pollution. Prosecution is an after-the-damage-is-done action but court judgements can improve future behaviour.

Meanwhile, on land, the consultants and builders are typing their invoices, proclaiming their “sustainability”. “People-centred” folks are looking in mirrors in tidy bathrooms with stylish toilets and working on their sales program and cash flows. Reading profit projections.

Burr wonders if, over the years ahead, any time rain is forecast, some council and EPA environmental protection officers (how empty those words sound) could get out of their offices, pop by the site and ping the polluters? It’s only a 10-minute walk from their offices.

Frasers Property may say there’s nothing it can do to keep the soiled water on site when there’s such heavy rainfalls.

Three things may be said of this ‘we’re helpless’ defence:
First, so are the fish. Second, no rain left my place in these past six weeks and it copped the same rainfall. So if my house managed it, why couldn’t this “sustainable” project manage it?

Third, even if there was too much rain to handle, the courts have been clear: once the offence is proven or admitted, the only question is what is the size of the penalty having regard to such things as the conduct of the polluter and the amount of rain?

For example, in a 2007 court case by the EPA against a contractor, Abigroup Contractors Pty Limited, which was building a freeway for the NSW RTA, the court noted that the builder pleaded guilty to the charge of polluting waters with sediment that ran off from the road construction site during an extraordinary storm. At dispute in that case was the amount of the penalty. In fixing the sum the court took into account the unusual size of the storm event, as well as the management of the site and the company’s conduct before and after the polluting event.

The court directed the company to publish an announcement about the fine and the offence, and also required the company to pay the penalty moneys to an environmental organization to pay for work on two nearby wetland rehabilitation projects. (3)

It may be some solace for the fish and aquatic critters in the polluted Blackwattle Bay if the council or the EPA were to obtain similar orders requiring some rehabilitation work on the bay. It may not.

And it may be handy for the ailing state of NSW and Australian politics generally, and the fairly crook state of greenwashed projects in particular, if there were to be a publication order by a court requiring Frasers to sprinkle some truth around about the impacts so far of this huge project in the heart of Sydney.

So, which is there to be more of: truth, or greenwash and sediment?

Burr will speak for the fish and invite governments to answer this challenge, since Frasers’ statements need to be taken with a pinch of salt (4). Will you speak for the fish, too?

(1)    https://www.frasersbroadway.com.au/broadway/po.htm, viewed Tuesday 15 June 2010
(2)    May 2010 Circular to the community, Christie Civil Pty Ltd
(3)    [2007] NSW LEC 712 (3 August 2007)
(4)    only when Frasers and the government were dragged before the court at the point of the litigation gun in a citizen’s and community challenge was the project refocussed on sustainable goals; during the litigation, in return for the litigation (an appeal was underway) being dropped Frasers began to commit to sustainable goals: see, Drake-Brockman v Minister for Planning, Frasers Property Group: https://www.edo.org.au/edonsw/site/pdf/casesum/seminar_cub_case_summary.pdf

A reply from Nicholas Wolff, chief operating officer, Frasers Greencliff Developments Pty Ltd

Recently, during heavy and persistent rain, the volume of rain exceeded the capacity of the stormwater management works in place on site. This was immediately identified by on-site contractors Christies Civil (infrastructure works) and Delta (excavation) and additional works were instituted promptly  at Frasers’ direction, namely:

  • Silt traps around the perimeter of the site were upgraded or replaced.
  • Runoff from these silt traps was directed away from the boundary to pits.
  • Additional traps were put in place at both Irving Street and at the Tooths Avenue exit to stop run-off going onto the street.
  • A holding pond has been established alongside the old Brewery Yard building to deposit the run-off and allow any suspended solids to settle before discharge to the stormwater system.

Barry Keogh of City of Sydney Council has inspected the works and he is satisfied with the actions taken to remedy the situation that occurred.

I hope you appreciate from this outline that Frasers acted appropriately and in a timely fashion to upgrade stormwater management on site, when stressed by Sydney’s recent heavy weather. We take a great deal of pride in our management of such issues, and acted in concert with the on-site contractors to immediately address the situation.

I believe our credentials on recycling and  construction stage management at the Central Park site are very strong. For example I’m not sure if you’re aware that we achieved in excess of  the 90 per cent target for recycling of materials from the site during demolition (audited outcome).