NSW election puts Sydney real estate and development in spotlight

Updated March 10, 2019 11:33:52

Soaring prices and apartment towers have changed Sydney suburbs forever. Welcome to Ryde, where the new realities of inner-city living are colliding with locals who remember life before the rush.

Maria Antonich used to know all her neighbours’ names.

Now, when she stands on the porch of her home, all she sees is apartments.

Occasionally, an unknown face stares back at her from a window.

“It’s a shame. You don’t know who lives next to you,” she says.

Development in Sydney is shaping up as a major issue for voters ahead of the NSW election on March 23.

Maria and her husband Raul have lived at the same address in Meadowbank, in Sydney’s north, since 1980.

Back then, weekends would be spent in the garden, while the children played in the street.

The neighbours would gather for Christmas drinks and if someone’s pantry ran low on supplies, they only needed to pop next door to “borrow” some sugar or an egg.

The Antonich family, which had moved from Uruguay, quickly felt at home.

“It was so protected,” Maria, 72, said.

“It was a lovely, lovely area.”

Maria and Raul’s once-quiet street now borders the massive Shepherds Bay precinct, which has transformed industrial land into thousands of new apartments.

The Ryde Local Government area, which includes Meadowbank, has become one of Sydney’s most controversial development hotspots.

In the 2012-13 financial year, 434 dwellings were completed in Ryde, but that number ballooned to almost 2,400 last year.

Sydney’s real estate downturn has seen the market drop 10.4 per cent in the year to February, according to CoreLogic, yet thousands of new apartments are still in the pipeline across the city.

The scale of development around Ryde last year prompted the NSW Government to suspended all residential planning proposals there.

Sitting Liberal MP Victor Dominello and his Labor challenger, Ryde Mayor Jerome Laxale, are both campaigning to slow the pace of growth in the electorate.

That may offer some relief to Maria who feels like she’s being watched from the towers across the road.

“We live under the dome,” she said.

“You look everywhere, you see people in the windows.”

Houman Katuzi and his family live on the other side of those windows, albeit in the nearby suburb of North Ryde.

The family of five moved into their new three-bedroom apartment above North Ryde station in mid-January.

It’s part of an 830-unit complex that towers over the M2 motorway.

“It’s really convenient for us,” said Mr Katouzi, who works as a technology retail manager in Sydney’s CBD.

Before having children, Houman and his wife Krizia used to live in the city.

“I used to walk to work in 10 minutes. It was great,” he said.

However, they soon outgrew their home and were confronted with the choice faced by many young couples: move to Sydney’s outskirts and endure a longer commute to work, or sacrifice space and opt for a well-located apartment.

“It’s a bit of a trade-off,” Houman said.

“The house that we want to buy at the moment, we can’t afford. To still be close to school, to work, is really important to us.”

In some ways, their home barely feels like an apartment.

It’s on the ground floor, allowing direct access to a public square with grass, trees and a cafe.

The children ride their scooters there and during summer they play in the fountain.

“It’s worked out well for us. We don’t feel like we’re living somewhere crazy busy,” Houman said.

The pace of development has led to growing pains, with schools in the area filling up fast.

At North Ryde’s Kent Road Public School, there were 418 students enrolled in 2013.

By last year, that number had swollen to 747.

At Eastwood Heights Public School, enrolments surged 40 per cent over the same period.

Year 6 student Elizabeth West said her school did its best to cope.

“We always need new classrooms,” she said.

“Every year, we get a new demountable on the oval. Well, not every year, but for the last three or so years.”

Her father, Rod West, used to attend the school as a boy.

Now he’s the president of the Parents and Citizens’ Association.

He said the growing use of demountable classrooms in local schools was concerning, but cautioned against high-rise solutions.

“We can’t just think of schools as ‘going up’. We need to make sure kids have places to play,” Mr West said.

The NSW Government is upgrading several Ryde schools, including Kent Road, and plans to build several new ones as part of a $6 billion effort to keep up with the pace of population growth across the state.

Schools are not the only facilities feeling the strain.

Every night at parks and ovals around Ryde, sporting teams are competing.

Not for competition points, but for a patch of grass. It’s in short supply.

The North West Sydney Koalas, a women’s football team, has been struggling to secure the training space it needs.

The club is forced to train in four different locations.

“Even tonight, we just got a last-minute message saying we have to change grounds,” said club captain Nat Tobin before a session earlier this month.

“[Sometimes], we’ll be training on fields that aren’t really up to standards, so that can be frustrating.”

They’ve even resorted to late-night training sessions, which Nat says are “kind of inconvenient”.

Both sides of politics believe the lack of green space is on voters’ minds.

The Coalition Government has promised $340 million for new parks and open spaces.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian also pledged to appoint a Minister for Public Space, while Labor’s vowing to plant 2 million trees.

The Koalas’ captain has a message for both parties.

“Take into consideration the facilities around these apartments,” she said.

“You need enough space to play sport and to exercise.”

As well as suspending all residential development proposals, the Berejiklian Government has allowed Ryde to defer the controversial low-rise medium-density housing code until 2020.

The code allows developers to fast track multi-dwelling developments of two storeys or less, if they’re in medium density zones. Labor has vowed to scrap it.

The Greater Sydney Commission recently conducted a review of planning in the Ryde area.

In its initial assessment, it found “the significant scale and rapid rate of housing supply has led to a misalignment between the timing of development and the delivery of the infrastructure necessary to support it”.

For Maria Antonich, it confirmed what she already knew.

She sees the effects of the rapid influx of residents every day whenever she leaves the house.

To cross the road for a short walk to the shops, Maria and her husband must scurry through the gaps in the traffic.

Driving their own car is even harder.

“Some people are nice, they let you get out … but during school time you have to wait five or 10 minutes just to get out of the house,” Maria said.

The Greater Sydney Commission set Ryde a target of building 7,600 new homes between 2016 and 2021 — a number it’s already on track to exceed.

Maria understands why her suburb has been chosen to absorb thousands of extra residents.

It has a train station and a ferry terminal, making it better connected than most.

“This area is very handy for people and very practical for people,” she said.

She welcomes “progress” and acknowledges new arrivals to Sydney have to live somewhere.

However, the speed and scale of development has taken her by surprise.

“We knew it was going to grow, but we didn’t know it was going to grow so quick.”

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Topics: government-and-politics, elections, state-elections, politics-and-government, liberals, political-parties, alp, nsw, sydney-2000, meadowbank-2114, ryde-2112

First posted March 10, 2019 05:58:42

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