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A recent community information forum in Blacktown. A recent community information forum in Blacktown. Featured
29 October 2023 Posted by 


What's wrong with a bit of democracy?
BLACKTOWN Central Living District (CLD) information sessions have become a popular way to discuss how our Blacktown Central Business District (CBD) should look into the future.
Those who attended were aged between 8 to 80 with many cultural and community groups now organising their own forums.
Seniors’ groups have discussed what legacy they are leaving to their grandchildren, while schools and youth groups are discussing how a futuristic smart city ought to address their aspirations. 
The key ideas focused on environmentally sustainable buildings; gathering and entertainment spaces; feeling secure 24/7; affordable housing, and access to jobs.
In the modern era our personal isolation can be dominated by scrolling through your own friends’ thoughts and activities on social media.
Our lives seem so busy around the clock that we need a safe and flexible central living district to accommodate a lifestyle across a 24-hour cycle so people can engage with each other.
Consulting, transparency, and collaboration (CTC) are often used by corporates and governments in introducing new ideas to justify the announcement of new projects.  
Unfortunately, when you examine the consultation process, the rhetoric does not match reality with corporations, governments and councils undertaking bare minimum consultation during holiday periods resulting in questionable feedback.
Effective consultation involves more than just emailing your contact list seeking feedback – which generally goes unnoticed by the recipient. It requires collaboration with experts and residents over time.  
One of the key reasons the Liberal/Independent controlled Blacktown Council (2012-14) collapsed was due to a lack of community consultation.  
Decisions were made such as privatising council childcare services; selling off Mt Druitt pool; or initiating the decision to rezone 151 parks and reserves into housing lots and the then-mayor argued that residents can provide feedback in the rezoning phase - too little, too late.  
I become a minority mayor in 2014 focusing on detailed discussion and consultation with all councillors as well as with residents and the business community.  
Many transformation projects were initiated with extensive community consultation and feedback. We went suburb to suburb conducting town hall meetings discussing ideas and gaining feedback directly from residents and the businesses which then fine-tuned our proposals.
The demeaning idea of government
Gough Whitlam (Prime Minister 1972-75) said in his iconic election speech in Bowman Hall in 1972 that: “Australia has suffered heavily from the demeaning idea that government always knows best.”
We all know that if we work together, debating ideas and consulting with experts will improve proposals for the betterment of our city.
There was an unfortunate false start earlier this year with the questionable sale of approximately 25,000 square metres of Blacktown Civic lands in the CBD incorporating the village greenspace, council building, Bowman Hall, art gallery, council cark park and close to a third of K-Mart carpark for $42M and then council signing a lease over these assets for up to 10 years of $30M.
Walker Corporation was the beneficiary of this purchase and is bringing expertise of a $8B property investment company to Blacktown.
The last time any public consultation took place was in February 2021 which resulted in 100 people living outside Blacktown City in favour of it whilst 72 locals were in favour and 52 with either opposed or neutral.  
Only 131 local responses out of 400,000 residents resulted in the sale of Council’s most significant land holding.
Council has presented possible artist impressions of what could be and conflicting accounts of projected construction costs ranging from $800M to $2B resulting in new commercial and retail spaces the equivalent of 1.6 times to three times the size of Westpoint in a land surface area that is probably closer to one-eighth the land size.
I have heard the rhetoric of jobs for construction and post construction stages but how will our CBD look and feel has not been effectively communicated to the people of Blacktown. We should have a vision for our CBD and design the built environment accordingly.
Six months after the purchase there have been no community meetings initiated by Council or Walker Corporation whilst behind closed “confidential” meetings continue.
The Central Living District forums have raised wonderful community led ideas that will create a futuristic metropolis that can create a truly liveable district.  Will Council and Walker Corporation listen to the over 1,000 people that have signed up to be part of the planning and discussion?
As Gough Whitlam said over 50 years ago: “The Australian Labor Party will build into the administration of the affairs of this nation machinery that will prevent any government, Labor or Liberal, from ever again clocking your affairs under excessive and needless secrecy.”
It’s time for open discussion on what legacy that we will leave for our grandchildren.  There’s no time to waste and please don’t propose having small, handpicked groups of people sworn to secrecy and confidentiality agreements decide our future.
What is wrong with a bit of democracy and debate shaping the direction of our children’s future living conditions?
Stephen Bali is Member for Blacktown and NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and Public Spaces.


Michael Walls
0407 783 413

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