Ebbs and Flows: The Battle for Currawong

[A contest] between those who wanted the complex replaced by a luxury new age resort, and those who mounted a self-consciously nostalgic argument in favour of the cabins’ retro-chic heritage values, recognising the extent to which the notion of a cheap holiday was under siege.

Richard White, historian

1978

In February, the Labor Council prepares an Environmental Impact Study for the Local Government Appeals Tribunal. Even its own consultants are dubious about the plan’s prospects, reporting that 80% of the Currawong site was unsuitable for residential development as a result of land instability problems.

In April, Premier Neville Wran advises the Labor Council that any development proposals  it made were likely to be refused. He suggests that the Council enter into negotiations with the Minister for Lands for the sale of Currawong, to incorporate it into the adjacent national park.

1986

The Labor Council submits plans to Warringah Council develop further accommodation and facilities at Currawong. It is refused.

1989

The Labor Council seeks expressions of interest from “major development companies and financial institutions”. One of the EOIs, submitted by a development company, is chosen for further consideration.

At this time, unionists and local residents form an alliance to oppose selling or developing the site.

A site assessment raises significant concerns about the state of effluent disposal ( perhaps nothing compared to the effluent Kelly, Watkins and Costello now find themselves in).  The Labor Council receives a consultant’s report about the impact on the effluent disposal by rising sea water, wave action and flooding.

1992

Following the Coalition Government’s local government reforms, Pittwater Council is established. It takes over responsibility for Currawong from Warringah Council, from which Pittwater was carved out.

From the outset, Pittwater Council makes clear its opposition to any further development of Currawong.

Meanwhile a reasonably sympathetic proposal (compared to those that came after) is put to the Labor Council. The plan, to build a number of smaller timber accommodation units, goes nowhere.

The Labor Council then undertakes the only significant recorded works at Currawong during these three decades. Restoration and refurbishment works are carried out, valued at around $56 000, obtained from a levy on the members of the Council’s affiliated unions. Many union members assist with in kind labour.

1999

The most controversial of all proposals for Currawong (until now) is proposed by then Labor Council Secretary, Michael Costa. The plan is to enter into a 99 year lease with a Guru of a Transcendental Meditation group (TM) to establish an executive stress management resort.

The proposal, redolent of the Magic Pudding, would see the TM build or upgrade facilities up to the value of $8 million, give the Labor Council $200 000 a year (indexed) along with the equivalent of 5500 free room nights. And the entire facility would revert back to the Labor Council after 35 years.

The proposal is bitterly opposed within the union movement, to which Costa responds with his renowned subtlety and finesse. In the face of overwhelming opposition the plan falls through.

A subsequent proposal for the executive retreat is made by Corporate Renaissance, which shares a proponent with the TM proposal. This entity appears to be a revised TM bid, now free of the guru and the meditation.

It is this proposal that sees the emergence of the “Friends of Currawong” group, which has been the centrepiece of opposition to subsequent proposals, wanting the land to be incorporated into the national park. The Corporate Renaissance proposal was unsuccessful.

 2005

Urban Pacific, a Macquarie Bank subsidiary is reported to have made an offer of around  $25 million. Again the proposal was for high value residential or corporate retreats; the tone of which might be imagined by noting that Urban Pacific is now in partnership with Greg Norman to build resorts centred round gold courses.

2006

Unions NSW (the new name for the Labor Council) now headed by John Robertson, announces plans to seek buyers for Currawong, naturally leading to further public debate.

2007

Unions NSW sells Currawong to Eco Villages for $15m.

Eco Villages first proposal valued at $34 million, for 25 lots is referred to the Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, after Eco Villages ask for the exercise of the Minister’s “Part 3A” powers. As part of the process Sartor establishes  an Independent Heritage Advisory Panel and receives voluminous submissions.

2009

In April, the new Minister for Planning, Kristina Keneally, refuses approval for the development.

2010

In September, Eco Villages submits a revised proposal for 12 new houses on the site. In December, a deemed refusal appeal is lodged in the NSW Land & Environment Court .

2011

On 2 May, following the events described in the other posts, Pittwater Council ultimately closes the file as a “withdrawn proposal”.

(The content in this summary, draws heavily on a history of planning matters associated with Currawong compiled by the Heritage Office, as well as documents held by Pittwater Council. They are invaluable compilations regarding Currawong’s history. The manner of my use here is to provide a more ordered and succinct summary to deal with the matters in my other posts.

Let me anticipate any criticism that I don’t deal with the community activists and unionists who opposed the proposals for selling and developing, and were ultimately successful with the incorporation of Currawong into the neighboring parks. This is intended to be a summary of the bids and land proposals that were made over the period in question, which I have described as baldly as I can.)

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