Legal challenge lost, campaign to save Willow Grove continues

Outside the Land and Environment Court. Pictured is Suzette Meade (centre) and Darren Greenfield (right). Photo: Rachel Evans

The North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) lost its bid in the NSW Land and Environment Court on June 16 to stop the NSW government’s destruction of the historic Willow Grove villa to make way for the new Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta.

Regardless of the outcome, residents are determined to work with unions to ensure Willow Grove remains in place.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) (Construction Division) placed a Green Ban on the site in April last year and a recent meeting of 200 union delegates vowed to continue to block work on the site.

NPRAG spokesperson Suzette Meade said the case brought by residents to the court was that Infrastructure NSW had failed to consider any alternative sites in its Environmental Impact Statement for the Parramatta Powerhouse Museum development.

Meade said the group is consulting its legal team about options but that “Legal proceedings were always our Plan B.

“Plan A has always been and will continue to be the power and the passion of the community with the unions, working together,” Meade continued. “In the spirit of Jack Mundey and with our Green Ban, we will save this site and Willow Grove will stay forever on Phillips Street Parramatta.”

Meade said that Parramatta has already lost its public pool to make way for the Bankwest Stadium and the historic Royal Oak hotel to make way for the light rail construction.

“We will not lose Willow Grove. The people of Parramatta should not have to choose between our cultural heritage and cultural funding. We can have both and the community will fight for this.”

CFMEU NSW secretary Darren Greenfield said the court decision did not change the union’s commitment. “We still have the intention to save the Willow Grove in Parramatta. We will use whatever political means we can — our Green Ban and our members to save Willow Grove.

“And it will remain until a decision is made to keep Willow Grove in Parramatta,” he said.

Parramatta City councillor Donna Davis said the residents’ five-year campaign to save Willow Grove is “bigger” than Willow Grove. “This is about an onslaught on heritage in Parramatta and across NSW.”

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said: “Regardless of today’s decision, Willow Grove is still standing, the Green Ban is still in place and the community campaign to save Willow Grove is only growing.

“Just this morning the minister [Don Harwin] made it very clear that the [government] could save Willow Grove if they acquired adjoining property to build the museum.

“That is the obvious solution, if they want to keep the museum in the place they have decided [on].”

“It’s about time that Minister Harwin and Premier [Gladys] Berejiklian understood that the people of Parramatta [and] the people of Sydney care about Parramatta’s heritage a great deal more than they do.”

Patricia Johnson and Jean-Pierre Alexander, convenors of Save the Powerhouse campaign, which successfully stopped the sell-off of the Powerhouse Museum site in Ultimo were in court to hear the decision. Johnson told Green Left: “We seriously contest today’s decision.”

The day before the decision was handed down, Harwin announced $500 million in funds to refurbish the Ultimo Powerhouse Museum.

Johnson said the two groups would continue working together to Save Willow Grove, despite the government’s attempts at divide and rule.

“We're working with and in cooperation with Save Willow Grove and we'll continue to do so,” Johnson said.

[Susan Price is a member of the North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group. She is a in the upcoming City of Parramatta local government elections. Donate to the Save Willow Grove campaign .]