OPINION | Macarthur has become a developer free-for-all

VANISHING GREEN: The site of Macarthur Square when still farmland in the early 1970s...but it was always planned as a cityscape. Other areas, however, such as Gilead were supposed to be scenic protection land. LOL.
VANISHING GREEN: The site of Macarthur Square when still farmland in the early 1970s...but it was always planned as a cityscape. Other areas, however, such as Gilead were supposed to be scenic protection land. LOL.

HAVE you seen the sales promos for local housing estates which use photos of happy families standing on rolling green hills as a sales pitch?

Classic. The same rolling green hills that are being removed to make way for the squishy, backyard-free, dark-roofed heat islands that pass as urban design these days.

It is just me, or is that as hypocritical as a premier declaring Campbelltown a “regional city” and then closing down its motor registries?

We’re not a well-planned growth centre, we’re a developer free-for-all.  

I grew up hearing about how Macarthur Growth Centre would be a wonderful mix of “city and country living” –well, scrub the latter. Another week, and its another slice of our heritage up for grabs.

The latest is plans for 4000 squished-up homes at rural Cawdor and 5000 at Menangle. Bugger the fact the land is flood-prone or designed to be scenic protection.

There’s a “housing crisis” in Sydney, you see. (Forget the inconvenient truth that the population of Macarthur could fit into the deliberately-vacant homes in Sydney that are held by investors.)

This week I was looking in the “New Cities of Campbelltown, Camden and Appin” book – the 1973 blueprint of our growth centre. I loved the quote I found in the section on design principles: “The quality of a new town’s environment depends as much on the undeveloped as the developed areas; natural setting and preservation of surrounding hills gives identity to urban development.”

Brilliant.

Unfortunately, my poor ol’ home town of Campbelltown didn’t get the memo.

After 50 years of being converted into a city – with bugger all government support, infrastructure and jobs along the way – Campbelltown was left with just four pockets of the farmland that once defined it: Hurlstone, the Scenic Hills, Gilead and Menangle Park.

Hurlstone is about to be sold to developers by the same state government that vowed to protect it, the Scenic Hills has been opened up for a new Rookwood, and more squished-up housing estates are approved for Menangle Park and Gilead.

The last one was shown on growth centre plans as “scenic protection” zone. LOL.

After 50 years, I have come to the conclusion that:

​1. Expensive growth centre blueprints aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

2. Developers and political parties are good mates, and who can stand in the way of a dollar being made.

3. We are a colony of Sydney, not a part of Sydney.

4. Local quality concerns always get ignored because of a “crisis”, whether its a jobs crisis, an economic crisis, or housing crisis. But never, ever an environmental or liveability crisis.

As a reporter I was at a big press conference in 1990 that canned all the planned urban growth at Appin and Wilton because our region cops most of Sydney’s smog, due to landforms and wind patterns. I don’t recall the big press conference declaring the landforms or wind patterns had changed, but we now have mass housing estates underway and even hi-rise planned.

Poor Campbelltown has lost the city-rural balance. Camden and Wollondilly looks set to be next.

Sydney’s housing “crisis” trumps Macarthur’s lungs.

This loss of our rural-city mix is robbing us of more than our heritage.

To quote Bob Brown: “We are all born bonded to nature; that's why we put depictions of flowers and forests, rather than bulldozers or log piles, on our walls.”

We’re 70km from Sydney, and deserve to retain a few pockets of breathing space.