NSW Heritage Minister Robyn Parker was slammed in parliament last Thursday by shadow heritage minister Linda Burney for not working to preserve Thompson Square and Windsor Bridge.
Ms Burney said that in a budget estimates hearing on Thursday, Ms Parker admitted she had not been consulted before the O’Farrell government declared the Windsor Bridge project “state significant”, which meant Roads and Maritime Services did not have to get Heritage Act approval for any works to be undertaken.
“What is the point of having a Minister for Heritage if they aren’t going to protect one of the most significant colonial sites in the country?” Ms Burney asked.
She said the Heritage Council of NSW said in a letter to the RTA a year ago that despite vehement objections from experts to the project, the minister had not met with members of the local community and had failed to obtain any commitments from the RMS in relation to conserving Windsor Bridge or Thompson Square.
This lack of consultation of Thompson Square residents and business owners was confirmed by business owners spoken to by the Gazette who were against the proposed bridge plan, such as Melanie Patterson of the Bridge Cafe, who commented on a YouTube video called Saving Thompson Square that she was afraid the new bridge would destroy her business of five years.
Other business owners round the square fear the effects of the new bridge as well. Solicitor Rod Storie with an office on the square likened the new Windsor Bridge proposal to the Cahill Expressway.
“People will be so upset when it [the RMS bridge proposal] actually happens,” he said. “I told Conolly [Riverstone MP] to come down to Circular Quay and look up, and see what you’re doing to Thompson Square.” When speaking to the Gazette, Mr Conolly said that comparison was “a gross and deliberate distortion, and meaningless”.
He added that if people wanted to see what community consultation was done, they should go to page 7 of the Q&A document on the RMS Windsor Bridge page.
Mr Storie and wife Megan Wood are concerned that Thompson Square is no longer protected by heritage constraints and they perceive no interest in heritage matters from the new Hawkesbury Council.
Mr Storie said “familiarity breeds contempt. They [the councillors] grew up here with all these buildings”.
Mr Storie was also angry that he had bought historic Hawkesbury buildings and restored and preserved them, only to find their value about to be undermined by the proposal.
The couple said the old Windsor Bridge should be saved for light traffic, which is all that should pass through historic Thompson Square.
“We’re also concerned about the trickle-down effect the new bridge will have on Windsor businesses,” Ms Wood said. “They will be significantly impacted, particularly during the building period.”
Ms Patterson of the Bridge Cafe is one of the concerned businesspeople and was visited by the RMS’s Iain McLeod last Sunday, after he saw her in the YouTube video. He told her he felt she was misinformed as to the impact the bridge would have on her business.
“He was very convincing in what he had to say – that it’s all going to be fantastic,” Ms Patterson said, adding that with what he showed her, she now didn’t think it would “overly affect” her business. She said the bridge itself looks fine, “but for Windsor, and where they’re putting it, I don’t think it belongs there”.
She said she doesn’t know what to believe now, as what CAWB members were showing her was going to happen was a different story, with more of Thompson Square set to disappear than what appeared on the RMS virtual videos.
Windsor Pizza and Pasta’s Cliff Pace said he was “never asked by anybody” about the RMS bridge proposal. He said “I’m Canadian but the infrastructure here is appalling”. “Everyone in government here wants to fix things for now, not for the future,” he said. “The infrastructure they’re proposing here is ludicrous – within a matter of years we’ll be back to square one.”
Blake Morrison of Bali Lifestyle said he hadn’t been consulted by the RMS at all so far and said “I hope it’s not as tragic as it appears it will be”.
Trentino’s owner Gae Kelly said no-one from RMS had approached their business either, to consult with them on the bridge options. She said she had heard from other people about the options being considered and put in a submission but had had no reply or acknowledgement.
n Community Action for Windsor Bridge group has advised it is currently waiting to find out from Roads Minister Duncan Gay as to why the load limit has been increased on Windsor Bridge if it is unsafe and must be demolished.