29 March 2014
Abomination at Barangaroo
Fire on Lend Lease site at Barangaroo.
The NSW government is pushing ahead with the handover of a mammoth 22 hectares of public land for the private development of Barangaroo.
Nobody asked the people of Sydney what they would like done with this large tract of harbourside space. Every aspect of this project, from the dodgy deals with developers to working conditions on site and even the name Barangaroo itself, is a disgrace; commercial interests are winning out every time.
The worst abomination is James Packer's 70 storey, 275 metre high luxury casino and six star hotel. That's right, six stars, because five just don't cut it with today's high rollers. The casino wants to cater for VIPs and keep the rabble out, except the small army of servants required to keep the champagne, caviar and cocaine flowing, of course.
The chief executive of casino operator Crown, Rowen Craigie, explained:
If we're successful we're not going to let in the general public. It's not in our interests to fill a VIP area with the general public. The genuine VIP players do not want to play in that environment
Poor sloths would have to mix with the commoners. How embarrassing and uncomfortable that would be.
Packer had hoped to construct his playhouse on a new pier jutting into Sydney Harbour; when that fell through, he settled on the area originally set aside for public parkland.
Crown Resorts won government approval in 2012, despite the process involving no competitive tenders and no public consultation, and despite prominent urban designer Jan Gehl quitting the project in protest.
Public sent packing
Even the name of the site illustrates the contempt for the public of those overseeing this development. According to Aboriginal journalist Amy McQuire, Barangaroo was an amazing woman. She was a strong, feminist hero, who disapproved of her husband Bennelong's collaboration with colonial authorities in the late 1700s.
A proud name sullied. Don't worry; they'll probably put up some Indigenous artwork for the rich people to gaze at.
Construction has already begun at the south end of the site, Lend Lease winning the $6 billion contract. No public parkland, schools, hospitals or affordable housing are to be built. Instead, Sydney is getting around 300,000 square metres of high-end office space, much of it already reserved by law firms, Westpac and accounting giants KPMG and PWC.
The city already has more than 400,000 square metres of vacant office space.
The government has tried to justify the whole project by promising a new public park at the north end of the site, paid for by Lend Lease's development in the south. But at every step of the process, the skyscrapers have expanded and the park space has been diminished.
As Greens spokesperson David Shoebridge says:
Vast swathes of harbourside land [have been] handed to a developer for a price that looks like it won't even be enough to build a decent park.
Gambling with workers' safety
One worker already has died on the Lend Lease site after falling 30 metres from scaffolding. On 12 March a fire ripped through a basement, shutting down the site, and city traffic. The fire reignited on 21 March, requiring that workers again be evacuated.
Glaring holes in evacuation plans were exposed, according to CFMEU safety officer Michael Preston. A gasworks occupied a southern end of the site into the 1920s, leaving extensive chemical contamination. Lead, naphthalene, benzene and cyanide have all been found in the soil and ground water.
Chemical engineer Wayne Davies, who reported on the area for the Environmental Defenders Office in 2010, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the contaminants could take at least 30 years to be cleaned up from Barangaroo, and that no adequate remediation plans exist.
Asbestos has also been discovered in at least 14 locations on the site. With big money at stake and the resulting pressure to speed up construction, health and safety will continue to be under threat.
The Barangaroo project will stand as a giant monument to the hypocrisy and arrogance of a ruling elite who preach hard work while practising obscene decadence, who demolish public housing while commissioning new palaces for themselves and who froth about union corruption while rigging the entire system in their own favour.