Smidmore Street outside Marrickville Metro.

Smidmore Street – outside Marrickville Metro shopping centre

This was the Council Meeting. The following is how I understood the meeting & all mistakes are mine.  Note: MC = Marrickville Council.

The Councillors & Wards are as follows – LABOR:  Iskandar/Central, Haylen/North, Tsardoulias/West, Woods/South. GREENS:  Phillips/Central, Ellsmore/North, Brooks/West, Leary/South.  LIBERALS: Gardener/North, Tyler/West. INDEPENDENT:  Macri/Central, Hanna/South.

Proposed purchase of part of Smidmore Street Marrickville by AMP Capital Investors (owners of Marrickville Metro) –   There were 2 speakers.

Speaker 1:  I was confused whether I should tick the “for” or “against” recommendation option in the online registration, as the recommendation is to move the discussion in to a closed session, which I do not support as I think this is an issue that requires further clarification, transparency & community consultation. As to the actual proposal to purchase Smidmore Street by AMP, I’m trying to have an open mind, but I do have concerns – & again, request further clarification, transparency & community consultation before a decision is made by council. In the past few days I have spoken to quite a few residents, & all are confused, concerned & some are actually quite angry that this proposal is again before council, & that council appear to be ready to consider approving it this time. So as a representative of the community action group Metro Watch, I would like to submit the following points & questions –

1. What circumstances have changed? Refusal to sell the public road Smidmore Street was a core issue in council’s submission of objection to the Dept of Planning regarding the Metro expansion 2 years ago, & throughout the campaign up to the Planning Assessment Commission hearing. Councillors were emphatic & unanimous in their opposition, & this particular point of objection was supported by Metro Watch & the Chamber of Commerce – we all represented a united front with aligned objectives. So I have to ask, what circumstances have changed since then, for council to appear to be considering, & perhaps approving, this proposal now?

2. What is the intended use for this section of Smidmore Street? For example, would the closed section of road be used directly as an outdoor entertaining area, or in order to create more footpath cafes/bars etc on either side of the centre? There was a suggestion in the original expansion plans to create an “entertainment quarter” on Smidmore Street. Would those venues be trading during the day only, or at night also? Or is the intention to create a pedestrian transition from buildings 1 and 2? If so, that objective could be achieved with traffic calming measures, rather than the sale of a public asset. It could also be solved with the option to build an overhead pedestrian walkway, which would not create any negative impacts as far as I can see. This road currently belongs to everyone, & once sold, it will be permanently in private ownership.

3. Negative impact – A key concern with residents is what sort of impact this may have on the immediate area. How would it affect traffic & parking issues; & residential amenity such as additional noise & disturbance particularly at night.  It would be essential to conduct an impact assessment. What measures would be put in place to ensure residential amenity was not impacted, now or in the future? If approved, what can guarantee us that the next council team, or the team after, would ensure those conditions were kept, eg if the Metro made a future application to change trading hours or other conditions of operation?  An additional element that will affect future traffic issues is council’s consideration of a proposal to re-zone Edinburgh Road to allow the construction of a Masters Home Improvement Centre, which will draw enormous amounts of additional traffic to the area.

4. Consultation with the community – Most councillors will be aware that the original Metro expansion was a cause of great concern with the local community. There were over 500 & 700 letters of objection to the Dept of Planning during the 2 stages of the exhibition & approval process. It would be reasonable to expect that the community would be extensively consulted by council regarding any concerns they may have about potential impacts before a decision is made regarding this new proposal. There is no doubt that if this proposal to purchase Smidmore Street by AMPCI were successful, that the addition of $1.5 million to council’s budget would enable council to implement more services or facilities to benefit the greater community, but possibly at the expense of the amenity of residents around the Metro. On the other hand, if the main objective for the purchase of this street is to improve connectivity & pedestrian access between the 2 sites, then an overhead walkway would achieve that, with no negative impact. In fact, this overhead walkway should be worth much much more than the proposed $130,000 in the AMP offer, which seems a very low estimate of its commercial value. Just recently, several residents as well as other community services representatives & some Metro tenants, were involved in a consultative process with AMPCI/Metro in developing revised plans by the new architectural firm for the Stage 1 (Smidmore/Edinburgh) site. This was a very productive & positive process, with some major amendments to the original plans such as the removal of the dominating & brutally ugly spiral car ramp on Edinburgh/Smidmore corner, & the re-orientation of the market area with double-height ceiling space. It may be that other positive outcomes could also be achieved with rigorous negotiation regarding the options presented in this new proposal, preferably to pursue the option of an overhead pedestrian bridge for improved pedestrian safety; & perhaps some other amendments or conditions could be negotiated by council, such as the immediate implementation of a trolley lock-out system (one of the major concerns of residents throughout the locality) or other measures that could reduce negative impact from the Metro on residential amenity, now & in the future.

