Since Bob Carr started the intervention in Redfern and Waterloo 14 years ago, residents have dealt with four different government renewal agencies fronted by eight different local level agency heads. Over this time there have been many déjà vu experiences – or more colloquially “here we go again”.

Seeing RED, was written in 2003 about the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project but it has a “dealing with government” universality about it. Redact the names and a couple of paragraphs and it could be written about Waterloo today, the early Redfern Waterloo Authority (RWA), the 2011 plans for redeveloping public housing or many other projects around the state that have not delivered on their initial undertakings to work with communities.

Seeing RED – Spring 2003

Seeing Red 1Seeing Red 2


Seeing RED – Spring 2003

The shocking scale of plans for the redevelopment of Redfern and Waterloo has taken everyone by surprise. The Minister for Housing is ready to call in the bulldozers and locals are gearing up for the biggest battle since the Green Bans, writes CHARLIE RICHARDSON.

Early last year, rumour had it that something big was in the air for Redfern and Waterloo. Street riots, which had broken out in response to an incident where a local boy was injured running from police, had attracted a lot of media attention. There was a rash of ‘bad news stories’ sufficient to get government action.

On 21 March 2002, Bob Carr announced his vision for Redfern and Waterloo in a speech to Parliament:

“The Government will invest $7 million over three years in a comprehensive package to reduce crime and improve public amenity.

“Local residents want better services, as well as jobs and training. To this end, the Government will spearhead the development of a master plan covering Redfern, Eveleigh and Darlington. It will revitalise local shopping strips, improve short-term and long-term employment opportunities, encourage a better social mix, enhance transport options and provide for the better location and distribution of human services.”

What the Premier actually meant to say was that the entire suburbs of Redfern and Waterloo were now up for grabs. The politically opportune moment had arrived to start spinning the concept of ‘encouraging the social mix’ as a euphemism for large scale redevelopment in the heartland of public housing.

The RED Strategy

The practical outcome of the Premier’s speech was the establishment of the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project (RWPP). A “masterplan covering Redfern, Eveleigh and Darlington” was quickly dubbed “the RED Strategy”, and staff were seconded from Planning NSW to the RWPP to develop it. It would affect the areas of Redfern, Eveleigh and Darlington around Redfern Station and ‘The Block’, owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC).

The Premier had said during his speech announcing the RWPP that, “I acknowledge the willingness of local residents to take responsibility for problems and to work in partnership with the Government to generate practical solutions. The com-munity will be involved in the implementation of this project at every step.

If only that had been true, the RWPP might have engaged the community and gained its assistance. Instead, its actions have caused unease and suspicion. For al-most a year it was near on impossible to get information out of the Government or the Partnership staff. Attempts by Inner Voice to discuss its work and plans were avoided, and phone calls not returned. Eventually it emerged that RWPP staff are prevented from talking to the media altogether.

A Change of Plans

Finally on June 11, 2003, an information session was held where it became apparent that the RED Strategy area had expanded from the area around Redfern Station and ‘The Block’ to encompass the whole of Redfern and Waterloo. Instead of being about streetscapes and the public domain, it was now about redevelopment, with a projected increase in residents of 10,000 – an increase of 50%.

There was a map of Redfern and Waterloo showing all of the government owned land, including public housing, marked in yellow. It was accompanied by text saying, “The extensive government land holdings allows extensive redevelopment opportunities”. Elsewhere, the land was de-scribed as “easily developable”.

The expansion in geographic scope and purpose had occurred at least six months prior yet no one outside the RWPP had been told, let alone `consulted’ .

There were two information sessions on June 11, one during the day in a small park in Caroline Street, and the other in the evening at Redfern Town Hall. They were both poorly advertised, with leaflets not reaching most residents. Even the Local Member for Bligh, independent Clover Moore, was not informed.

People who did get the leaflet were not exactly encouraged to attend as there was little to indicate what would be discussed. The evening session clashed with the ‘State of Origin’ match being played that night, as did the second information session a few weeks later.

