Impact of the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link

Today Abigail, as Chair of the Public Works Committee, spoke about the Government Response to last year's land acquisition inquiry. 

Abigail said:

I take note of the Government's response to the Public Works Committee's report entitledImpact of the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link [WHTBL]. I welcome the Government's response to the comprehensive findings and recommendations that were made during the course of the inquiry. One issue during the inquiry that got some initial attention, and then became clearer as time went on and as evidence was heard—and which is still incredibly relevant and something that the Government's response touches on—is the acquisition of land at Cammeray Golf Club to make way for the Warringah Freeway Upgrade, which has been of huge concern to the community.

As part of the committee's investigations, which were sparked by the community's concern, I moved a Standing Order 52 motion relating to that aspect of the project. The documents obtained painted a disturbing picture of what looks like an evolved version of pork-barrelling through the planning process. Cammeray Golf Club engaged with Transport for NSW [TfNSW], former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and former Minister Rob Stokes in the three years to 2022 to secure a multimillion-dollar rebuild of the golf course under the guise of related land acquisition purposes due to the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway Upgrade. Some 48,500 square metres of land leased by the golf club from North Sydney Council was acquired by Transport for NSW for the construction, and the inquiry heard a lot about the disruption that caused.

Notable patrons of the club include Tim Smith, Trent Zimmerman and Gladys Berejiklian, whom board members secured a meeting with on 13 October 2019 and had multiple meetings with in 2020. Those meetings were not disclosed in ministerial diaries despite the production of a letter on behalf of the golf club, which was contained in the documents that were returned following the Standing Order 52 motion. Prior to the acquisition proposal, in 2018 the golf club's general manager solicited a planning revision of the course by a group of consultants called Golf Development Partners.

The nine-hole course was deemed unviable after recording huge profit and membership losses over the past decade, but the proposal outlined by Golf Development Partners included a nine‑hole par-three course, full-size driving range, suites of virtual golf simulators, a modern mini golf course, a renovated clubhouse and a car park extension. The original memorandum of understanding for the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway Upgrade program, signed on 21 May 2020, outlined the obligations of Transport for NSW to restore the surface of the land to its condition as at the commencing date; remove any structures from the surface of the land; and make good any damage to the land caused by the carrying out of the works, as identified in the dilapidation report. The works undertaken by the acquisition were not intended to improve the course beyond its previous condition.

Community engagement regarding the project began in 2017. The terms of the environmental impact statement [EIS] were published on 15 January 2020. At no point during that EIS process did Cammeray Golf Club make a submission. The EIS was exhibited publicly on 29 January 2020 and closed on 30 March 2020. It was not in any way amended by the golf club. However, the Transport for NSW timeline revealed through the Standing Order 52 motion states:

In March 2020, the Parties agreed to enter Into a nonbinding arrangement, setting out the framework to develop and deliver an adjustment to the Golf Course at the Club's option, taking into account TfNSW's acquisition, use and/or occupation of various parts of the Golf Course for the purpose of carrying out the WHTBL Program (Initial Term Sheet). The club Is to provide written advice to TfNSW endorsing the inclusion of the 2018 Cammeray Golf Course concept design in the planning instrument by Monday 9 March 2020. This concept design will be used to demonstrate the extent of the works to redesign the course due to the impact of construction activities.

Until 2020 Cammeray Golf Club had been in agreement with the modest acquisition and redesign process put forth by Transport for NSW. It was not until 9 March 2020 that the club submitted the course redesign as part of an acquisition and adjustment program. A board member submitted the entire business case to Transport for NSW on 27 July 2020. In August 2020 the then director of Cammeray Golf Club contacted the Department of Planning to consider funding the proposal by Golf Development Partners under the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway Upgrade plan, contending that the golf course "required a strategic plan to remain viable." During this time a board member presented the proposal to Transport for NSW, referred to as the interface agreement, and was advised that the department could only operate within the planning permission of the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway Upgrade.

In an email dated 28 September 2020, Transport for NSW initially regarded undertaking the proposal put forth by the board member as a "reputational risk" and a "mere tick a box exercise". In response, a Transport for NSW representative articulates "the need to sell the benefits" to the community and expressed that the "timing of the Crown land resolution" was a risk to community perception. This is evidence from a Transport for NSW communication that it was worried that what it was being asked to do by Cammeray Golf Club could cause them concern, at least in the eyes of the community.

In a meeting on 26 October 2020 Transport for NSW concluded that the "alternative layout is not feasible via our planning approval". However, on 16 November 2020, Place Design Group, working for Golf Development Partners on behalf of Cammeray Golf Club, developed a concept design. On 26 November Transport for NSW approved the design which, despite having already been approved internally, was then submitted for an 11‑week tender on 21 May 2021. Between 2020 and mid-2022 Transport for NSW engaged with Cammeray Golf Club and ultimately agreed to the interface agreement, which includes the payment for the design concept by Golf by Design at a cost of $3.235 million, development of mini golf course at $1.095 million, a revised short nine‑hole course at $2,789,952, a practice lesson area at $336,525, a putting green at $109,365, as well as revised parking facilities at cost unknown as at January on the basis of the documents that were obtained. That is a total of at least $7,565,842 of works agreed relating to the proposal from Cammeray Golf Club.

That is in addition to the already awarded land acquisition compensation of $807,000 for land that the golf club did not own but was leasing from North Sydney Council, as well as the $35,000 club fit-out and $12,000 private surveillance required to undertake the Commonwealth Grants Commission proposal. The term sheet for the proposal was then revised on 12 August 2021. It appears that Cammeray Golf Club had secured a complete reconfiguration of the course by Transport for NSW as per the above proposed requirements under the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway construction, despite that operation being outside the land acquisition remit. On 21 January 2021 the instrument of approval, SSI8863, for the project was published, which, despite it not having been raised in the EIS process previously, contained a condition known as E101, which stated:

The design and establishment of an altered Cammeray Golf Course must provide an equivalent standard golf course or the provision of works to offset the loss in standards. This must be undertaken in consultation with and at no cost to Cammeray Golf Club.

To recap, we have a situation here, as revealed by those documents, where a compulsory acquisition process was entered into with Cammeray Golf Club. The golf club got a generous $807,000 for something to compensate it, even though, as I understand it, North Sydney Council was going to bring its lease to an end fairly shortly. The golf club received that compensation and then, after the EIS was displayed and the EIS process was gone through, it, with rather high-profile patrons, managed to somehow secure, through Transport for NSW, over $7.5 million worth of upgrades through the insertion of a condition into the State significant infrastructure instrument of approval.

To me, that looks like another rather evolved version of pork‑barrelling. Why give money directly to a golf course? Why give favour to the local community through a direct grant that could be open to scrutiny, when the cost could be capitalised by including it within the conditions of a project such as the Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway upgrade? This incredibly concerning revelation has been discovered in the documents obtained by a Standing Order 52 request. This area is ripe for further investigation. I thank members for allowing me to bring this issue to the attention of the House.

 

See Hansard for the full transcript.

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