Frank Sartor’s master plan for Callan Park, now called the Callan Park Land Use Plan, is on public exhibition – for your comment and objection.
Despite all the pretty pictures, relentless spin, falsities, omissions and evasions, there is enough in the fine print of the Callan Park Land Use Plan itself to make it unacceptable to the public – and to the parliament of NSW who must lift key protections of the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002 before it can be implemented.
Getting to read the plan has been made difficult. Copies are available to read at the city offices of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (66 Harrington St, The Rocks) and the NSW Department of Planning and at Leichhardt Council or it can be accessed on the internet (in 21 parts!) at
Hopefully, Leichhardt Council will make more copies at local libraries.
Typically, too, the plan is being exhibited for public comment at the very time when people’s attention is elsewhere. The long exhibition period (to February 22) scarcely ameliorates this as most of December and January are lost to the silly season and holidays. The need for a break will be accentuated after a hectic election campaign.
Despite all this, and without waiting to hear from her constituents, the local MP Verity Firth has already started selling the plan, parroting claims from the document that are false or misleading.
By the way, if Frank Sartor and his local colleague believe criticisms here are inaccurate, the Friends are willing to debate them in public – at Callan Park (preferably) or in one of the local town halls.
1. PUBLIC OWNERSHIP A FICTION
The plan claims there will be “continued public ownership”, yet it proposes a 99-year lease to the university – that’s ownership in anyone’s language. For the bulk of this iconic site, the university will pay “a nominal rent”.
2. MENTALLY ILL SACRIFICED
There can be no escaping the fact that this site was bought to assist in the care and recovery of people suffering a mental illness. Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital is still on the site – and the community supports it. In a recent Leichhardt Council survey 73% supported the retention of the hospital – only 10% supported closing it.
It is widely acknowledged that there is a shortage of mental health beds leading to homelessness, the jailing of mentally ill people and scores of preventable deaths every year in NSW alone. There is a strong case that all these appalling consequences will be increased by closing this hospital.
Due to pressure from the Friends and Council (the plan concedes this)about 10% of the floor space at Callan Park would now go to non-government organisations and there would be beds – in some of the older hospital buildings – for 105 recovering drug and alcohol addicts. 90 of those beds would be transferred from We Help Ourselves buildings in Redfern which the state government apparently proposes to sell. Sadly there is likely to be overcrowding in this NGO precinct and this is mental health on the cheap.
3. OPEN SPACE REDUCED
The plan claims it will “enhance and increase open space” but when you go to the fine print you find they are talking about 0.2 of a hectare increase (page58).
Elsewhere, the plan claims “over 90% of Callan park will be open space”. This is an impossibility. Consider the following:
The walled Kirkbride complex occupies 4.5hectares of Callan park’s 61ha. The proposed new university precincts will have a footprint of 2.5ha. The footprints of the other buildings amount to about 1.5 hectares. Roads and paths currently occupy 2ha.
Add to that carparks. Parking will be increased from the current 687 spaces to 1912 – most above ground but not shown on any maps in the Land Use Plan. At 10 square metres a car space, this would amount to 1-2 hectares.
That amounts to about 12ha or 20% of the site.
And it’s clear, even from the plan itself, that some of the open space will be walled off by the University buildings, providing quadrangles and courtyards for day students and those that would live on site. (see pages 48 and 49,for examples).
And what needs to be re-emphasised is that this plan is not giving the public any open space – it’s already there and guaranteed by the Callan Park Act.
4. OPEN SPACE LESS ACCESSIBLE
What is hidden away in the plan is that the university would need to introduce 5000 students, 400 staff and 700 living on site (“at a minimum”, according to university spokesman Professor Richmond Jeremy) to make the campus pay.
There would also be 40,000 square metres of additional development. Callan Park would become a campus rather than public parklands shared by all.
5. ON-SITE PARKING TREBLED
Currently there are 687 car parking spaces on the site. After reading carefully through the plan, the Friends have identified as many as 1912 parking spaces. According to the plan’s authors, these are calculated at the minimum provided for under Leichhardt’s Development Control Plan.
