As its name would suggest, Peace Park in Ashbury is a tranquil oasis in the tangle of suburbs that make up Sydney's inner west—a spot where families picnic, children play, birdwatchers observe the beautiful species that thrive along the Cooks River and locals gather for regular games of bocce. The peace, however, has been broken by the recent sale of 30 Trevenar Street, a 1.65‑hectare property adjoining the park, by Ausgrid to a private developer. The land was sold under the cover of the COVID lockdown last year, robbing the local community of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to expand Peace Park and establish access from King Street. The sale contravenes the wishes of the local council, which is in the process of rezoning the land for recreation. Importantly, the sale has opened up land for residential development that residents are concerned is not safe for habitation on account of contamination and flooding.
This is a story familiar to communities across our State—a State entity, privatised by the Liberal-Nationals Government in 2016, selling off public land for private profit. It is residents who are now paying the price. But Ashbury residents refuse to take this lying down, and on Saturday 30 April they held a rally at Peace Park, with over 100 people in attendance. I take this opportunity to put their concerns on the public record. Residents are concerned about whether the plot of land is suitable for residential development in the first place. Residents who have lived in Ashbury their whole lives reminded the rally that, like so many of Sydney's parks, Peace Park was once a brick pit and was used for generations for dumping. They are concerned that the land is contaminated and will pose a risk to new residents, who will disturb and build on it, and indeed to the whole community.
Residents also spoke passionately about concerns regarding flooding, noting that even with light rain the land in question floods and the drains in the area overflow. We cannot continue to build residential development on land that we know is potentially unsafe and unsuitable. Residents noted that the inner west has some of the lowest ratios of open and recreational green space in our city. Too often, the critical open, green, recreational space in our suburbs is an afterthought, with suburbs jam-packed with high-rise residential development. The tiny suburb of Ashbury, which is entirely contained within a heritage conservation area, is under renewed pressure from high-rise development.
The development of the former Chubb and Tyres4U sites on Milton Street is underway, with hundreds more dwellings on the way. Just down the road, a cloud hangs over the future of Canterbury Park Racecourse, with developers champing at the bit to develop this massive landmark site. Ashbury is a suburb with scarce public infrastructure; there is just one local primary school and little to no transport connections. With the development pressure they are facing, Ashbury residents know they cannot afford to give up any opportunity for new, quality open space, including that presented by 30 Trevenar Street.
The opportunity is not lost on the local council. The City of Canterbury Bankstown Council is working to rezone the parcel of land from R2 low density residential to RE1 public recreation zone so that it can be incorporated into the park. The council recently closed a public exhibition on the rezoning proposal. I understand that 60 submissions were received, with the responses overwhelmingly in favour of expanding the park. Prior to the sale, the Mayor of the City of Canterbury Bankstown wrote to the real estate agents to inform them that the council intended to rezone the land for recreational purposes. The mayor also moved a mayoral minute on 25 May 2021 clearly commencing the process of a planning proposal to rezone the land. Despite these clear warnings, the real estate agents pressed ahead with the sale and now the applicant has submitted a development application to divide the land into seven lots.
In October last year an appeal was filed in the Land and Environment Court contesting council's deemed refusal of the development application. The matter continues to be subject to conciliation. Council is due to receive and deliberate shortly on the exhibition report for the planning proposal to rezone the land. It will then be up to the State Government and the Department of Planning and Environment to approve and gazette that rezoning plan. It is clear that the State Government and Ausgrid have a responsibility to buy back the land for the community. Not only were they clearly aware of the risks of selling the land, given council's stated interest in rezoning it, but also there are significant questions as to whether they should have sold the property in the first place.
Residents and the Protect our Peace Park action group have noted that the land was initially gifted by Crown Lands to the Sydney County Council back in the 1980s for public use. Initially, the land had been gifted for the purpose of building electricity infrastructure. However, it has sat disused since. Residents argue it was never intended for private sale and that Ausgrid and the State Government should buy it back and return it to those who actually own it—the citizens of Ashbury.