Under the cover of meeting its state government-imposed housing targets, Burwood Council in Sydney, recently approved a spot rezoning and site-specific Development Control Plan for a small chunk of its town centre. A development application has now been lodged and this once garden suburb, roughly midway between the Sydney and Parramatta business districts, is being asked to embrace the promise of a glamourous new shopping precinct and residential apartment complex with four new towers up to 42 storeys high.
On the face of it, it’s quite impressive – 1041 brand new apartments, a 64-room hotel and several floors of new office space, room for two large supermarkets, 80 retail shops, a cinema complex, a new childcare centre, and more. It’s a proposal of which the architects and consultants can be proud, but once we consider the local context it’s a safe bet this development won’t live up to its promise if it proceeds as planned along Railway Parade, Burwood.
For those who don’t know Burwood on the fringes of Sydney’s inner west, let me paint you a picture. It’s a federation suburb full of delightful brick-and-tile bungalows, intersected by a buzzing high-street with diverse local businesses running from one end of town to the other.`
There’s already a regional shopping centre, it has excellent transport links and it is just a stone’s throw away from the western edge of the harbour. It is also quite accessible to Western Sydney employment hubs like Bankstown and Parramatta, making it a pretty neat little place that works for a broad range of people.
Oh, and for about the last 10 or so years it’s been an absolute developers’ paradise.
No longer torn between knockdown/rebuilds and heritage restorations, in recent times the landowners of Burwood have had their sights set on mixed-use high-rise development.
Seemingly overnight the downtown skyline has changed its character, with scaffolding, cranes and towers topping out one after the other.
In the neighbourhood where the Burwood Place development is proposed – that’s what they’re calling the 1041 apartments and all those retail outlets we’ve been talking about – there are half-a-dozen brand-new 20 storey buildings where a couple of government office blocks were once the most imposing structures to be found.
Local streets, parks and community facilities are already struggling to keep up with the added load. Beneath the glamour and glitz of a brand-new shopping centre the reality is that 1000 new apartments in Burwood Place would tip the scales towards “critically over-developed” within the precinct.
Let’s take a look at some of the impacts.
First, there’s the traffic. Generating more than 10,000 car trips per hour will see the small suburban streets of Burwood permanently clogged and make getting in and out of the town centre all but impossible by car.
Despite this, 2100 underground parking spaces have been proposed that will induce people to drive rather than encourage walking, cycling or taking the bus.
Even with end-of-trip facilities included in the commercial floorspace provision, this development will be a disaster for our local streets. Not to mention vehicle emissions, since there’s no mention of any EV charging stations anywhere amongst the plans.
Second, it will make housing less affordable in the area. There will be no provision for not-for-profit housing at all in this development, and no contribution required to an affordable housing fund. The vast majority of apartments will be one- and two-bedrooms, whereas the Local Strategic Planning Statement acknowledges the highest demand for housing in Burwood will be from couples with children.
Across the entire development there are only three units planned that will have four bedrooms, and you can bet these won’t be cheap.
The likely outcome is that apartments will be bought by investors rather than owner-occupiers, armed with all the tax-concessions and low-cost finance that makes windfall property gains a pretty safe bet – pushing up prices across the area and making sure home-ownership remains out of reach for the many.
With renting laws such as they are in New South Wales, this will make the local population more transient than settled as well.
Third, the availability of open green space for local residents will continue to go backwards, and a “new urban park” that will be built on an adjacent block looks set to be less than what was promised as a Voluntary Planning Agreement trade-off.
Covering an area of 2200 square metres, this park will provide almost 2 square metres of open space for each proposed new dwelling, and then there’s the 64 serviced apartments and all that commercial space to cater for as well.
Did I mention this is all set to happen directly across the road from the local primary school?
Even before we consider the concept plans this park was never going to cut it, but the design shows it will likely be a small patch of lawn and a coffee cart sitting above three more levels of underground parking and a small community theatre dug into the side of the hill.
It’s hard to imagine how this park could genuinely meet the needs of the communities it will have to serve – sadly it will probably just end up as a receptacle for car fumes and wayward rubbish.
Worryingly, nobody seems to know that this is happening. Plans for Burwood Place have been in development since 2015 but as I talk about this to people across the community I am frequently met with surprise and disbelief, followed by resignation that the council and developers will do whatever suits them regardless of the community’s needs or wishes.
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Each of the issues I have outlined above could be resolved with a little more community-led planning, and we could end up with a fantastic redevelopment of the site that really does make Burwood a better place. But it seems the development application will be considered without such genuine input from the community, and this will be another opportunity lost.
I suspect this won’t be the last time the residents of Burwood will be faced with such a garish redevelopment proposal. We’d do well to heed the lessons of Burwood Place, take notes and learn from whatever happens next. With the Metro West line coming and a station proposed at the other end of town, this is just the beginning.
Ned Cutcher is a housing and planning advocate and a local resident of Burwood Heights. He is running as a Greens candidate for Burwood Council in the 2021 local government elections