New developments in Blacktown. Image from Blacktown City Council

OPINION: Although I empathise with the need for more affordable housing, I found the NSW Land and Environment Court’s recent decision to approve a new boarding house in my local area of Blacktown placed developer concerns above both the will of council and the better judgment of the community. 

Despite council’s refusal of the project twice, the court, headed by senior commissioner Susan Dixon, approved what I consider to be an over-developed boarding house, constituting 15-bedrooms, on the site of a current 3-bedroom house.      

In relation to local government. policy, it is not adequately supported by the existing land, environment and infrastructure, and contradicts Blacktown Council’s standpoint, objections of the neighbouring Catholic Primary School and Catholic Diocese as well as nearly 200 petitionary local signatories. Overall, the community was ignored by the court.

I am concerned about the anti-sustainable, anti-democratic, anti-health, anti-security and anti-local actions by the NSW Judiciary, whereby, over-developed buildings, resembling ghettos, are unjustly approved.      

Evidently, the court supports foreign profit-based developments, exploitative of the land and natural environment. Plus, Blacktown residents are being treated like second-class citizens. We are expected to support such over-developments, somewhat of our own backs and corresponding land, when the developer does not have ample land and infrastructure to comfortably develop their own. We are expected to provide them with parking? 

Thus, the development will severely impact on neighbours, including elderly WWII survivors of the Nazis, multicultural young families and other aged residents. People who have worked hard all their life, and suffered, but now are entitled to live in peace, safety and security. 

Thus, I was extremely disappointed in the decision of Ms Dixon, supported by Justice Tim Moore and Chief Judge Brian Preston, upholding the appeal of developer Madss Properties,   Such a project should not be situated next to a Catholic Primary School and multicultural aged European and Asian communities, including elderly WWII survivors as well as young families with school children.

Most neighbours live on the same block of land – but only have 3 bedrooms

Most neighbours have three bedrooms, with small family units, whereas the development, on the site of a current three-bedroom house, would house up to 20 people, potentially with 30-50 people living there. On that note, residents living near Blacktown boarding houses, complained to me, during my activist campaign, that boarding houses have been seen to operate twice or indeed triple their occupancy- so the likelihood of 30+ (or 40+) people living there, is indeed a reality. This contrasts with local neighbours’ way of life, wanting to live in a healthy, harmonious and quiet environment.

Blacktown Council’s twice refusal for development and community objections

Council upheld throughout the entire court process, despite some stingy amendments, that the DA countered local policies on design, planning and character of the area, as stated below. 

Please refer to below letter, from chief executive of Blacktown Council:

“The matter was then subsequently heard by Senior Commissioner Dixon who determined to uphold the appeal on 5 February 2021, thereby approving the development. 

Senior Commissioner Dixon made the decision despite council and community objections  to the proposal. The objections included: 

  • the design of the proposed development not being compatible with the character of  the local area
  • an argued lack of design excellence, as required by Clause 7.7 of Blacktown Local  Environmental Plan 2015 
  • the proposal not being in the public interest in terms of design excellence and character of the local area”

Other concerns: No air, nor trees with residents squashed into boxed rooms like sardines 

The over-development is environmentally unsustainable, with a large building situated on the corner of a busy intersection, obstructing neighbours’ views as well as that of turning cars:

  • Neighbours only have a few people living in each house
  • It is not desirable to house up to 30+ people, on the site of a current 3-bedroom house
  • Front set-back obstructs neighbours
  • Overshadowing
  • No garden or possibility to grow own vegetables, nor to have a flower garden
  • Noisy living environs (internal/external): residents not being able to sleep or work 
  • Property sitting on the edge of neighbour’s property
  • Intersection: RTA concerns: large building on edge of intersection, blocking street view
  • No trees, inadequate nature/natural environment
  • No front or back yard
  • Inadequate parking
  • Lack of supportive furniture and amenities
  • Inappropriate internal/external living space
  • Residents with challenging behaviours living next door to a Catholic Primary School
  • What about all the rubbish bins – too many, scattered everywhere!
  • Plus, there are no bike tracks in the area – yet approved by Susan Dixon.

Macquarie Street commissioner in Blacktown for only about five minutes

In November 2020, Ms Dixon was on site in Blacktown for only “about 5 minutes”, unfamiliar with the area, yet accepted the arguments of the developer’s solicitor  that it was in the  public interest. During the course of five minutes, Dixon briefly looked at some of the neighbours’ houses, commenting on “demolition”, as I observed as a witness. 

Commissioner favouring companies over residents & LGAs: a recurring theme

Susan Dixon, in her decision-making capacity, often takes the side of companies over local residents and Councils. Her decisions are usually supported by Chief Justice Preston. In 2019, Dixon supported the demolition of Bidura Children’s Court, supporting the developer, whilst Sydney Council adamantly tried to preserve its heritage status and launched appeals against the decision.

Recently, in July 2021, Dixon supported a telecommunications company upholding its flashy light signage logo, thereby, going against North Sydney Council’s refusal and local residents objections

Likewise, in Blacktown, Ms Dixon supported this over-development, although Blacktown Council’s chief executive and executive team saw it as “adversely” contravening local design and character standards.

Over-development: Conclusion – should not be built

Again, although I empathise with affordable housing: the land, environment and infrastructure cannot support this over-development; as such, the densely built “ghetto”, contravenes local govt policies/state planning and should not be built. All peoples, of various backgrounds, should live in healthy, happy living environments, and not squashed into boxed bedrooms, like sardines, with “no real air” as a life support.

As an academic activist, I advocate for the justice/rights of local citizenry, envisioning that all peoples, multicultural aged and youth communities, gage honour within their own environs, without feeling pushed into ghetto-type living. We must respect our natural and sociocultural environment and live in a state of well-being, harmony and peace- with- rather than against our neighbours. Thus, density living and over-developments counter sustainable-healthy living. 

Dr Yulia Maleta, is an Independent Academic with a PhD in Sociology (Specialising in Environmentalism, Gender Studies and Qualitative Research), She has also taught and lectured at the University of Sydney, UNSW and Western Sydney University.

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  1. This development is unfortunately all too typical of a government that is fixated with growth yet it this growth that has made transmission of the virus so easy and so difficult to contain. It is also a process that has made our cities prone to urban heat cells, ones where accumulated heat in roads and hard cover increases local temperatures by up to ten degrees, a situation that will cause deaths if A\C fails.

    1. Dear Don, The health impact upon the neighbouring residents and the residents of the proposed development evidently was not seriously considered, whereby over-developments, which, in turn, resembling densely built ‘ghetto’s or ‘slums’ take precedence. The Court could have supported the residents, Council’s twice refusal and likewise the objections of the neighbouring Catholic Primary School, and made it all that easier for the entire community! But they didn’t, they supported the developer. Such plans were seen to go against the community’s greater interest. Susan Dixon, however, made the wrong judgement, and assessed that the design met local planning guidelines and policy, when at the same time Council was adamant that it didn’t, despite some stingy amendments by the developer. Hence, I have no trust in NSW Judiciary, for they support densely-built over-developments, in turn, not adequality supported by the existing/surrounding land, environment and infrastructure. Meanwhile, neighbours will have to put up with the over-development of 15 bedrooms, housing potentially up to 40+ people, when other neighbours only have a few people on each property. If an average resident put in such a development application, they would be refused, but a company, after several appeals, can eventually get what they want? That is unjust and a poor resemblance of NSW Judiciary support of such adverse developments.