In the lead up to the September 8 council elections across NSW, candidates in the City of Sydney have been finalised and several candidates forums have already been held.
The most significant so far was held on August 15 in Alexandria Town Hall. The forum came about due to the combined effort of resident action groups across inner residential areas. A slew of inappropriate developments and the destruction of public housing has seen Friends of Erskineville, Alexandria Residents Action Group, FLAG Harold Park and Hands Off Glebe band together. Prior to the forum they sent a joint letter to mayor Clover Moore outlining grievances primarily around overdevelopment, poor public transport and parking issues.
Seven lord mayoral candidates attended: Dixie Coulton (Independent), Denis Doherty (Housing Action), Irene Doutney (Greens), Ed Mandla (Liberal), Clover Moore (Independent), Linda Scott (ALP) and Angela Vithoulkas (Living Sydney). The Sex Party was not there despite having a candidate. More than 100 residents attended and for over 2 hours candidates outlined their positions and fielded questions from the audience.
Doutney outlined her advocacy of resident groups, sustainability, the marginalised and core green values. Vithoulkas talked about small businesses, parking and a “citizens jury” on issues such as bike lanes. She has received some praise from Miranda Devine and the Murdoch press.
Scott spoke about “an inclusive city” and announced a plan to underground power lines during the rollout of the National Broadband Network and then plant trees where the poles were, which she said would help cool the city.
Mandla spoke about “cutting the waste and nutty schemes”. When talk came to problems of congestion related to Channel 7 offices at Eveleigh he promised to “get to the bottom of it” but he was clearly not across the issue even though residents have been raising the issue with council for a long time.
Doherty cut through to what he saw as the most pressing issue in the City of Sydney — housing — particularly social and affordable housing. He said 20% of private renters are under housing stress, and how homeless services were failing to cope with demand. He said despite this, the Moore-controlled council was planning to reduce social housing to only 7.5% of total housing. His comments drew some other candidates to signal their support for the issue too.
Through the discussion, the issue of how to get greater community participation in decision making arose, with Housing Action, Greens and ALP supporting the reintroduction of wards, and also precinct committees.
The spectre of the Barry O'Farrell government's planning 'Green Paper' also loomed large. It proposes to remove community input from decisions around particular development applications (DA's) whilst remaining quite vague on how the plans and controls will be determined up front.
Also, a new planning category known as “Enterprise Zones” would have few, if any, development controls. The Green Paper puts North Eveleigh as a candidate for such a zoning, which has rankled nearby residents. Mandla tried to reassure the crowd that “it's just a discussion paper”. The paper is open to public submissions until October 8 and then draft legislation will be released later this year.
In question time, residents raised issues around overdevelopment and overshadowing. Parking was a common complaint, generating much heat, but little light. Cycling and bike lanes were criticised by a few, including the Liberals, but most of the audience signalled their support for efforts to increase cycling.
Housing Action supporters in the audience pressed for improved public housing and finding ways for council and residents to pressure state government for better public transport.
[Andrew Chuter is a candidate in the Housing Action team. For more details about Housing Action, visit housingactionsydney.org.]