By Sharlotte Thou

A motion that would defer planning proposals on Oxford Street until cultural and social consultation could be completed was rejected at a City of Sydney council meeting last month, on March 21.

Moved by Greens councillor Sylvie Ellsmore, the motion committed Council to defer consideration of planning proposals or other changes until after the public consultation on the City’s Oxford Street LGBTQI cultural and social place strategy is finished, with communities concerned that the proposed changes will negatively impact on the area’s heritage and culture.

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In response to the unsuccessful motion, a spokesperson for Lord Mayor Clover Moore said that measures from the cultural and social strategy “will largely be managed outside the remit of planning controls, so did not need to hold up their passage through council.”

“Deferring new planning controls could create unnecessary delay and uncertainty on current investment in the precinct,” the spokesperson said.

Woollahra Council Raises Concerns for Oxford Street

The neighbouring Woollahra Council has put forward a submission arguing that an increase in floor space and heights of buildings would impact the structural integrity of the heritage buildings.

Cr Ellsmore said that it was the responsibility of Council to give the strategy “enough time for [council] to finish the conversation with the community” before making further changes.

She said that there had been “no consultation with Woollahra Council despite Council having said they opposed the current plans”. In particular, she flagged “affordable creative spaces” and “affordable areas for community services aimed at the LGBTQI+ community” as aspects requiring further review and clarification.

In response, Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully explained that there had been “extensive” community consultation, including 191 written submissions which included a “great deal of feedback from the creative, nightlife and entertainment sector.”

She said that one of the key pieces of feedback was that council develop initiatives such as programming, grants, marketing, and cultural activation programs to invite “cultural activation and investment in the programmatic and the activity-based layer,” rather than changes that would affect the built environment.

‘Unnecessary’ to Defer Planning Controls

Cr Scully said it was “unnecessary to defer the planning controls to complete on [programs] because we do need to provide certainty to the community and landowners.”

It was also stated at the meeting that the City had met with Woollahra Council to discuss the development and that they were “quite responsive to the work.”

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Lord mayor Clover Moore also added that the focus of the development has been on “Oxford Street down to Whitlam square, not Taylor Square up to Greens Road.”

In response, a spokesperson for Woollahra Council said that the matters raised in their submission “remain relevant.”

These matters include concerns that the “proposed works would lead to an increase in rent, creating additional pressure on affordability for creative and lower-income generating sectors.”

“Woollahra Council supports the revitalisation of Oxford Street, and we maintain our position that we would not support a generic approach which could negatively impact on heritage conservation areas, heritage items or one which could lead to facadism.”

The National Trust for Australia, the peak body for community-based heritage conservation, has stated that the proposed development will negatively alter Oxford Street’s character and would fail to address its economic recession.

The motion was defeated 7-3, with only councillors Ellsmore, Linda Scott and Yvonne Weldon voting in favour of the proposal.

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