To make matters worse, these in-formation sessions did not follow the standard format where people gather in a room and are taken through a proposal step by step, together. Instead, people were told to turn up “anytime between 12.00 and 2.00 pm”, and were then free to individually wander around a group of boards with various aspects of the RED Strategy dis-played on them. Consultants would steer them around and talk about the proposals. This means that people did not have the benefit of hearing the questions that others might ask.

No material was given to attendees, so there was no opportunity to show material to neighbours and friends, or to read and reflect on it later. People were asked to give feedback by filling in a double-sided piece of A4 paper that asked questions that almost supplied the answers.

Location Location

The “easily developable” land on the maps at the consultation session include the Eveleigh Railway yards and the public housing estates of Redfern and Waterloo. These two estates are home to some 9,000 people in over 4,300 units of public housing. Eighty three per cent (83%) of all dwellings in Waterloo are public housing, with the suburb’s 6000 public tenants comprising some 35% of total public housing in the Sydney Metropolitan area.

In the eyes of a cash-strapped Housing Department this land is prime real estate. Commonwealth contributions for state housing programs decreased by 8% for the 2003/04 budget. Despite the NSW Government actually increasing its contribution, the overall housing budget for this year is down by 5.9%. When all sales, transfers and demolitions have been considered, there will be a net decrease of 1,233 units of public housing over the next 12 months. Clearly the trend for the NSW Government to withdraw from capital investment in public housing is accelerating.

Senior officers of the Department have tried to reassure tenants in Redfern and Waterloo that there are no plans to reduce public housing in Redfern Waterloo, but that was before the Minister for Housing Carl Scully appeared on the Channel Ten news announcing the solution to problem public housing estates was a bulldozer!

There was a map of Redfern and Waterloo showing all government owned land, including public housing, marked in yellow. It was accompanied by text saying, “The extensive government land holdings allows extensive redevelopment opportunities”. Elsewhere, the land was described as “easily developable”.

While Scully was referring to public housing estates across Sydney he used the same ‘better social mix’ justification as in Carr’s speech to Parliament. Scully said: “Creating superlots for public housing – some-times you could call it a social disaster. It’s not a good outcome where you put all the people with all the problems in the one patch.

“The aim of the exercise is to in-crease public housing stock and in-crease the mix and have Department of Housing tenants dispersed among the aspirational housing community”.

A Better Social Mix?

What “a better social mix” may or may not mean in practice is not all that clear (see story page 10). What is clear is that, in Redfern and Waterloo, it would be brought about mostly by diluting the existing population by settling people on higher incomes among them, block by block. Bringing in new residents in the numbers talked about in RED (10,000 people) would probably see the low-density public housing stock become very high density, and at close quarters to high density private housing.

This is the beginning of what will be a long process, and there is very little that is definite in the RED Strategy. We know it is considering the redevelopment of part, or all, of the public land, including the public housing estates in Redfern and Waterloo and we know that the scale of public/private redevelopment partnerships would add up to about one and half billion dollars.

Both the ‘social mix’ argument and the ‘private/public redevelopment partnership’ concept have been tried in other parts of Australia. At Inala in Queensland, for every three public housing sales in regeneration only one replacement was able to be purchased elsewhere. In South Australian projects the ratio is even greater with 3.5 sales only resulting in enough funding to purchase one new replacement public dwelling. Basically the redevelopment resulted in lowering the overall levels of public housing.

Given the Department of Housing’s withdrawal from public housing investment and management, there is a serious danger that the new ‘social mix’ policies driving the redevelopment rhetoric will be used as an excuse to dismantle th9 two estates and support further untenable reductions in public housing numbers.

The above article first appeared in Inner Voice Spring 2003 pages 8-9.

Can you help us improve Inner Sydney Voice? Please take our 2016 Reader Survey so we can continue producing quality articles like this. Online here