In August last year, it was reported that Peat Island and Mooney Mooney had been rezoned to develop another Sydney waterfront suburb, including 450 new homes, a 250-berth marina, a retail precinct, with 26,000 sq m of open land.
Peat Island has a colourful – and somewhat sad – history, having been established as a site for inebriates in 1911, before becoming an asylum for the insane and later a care centre for people with intellectual disabilities. But it sits at the very edge of Sydney in a prime position in the heart of the Hawkesbury River, at the gateway to the Central Coast as you drive north from Sydney.
This rezoning is primarily to allow residential, commercial and tourism developments in the area, as the land is currently zoned for hospital use, which has been redundant for years. A high level concept plan accompanying the rezoning proposal envisaged keeping the historic Peat Island chapel, as well as four heritage-listed buildings which would be remodelled into residential apartments. The concept plan sought to balance the historic and natural aesthetics of the island and surrounds with the need to develop the area and boost the local economy.
The move to rezone the land followed concerns voiced by locals that the island and Mooney Mooney had been left to stagnate by consecutive governments, with no clear plans for the area. However, many of the locals who wanted to see some development are now concerned that the plans involve too much space for residential housing and mixed uses, with little space left for the public to enjoy.
Anyone who has cause to drive north to the Central Coast or further afield will tell you that Mooney Mooney Point and Peat Island are in plain view as you drive over the M1 at the Peats Ferry Bridge. On a fine day, the water sparkles and the parkland below looks peaceful and inviting, if a little unused. The area is indeed a scenic gateway to the Central Coast, and it is hoped that any eventual development would reflect the natural beauty of the waterways and be sympathetic to the unique position the area occupies in the Hawkesbury River and along the national motorway. It’s no wonder the idea of 450 new homes (some in clusters of four and five-storey apartments) around this waterway causes concern for locals and other citizens, even if the development means a boost to the local economy. At 450+ residences, the new “township” would dwarf nearby Brooklyn, which currently has around 350 dwellings which are spread out over a larger area of land to the east of the M1. A development on this scale would necessitate the clearing of Tank Hill, construction of sound barriers for the housing, more sewerage into the Hawkesbury, minimal public waterfront access and loss of views and amenity. Nearest infrastructure services are located at Hornsby Shire, which would see an influx of upwards of 1000 people residing on Peat Island and Mooney Mooney.
The public consultation in 2011 apparently favoured the use of the land for tourism and recreation, keeping the surrounding bushy hills in their natural state, rather than being used for housing lots. However, there is concern that the results of this consultation will not be reflected in the calls for proposals for the area.
More concrete plans are now under way for the redevelopment of the area, with public consultation purportedly a part of this process. It seems clear that locals want some form of development to occur; the question is how much is appropriate? They also want a say on the plans for the development. Some locals claim that the NSW LNP government is moving too quickly to sell off the land to developers, with little consultation with locals, while Labor is positioning itself as the champions of those who would like to see the land preserved as public land for tourism and recreation purposes.
Many locals believe that the natural beauty of the area, together with its unique history and Aboriginal cultural significance, calls for development with vision and brilliance, but there is a real chance that instead there could be another soulless housing construction which quickly becomes a blight on the landscape. It’s a concern that really affects all Sydney-siders, and not just the locals. There are many parts of Sydney’s waterways which have been overdeveloped and which are unattractive to look at. It is hoped that Peat Island and Mooney Mooney will not be another of these.
For more information check out Peat-Island on Facebook, or for Friends of Peat Island, go to https://peatislandredevelopment.wordpress.com . For the environmental perspective, go to Community Environment Network at http://www.cen.org.au/Environment-Conservation/PEAT-ISLAND-LANDS . The NSW Government also has a page which sets out the rezoning process and some contact details for those who wish to receive further information, or be involved in the community feedback. This page however looks to be out of date, as it has not been refreshed since circa August 2014.