Carr Government's harbour plan under fire
by Peter Mac A fortnight before the state elections the NSW Government has launched its Integrated Land and Water Access Plan concerning public access to Sydney Harbour. The plan proposes welcome innovations such as cycleways and boat ramps. However, it does not adequately address major issues such as the public use of North Head. This stunning gateway to Sydney Harbour includes the former School of Artillery and the Australian Artillery Museum (which are currently being transferred from Commonwealth to state ownership). The other areas, including the former Quarantine Station, the Sydney water treatment works, and the natural areas with their magnificent lookouts and beautiful small beaches, are all state-owned. The National Trust, the Friends of Quarantine Station, Defenders of Public Land and other community groups have called for integrated planning for the use of this wonderful headland and the conservation of its unique wildlife and architecture. Unfortunately, this approach was compromised several years ago by the Carr Government's proposed lease of the Quarantine Station to a hotel chain for adaptation as a swanky resort, with minimal public access. Despite overwhelming public opposition, a Commission of Inquiry last year concluded that this proposal could go ahead, but imposed conditions that severely limit the lease term and the proposal's economic attractiveness. It is possible that the deal could fall through, but if so it will not be because of the Carr Government, which has doggedly defended the proposal. The Quarantine Station debacle wasn't the Government's only appalling planning decision. They tried (and failed) to flog off a prime chunk of the old Callan Park (Balmain Hospital) foreshore site several years ago, and last year again proposed selling 10 percent of it. Public opposition again forced them into ignominious backdown, and with a state election looming they're now loudly championing the cause of public use of public lands! The new plan also offers little regarding the key issue of public transport to harbour sites. NSW Greens parliamentarian Ian Cohen noted that the Plan "offers no relief to those wishing to connect with the Sydney Harbour foreshore from the outer west, south-west and northern beaches. (They) are deprived of an efficient public transport system, particularly a rail system to the northern beaches.." A northern beaches railway system has been discussed for decades, but the Government has only offered a widening of the bottleneck at Spit bridge as an election sweetener. The Liberals, not to be outdone, have proposed building a tunnel from Cammeray to Balgowlah — a huge project — but again, to carry motor vehicles only! Ian Cohen remarked: "Sydney Harbour foreshores are among the most beautiful and remarkable in the world. Everyone should have the chance to access it and this will only be possible if the state government commits to a range of public transport options." Regarding public comments on the draft plan, he added: "this is the chance to let the government know, as a majority voice, what is really needed to make this city a great one to live in."