As you can hear, I have lots of questions, and I hope that you will consider these points, & postpone any immediate decision on this proposal, in order to allow more clarification, transparency, assessment & community consultation to proceed.

Speaker 2: I am not so reasonable.  I had thought MC had rejected to sell Smidmore Street 2-years ago.  I don’t know whether I am speaking for or against because it is confidential.  It reminds me of George Bernard Shaw – “We know what you are. We just need to discuss the price.” If it’s for pedestrians, you could just close the road.  If it’s the money, the airspace would increase quite a lot.  They could spend more than $130,000 to buy the airspace.

Clr Tsardoulias & Tyler argued for a closed session.  Vote:  For – Mayor Marci, Clrs Tsardoulias, Iskandar, Haylen, Woods, Phillips, Gardiner & Tyler. Against –  Clrs Leary, Brooks, Ellsmore & Hanna.  The Gallery was cleared.

On return – Clr Tsardoulias:  Moved refusal of recommendation points 1,2,3 & 4 of confidential paper.  Clr Hanna: GM if we said we agree for number 2, does this mean it is finished?  Staff:  Yes.

Clr Tsardoulias: This caught me by surprise. This Council voted unanimously to refuse so coming back to us is a surprise.  I move not to proceed.  Some of the valuations are ridiculous.  The residents come first. They went through hell for the past 2-years & this matter should have been put to rest.

Clr Gardiner:  It is remiss of this Council not to seek to maximize the benefit to at least enter into negotiations with this centre. I think we all know that in 1-2 years this will be back.  We know that shopping strips struggle.  We know what the pressures on retailers are.  I do not understand why people do not accept that their precious little backyard must be shared.  It’s a wasteland.  It’s going to be developed.  It’s utterly ridiculous not to enter into negotiations with AMP.

Clr Phillips:  Marrickville used to have more residents than we have now.  (1948 – 113,000 people).  The industrial areas of MC are employment lands & have been set-aside in our LEP. They are not wastelands.  I see this as a planning issue.  You don’t just put these aside for a bit more cash.  It’s a stand-alone centre causing lots of problems for residents, especially traffic.  The reason why MC was unanimous & strongly against the Metro expansion was – why make it bigger & compound the problem & to take business away from our shopping strips?  Smidmore Street is not zoned for a shopping strip.  This would be privatizing a shopping strip.  We don’t want the places where we shop, meet & gather to be in private domains. We should protect our main streets. Staff says if we do sell this street, AMP will be back to put in shops & make this into a pedestrian mall.

Clr Leary:  I support Clr Tsardoulias’s motion.  Clr Gardener said there are no quality shops in Marrickville LGA.  I beg to differ.  I bought a new Panama hat on King Street. Across the road is a button shop. Further up the street is a wool shop. Some of the best Asian fruit & vegetables are sold on Illawarra Road.  These retail shops give to our community in the way a Westfield-style centre won’t.  If you close off Smidmore Street it will cause problems for other streets.  Privatizing space is not in the best interests of the community.

Clr Hanna: I can’t agree with Clr Gardiner. I will take you to Metro & ask you to find a quality shop. They can see the Commonwealth Bank doing fantastic & Metro wants them.  Menswear – you cannot afford to be in a shopping centre.  You would have to buy everything from China. You will never find famous brands in a shopping centre.  They don’t make margins from quality shops. They are getting a discount department store & other supermarkets.  I don’t want the residents to go through the same thing as 2-years ago.  Not many people know about it.  How can we do something about this without the residents knowing?

Mayor Macri:  I appreciate Clr Gardiner because we need different opinions. The reason I oppose it is about balance.  If we move too many people to the side of a rowboat it will be out of balance. Traffic is at capacity.  Increasing the size of Metro was always a problem for everyone.  I even suggested that they build at the Marrickville Hospital site. They said no.  They are trying to redraw the maps. I don’t think it’s good.  I thought the design wasn’t attractive & they told us they were interested about doing anything about the road.  Now they have come back.  Bite. Bite. Bite. They spoke about the financial leakage – people leaving the LGA to shop.  I said you are going to address this by two new fruit shops & a supermarket?  You are telling me that people are leaving to buy cabbage?  I don’t like their approach.

Clr Brooks:  Stats about shopping trends showing that people are leaving & shopping online. It’s very hard to use a dead shopping strip.

Vote – For the recommendation NOT sell Smidmore Street to AMP: Mayor Macri, Clrs Iskandar, Tsardoulias, Haylen, Woods, Phllips, Leary, Brooks, Ellsmore, Tyler & Hanna.  Against: Clr Gardiner.   Carried.