Uncivilised end to Parramatta’s civic plans

Parramatta’s billion dollar Civic Place plan on hold

Parramatta Council has rejected claims that plans for the $1.6 billion development of the city’s business district fell through due to financial mismanagement, writes Renee Attard.

The council has also refused to detail how much the botched planning process has cost ratepayers, instructing that the deed of release documents be kept confidential.

But critics of the collapsed Civic Place development plan say the project was mishandled from the start.

State Liberal MP Geoff Lee has accused the council of mistakenly entering into the agreement before acquiring the land.

“The collapse of the project is a bitter disappointment and the council certainly has a number of questions to answer,” Mr Lee said.

The council was not prepared for the legal hurdles involved in compulsorily acquiring the properties, he said.

Planning authorities originally borrowed $50 million to acquire the three-hectare development site opposite Parramatta railway station. But a drawn-out legal battle with local business owners drained the council of funds.

The legal process was finalised in March, six years after the original development agreement was signed with Melbourne-based developer Grocon.

Chris Carolane, Grocon’s NSW development head, refused to say whether the developer had terminated the plan because of the six year wait to acquire the land.

Deed of release documents detailing the reasons for the abandoned project remains confidential.

And questions still remain about how much of ratepayers’ money was spent on those legal costs, Mr Lee said.

Parramatta Chamber of Commerce president Stephanie Dale has also called on the council to account for the botched process.

“Parramatta ratepayers and business owners have a right to know why the project was cancelled and where the money has gone,” she said.

The Civic Place Development Agreement, signed in 2006 as a public-private partnership between Parramatta Council and Grocon, was ripped-up in March after both parties agreed that the plan was “financially unworkable”.

A statement released by Parramatta Council and Grocon at the time said both parties had “re-examined the agreement in good faith” before deciding to terminate.

Speaking at the Parramatta Chamber of Commerce’s centenary lunch, Lord Mayor Lorraine Wearne said the global financial crisis had made the original delivery program “an unworkable scenario”.

But the council remains committed to the Civic Place development, a three-hectare retail, commercial and residential project in the city’s CBD.

Cr Wearne said the plan remained “alive and well” and would be re-tendered to multiple developers sometime in June.




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