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The redevelopment of UrbanGrowth NSW

John Brogden
John Brogden

It will be interesting to watch the comings and goings of staff now that the long-mooted split of UrbanGrowth NSW is under way.

It’s been a full five years since the organisation was created, ancient in terms of government departments, so there will be plenty to apportion to the various new centres of gravity.

First will be a new chief executive for Landcom, the born again greenfields developer that in 2012 was absorbed into UrbanGrowth NSW.

Next Urban Development Corporation has all but officially confirmed its new head will be John Brogden, the former chair of UrbanGrowth NSW, former leader of the NSW Liberal Party, and most recently chair of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

It will be a nice pay rise for Brogden, jumping from zero at AIDC to around $500,000, according to newspaper reports that no one to our knowledge has denied.

Former UrbanGrowth chief executive David Pitchford kindly made way for Brogden late last year, seeming to fall on his sword for the knock-back of all tender proposals received for redevelopment of the Bays Precinct next to the CBD. Then Premier Mike Baird said none had provided sufficient employment uses, and focused too much on residential. He had Google in mind, which was eyeing off the site, but in the end it wasn’t the mix of development that led Google to wander; it was the lack of public transport.

Maybe the sensation of having the giant WestConnex barrelling through so many hundreds if not thousands of living rooms to land in a giant tangle on its doorsteps was not the kind of image Google wanted alongside its social licence to operate.

Of course the development industry would have been in shock; it’s not used to any sort of “no” whatsoever. And no doubt a scalp would have been demanded, though it’s possible Pitchford was already considering an exit plan earlier.

Even more interesting to watch will be the power grab for staff. Delivering giant urban redevelopments is not easy or quick and there is a shortage of planners in most big cities now.

So watch out for the Department of Planning that’s understood to be on the hunt for staff and eyeing off between 200-300 believed to be at UrbanGrowth.

(Maybe the Department could be better served by casting its recruitment eye to the ebbing Barangaroo Development Corporation, now that its jobs is nearing completion.)

Of course UDC will be keen to hang onto as many experienced people as possible, with plenty of demanding work to do, ranging from the Central to Eveleigh megaproject to the Bays Precinct and North Parramatta.

At C2E’s Waterloo Towers some residents would like to derail plans to demolish two large towers one of which is dedicated to housing for older people. And the towers have loads of embodied energy, clearly, and serving their purpose well according to one resident, Catherine Skipper, who wrote a very interesting piece for us here.

Certainly the government has made a good start to winning hearts and minds by  encouraging residents to be part of the action.

“In an historic move” a media release from the Waterloo Public Housing Action Group last week said, residents have negotiated with the NSW government and the Land and Housing Corporation to use a shopfront, which it will use to bring together architects, urban planners, engineers, social and urban geographers and artists to “assist the community throughout the masterplanning process.”

“This is the first time in history that a government department has given the green light [to such a group] to participate in such a large scale redevelopment of their neighbourhood,” the media statement said.

It’s a good bridge-building sign to start with, but as for hopes of keeping the towers, that may well be a bridge too far.

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