318 in the Kirkbride precinct
880 in the Parkland Campus precincts
189 in the ambulance precinct (195 at present)
205 for the NGO precinct
24 for the nurses precinct (despite proposed accommodation for 120)
300 for the sports grounds
Even allowing for some underground parking – itself dubious and prohibitively expensive on a heritage site which is near the water and highly contaminated according to earlier reports – and some rationalising, this is a huge increase which must impact on the amount and quality of open space.
6. GREEN OASIS DESTROYED
The people behind this plan have no basic understanding of the character of Callan Park. It is a green oasis of peace and tranquillity.
It is ideal as a therapeutic place to recover from mental illness – that is widely recognised even by NSW Health Department research.
It is also the Centennial Park of the inner West (half the size and twice as beautiful as Centennial Park) – essential open space for densely populated suburbs. As one local put it many years ago – “it’s essential for the mental health of us all”.
At present the University is one of the sharers of the site – the Sydney College of the Arts occupies the Kirkbride complex – but the site is not dominated and overdeveloped by any one user. This plan would change all that.
7. HERITAGE NEGLECT
The plan and its boosters make much of the claim that the heritage buildings and gardens would be saved by this plan. “The university will be responsible for restoring and maintaining built and landscape heritage,” the plan says on page 3.
But that’s not the full story.
With a federal or state government grants, the university has done a splendid job with Kirkbride and the Ministry of the Arts likewise with Garry Owen house (the original manor house of 1840). They could also do right thing by the Kirkbride convalescent cottages and the heritage dairyman’s cottage that the state government has been doing its best to demolish by neglect. But even here they cannot get it right: the university proposes to surround the dairyman’s cottage with three and four storey buildings.
The two other major examples of demolition by neglect are Broughton Hall, the oldest building on the site, dating back to the late-1830s, and the fabled Broughton Hall Gardens. They fall outside the area the university wants to acquire, and the plan is silent on who will look after those irreplaceable items.
Finally, the plan proposes to subdivide what is a single intact heritage site – which is on the state and national estate registers and very rare – into 5 separate lots with 5 separate owners. In heritage terms, such a carve-up is vandalism.
8. CRIPPLING THE CALLAN PARK ACT
The great victory of the earlier struggles to save Callan Park was the Callan Park (Special Provisons Act -also known as the Save Sandra Nori Act after the local MP who first supported the sell-off of Callan Park and then somersaulted when it looked like it would lose her her seat in the elections.
When this plan was first announced both Frank Sartor and local MP Verity Firth promised it would comply with the Callan Park Act. Only a month ago Verity Firth promised that “the Callan Park Act would be changed only over my dead body”.
Apparently that’s a non-core (or non-corpse) promise because Ms Firth is still with us – and justifying changes in the Callan Park Act.
One of the key protections in that Act is that there can be no extra development on Callan Park – the total built floor space cannot be increased. Under this plan, floor space would increase from 86,000 square metres to 128,000 square metres – a 50% increase or the equivalent of 8 football fields. What the plan doesn’t reveal is that this extra floor space just keeps on expanding – a month ago it was an extra 30,000 square metres.
This extra over-development requires lifting this key protection in the Callan Park Act. It’s what the plan calls a “minor amendment”.
9. NEIGHBOURHOOD HEADACHES
The Glover St/Church St precinct – which is tipped to be student accommodation – is mentioned in the plan as “well suited to moderate development”. This is defined as 4-storey blocks. For this precinct, parking demand is probably underestimated at 300 parking spots (see appendix B, p22) and to compound the damage it appears the parking would be on the street (see page 48).
10. CONTROL OF SPORTING FIELDS UNCERTAIN
The plan’s “selling” point is that it increases the sporting fields from three to five. Yet the question of who is to control them is not settled. Even if it is Leichhardt Council, it would be required to allow the university “appropriate use” – as defined by Frank Sartor or his successors.
Again in the fine print – in a tiny footnote on page 44 – we learn that grandstands, club rooms and club rooms would be allowed. And fenced-off sporting fields do not appear to be precluded along the foreshore.
In the coming days and weeks, even more damaging detail will be revealed about this disastrous plan. If Frank Sartor persists – and his state Labor colleagues collaborate in that – it will inevitably rub off on Mr Rudd and Labor. This plan runs counter to Kevin Rudd’s aspirations for a more socially inclusive, environmentally friendly and just Australia.