The fight to protect Kelly’s Bush at Hunters Hill

14 February 2013 – On open forums, community groups, Green Cities and making CEOs really uncomfortable

Was it fair?

Our first dip into the world of online comment just happened to be in the powder keg of NSW development and community activists. It was more like a small deluge, stirring up 17 comments in less than 24 hours. [UPDATE: more comments arrived by Friday]

At the receiving end of the controversy was Chris Johnson, head of the NSW Urban Taskforce, who was kind enough to agree to be part of this new foray for The Fifth Estate.

  • Photo: The battle over Kelly’s Bush was the start of the bitterly fought Green Bans in Sydney, and the start of long and bitter opposition to development

Delivering the missives were members of the newly formed Better Planning Network. This is a coalition of 251 community groups, headed by Corinne Fisher, who are furious at the NSW Government’s plans to strip away community engagement rights in planning.

Thank goodness Johnson, as a former NSW Government Architect, well-practised public speaker, author and government insider, is well-versed in how to deal with controversy. He kindly agreed to allow open comments to his article, which challenged the BPN’s claims.

Johnson has the unenviable task of turning sentiment around on one of the more maligned sectors of our economy, which just happens to deliver the structures that house us and provide space for work and play.

So far he’s not been doing a bad job.

He’s co-opted some leading architects to create desirable images of Sydney’s future. He resuscitated a fabulous idea of transforming Parramatta Road into a growth corridor. He’s stirred up debate and has new support among the thinkers in this industry.

Developers point to the reality that Australia is heading towards a population of 35 million, even without immigration, that will need to be accommodated.

The community points to a development industry with bad form. Yes, at the top end, listed developers are sophisticated and at least struggle to be more sustainable. But scratch the surface and you find the majority is stuck in Neanderthal-land.

The NSW Government hasn’t helped. It’s made it clear that growth, business, mining and coal seam gas are the priorities – not quality of life and not community engagement with the outcome.

Where Johnson incited the ire of the BPN was by denying that its members represented the community. Members were “mainly landscape groups, environment centres, bushland societies, conservation societies, the Friends of the Koala, heritage groups and the Nature Conservation Council,” Johnson said.

Writing off this sizeable group as not part of the community was never going to work. Members came from every walk of life, came the retorts. (And this is exactly the cohort that gives developers the most pain. But not the real reason residential development is in such a poor state. See our article.)

What might work is Johnson’s offer to personally meet with and talk to the group.

This is great news. And all cheer to both sides.

Perhaps it points to the hope that the development world is ready to embrace some of the major trends underway worldwide: trends of more collaboration and boundary crossing, of bending and breaking preconceptions.

It could be time to let down the drawbridge to developers and citizens alike. Let them meet in the middle, talk, and be aware of the fate that lies below if they fail to accommodate each other.

If the Government won’t do it, who needs government?

Green Cities 2013: Help needed
In rather challenging news The Fifth Estate, used to being on the right side of the camera and the microphone (the invisible side, that is) has agreed to moderate a session at Green Cities with none other than Daniel Grollo chief executive of Grocon, Dan Labbad group chief operating officer of Lend Lease and a third CEO still to be confirmed.

It’s rather exciting because the session, named the CEO’s circle, is highly interactive. In other words, no pressos from the panel, but loads of questions from the audience.

Like Kevin Rudd, we’ll be there to help (albeit not nursing quite the same ambitions).

So in order to prepare the ground, find the chinks in the corporate armour, we’ve just this afternoon (Thursday) interviewed Daniel Grollo who has some great provocative thinking on the sustainability trajectory.

We’ll also try to catch the other panel members.

But really important is that the audience thinks up the hardest, most challenging questions it can manage. These are the guys who will  shape the future of this country. We’re there to make these guys uncomfortable, whether in person or virtually.

After all nothing really good was ever achieved without a degree of discomfort. Especially when you’re hell bent on changing the world.

Send ideas to tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au