Sydney Adventist Hospital Site
A Win for the Environment but expect Traffic Chaos
The Wahroonga Estate Concept Plan was approved by the NSW Minister of Planning on 31 March 2010. This approval brought to an end a saga that began in early-2007 with an initial submission from the developers that would have seen 2000 new residential dwellings, along with expanded schooling, nursing quarters, commercial and retail developments. It would also have meant a massive loss of bushland and many thousands of additional vehicle movements per day, dumped into an area already suffering from chronic peak time traffic congestion.
STEP was actively involved with this process (see below) which led to a significant reduction in the number of proposed residential dwellings and relocation of parts of the school. The development footprint was also scaled back so that the amount of conservation land was increased from 18 ha to 34 ha.
The Wahroonga Estate contains some magnificent bushland including endangered ecological communities such as Blue Gun High Forest and Sydney Turpentine-Ironbark Forest and it has one of the finest examples of vegetation transition from shale to sandstone in northern Sydney. It is currently being well managed and restored by Wahroonga Waterways Landcare.
Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act
While STEP never had any problem with the hospital expansion plans, we did object to the significant over-development that the project represented for this particular site. Our concerns intensified when the developer, the Johnson Property Group, a major donor to State Labor, had the Minister call the project in under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act in December 2007. This effectively removed the development from the decision making of the local community, but of course did nothing to remove the consequences of those decisions from having to be borne into the future by the local community.
Community Reference Group
STEP was appointed to the community reference group which was set up in March 2008 to provide at least the appearance of community consultation on the proposal. The group met five times during the course of the planning stage. STEP and other members of the group worked hard to highlight and identify both the environmental and infrastructural impacts and shortcomings of the various proposals.
This resulted in the matter being referred by the Department of Planning to the Commonwealth Department of the Environment as a ‘controlled action’ in relation to certain critically endangered ecological communities which were on the site.
STEP's detailed fact-based submission to the Department of Planning, was strongly supported by the Nature Conservation Council and the National Parks Association. It was also strengthened by an excellent submission from Ku-ring-gai Council. Both submissions challenged many of the inaccurate representations made in the Concept Plan. The developers were also criticised by the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change regarding the proposed new school, which was, they said, 'poorly sited and planned'. The plans also attracted 160 local individual submissions from the public, of which over 96% were against the development proceeding.
In the end, these submissions resulted in a number of important changes:
- The number of private residential dwellings was reduced from 2000 to 500.
- Certain road links were removed.
- The school hall and oval were relocated.
- A lower scale of housing was decided for Mount Pleasant Avenue.
- The development footprint was scaled back.
- The amount of conservation land was increased from 18 ha to more than 30 ha.
- Half of the site was quarantined from development due to its ‘significant environmental value’ and the presence of endangered ecological communities such as the Sydney Turpentine Ironbark and Blue Gum High Forest. Importantly, this included the removal of the planned residential development on the east side of Fox Valley Road which has one of the finest examples of vegetation transition from shale to sandstone in the northern region of Sydney. The adjoining freeway corridor land to the north-east has a further 2 ha of Blue Gum High Forest/Turpentine-Ironbark Forest, while the lower riparian corridor links to the rare diatreme rainforest vegetation at Browns Field. This is indeed an environmental crown jewel worthy of special protection.
STEP commended both the developer and the SAN for their consideration of the environmental issues involved.
- The overall size and scale of the rest of the WER proposal did not alter much.
- The height limit for some buildings was increased to six stories and the retail and commercial expansion plans essentially remained as proposed.
- As the Planning Minister himself said when approving the project, it will become a whole new ‘mini suburb within a suburb’.
- The traffic infrastructure to support the new suburb remains a significant problem area and one without an apparent solution. With only some minor amendments to the original plan, the RTA and the developer believed that the road system was adequate for the proposed development once some upgrades were completed. It was clear that they had not addressed the issues raised in the detailed traffic report submitted by STEP, supported by an independent local traffic consultant. Indeed, the RTA sign-off for the development plan specifically excluded the need to upgrade the Pennant Hills Road/Comenarra Parkway intersection, which had previously been included by the developer's own traffic experts as needing upgrading!