The Guardian 9 November, 2005

Public interest falls in a private hole

Peter Mac

The NSW Government has conceded that the operators of its proposed new water desalination plant would be guaranteed profits, if necessary with a standing order for the plant's water, even if ample supplies are available from existing dams.

The proposal to build the plant shocked hydrologists, local government leaders and environmentalists. They pointed out that recycling and treating Sydney's waste water would easily meet its citizens' rising thirst, at half the cost. The plant would consume huge quantities of electricity, would seriously damage Botany Bay's marine environment, and would disturb residents at nearby Kurnell.

Recently-resigned former premier Bob Carr is now a consultant for Macquarie Bank, which is expected to win the contract to construct and run the plant.

The Government's amazingly generous relationship with developers was demonstrated with the recent revelation that the operators of Sydney's cross-city tunnel would be compensated if public transport improvements adversely affected tunnel profits. The government later admitted that renegotiation of the contract "could bankrupt the State".

Last week the Government revealed that the successful tenderer for the desalination plant would also be guaranteed high profits. However, they refused to consider the possibility of the plant being publicly-owned and run, or, better still, of reprocessing waste water, as is done in London.

Two days after these revelations, Frank Sartor, NSW Minister for Planning, declared that more than 2,500 hectares of undeveloped land in Sydney's north-west and south-west will be released for development.

Part of this land had been allocated as parks within two existing development zones. Sartor has not apologised for robbing current and future residents of these areas of these amenities.

The remaining area lies outside these zones, and had been allocated for "landscape and rural lifestyle" purposes, under recommendations from the Department of Planning, the Department of the Environment, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

This allocation was opposed by some property owners who had purchased local allotments, hoping to profit from an anticipated rezoning of the area for residential development.

Ignoring the blindingly obvious option of landscape regeneration, Sartor stated that 45 percent of the land had already been cleared. He also declared openly that the land had to be released in order to meet property owners' expectations, sneering that "There was a lot of blue-skying about the lifestyle zones, but when you are starting to affect people's property values then there is a problem".

The Government has claimed that there will be full disclosure and no "hidden nasties" in future contracts. However, it's clear that such assurances are only intended to placate the public, in order to ensure that the Government meets its commitment to big developers and construction companies.

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