By Kylie Moon
PENRITH — Sydney's urban sprawl is relentless. One proposed project is at the 1535-hectare Australian Defence Industries (ADI) St Marys site, bordering Penrith and the Blue Mountains. The site, the largest remaining tract of Cumberland Plain bush, was until recently a munitions manufacturing and storage facility.
The battle to save the site as bushland, waged by the ADI Residents Action Group (ADI RAG) for the past six years, could now be entering its final phase. Provisional approval has been given by the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning for the building of 8000 houses by a Lend Lease-ADI consortium. A draft regional environmental plan is being prepared by the department and should be ready for public display shortly after the state election on March 27.
ADI RAG demands a regional park and is emphasising the value of the bushland as green recreational space and its important role in air and water purification.
ADI RAG also stresses that the land is not required to meet housing needs. Penrith Council has indicated that other, less environmentally sensitive areas, are available for this purpose.
The residents' campaigning has relied heavily on lobbying parliamentarians. Now there is some awareness that this tactic is inadequate.
Each Saturday pickets are being set up on the busy roads at the main entrances to the ADI site. There has been a good public response. Many signatures having been collected on petitions and leaflets have been distributed to passing motorists.
A campaign highlight has been a March 14 pre-election public meeting at St Marys. Keynote speakers included environmentalist Jack Mundey and Ian Cohen, Greens MLC. Local parliamentary candidates also attended and took part in a panel discussion.
The meeting also considered voting strategies and the group's focus on the single issue of the ADI site.
Alistair Dickinson, long-term ADI RAG activist and member of the Democratic Socialist Party, commented, "The crucial question of a fight back against the economic rationalist policies of both the ALP and the Coalition will need to be raised and related to the ADI issue. A relevant demand would be for an immediate halt to the privatisation of public assets, including ADI land.
"Development should be for need, not private profit. The Lend Lease proposals would not offer a significant amount of low-cost housing for working people. Minimum prices start from $150,000 for an unspecified area of land. Many houses would be much more expensive than this."
Other demands arise from this environmental campaign. A comprehensive public transport system needs to be established, with a significant increase in public funding, for example.
The community should have unhindered access to the ADI site to survey contamination problems.
Also, communities need to be able to participate in committees set up to consider development applications. At present resident and non-government organisations are strictly barred from such committees.
Demands such as these can raise public awareness and help maintain the momentum of the campaign after the election.