- The NSW Government is preparing to sell Sirius.
- Family and Community Services has written to the residents of Sirius (a redacted copy of the letter below).
- The Save Our Sirius Foundation has been working on alternatives to put before the government. What follows is one alternative that would save the building, retain a significant portion of social housing in Sirius, pay for its refurbishment, and still deliver $100 million to the government.
The NSW Government is preparing to sell Sirius. This will result in the demolition of a significant heritage building, the final destruction of a community, the trashing of the government’s own heritage system, the tarnishing of its reputation, and personal anguish for those who have lived in this neighbourhood for fifty years and more. The one thing the current plan for selling Sirius will not deliver is the $100 million the government says it expects.
The Save Our Sirius Foundation has been working on alternatives to put before the government. What follows is one alternative that would save the building, retain a significant portion of social housing in Sirius, pay for its refurbishment, and still deliver $100 million to the government. It would be good to be able to discuss this and other alternatives with the government before it forces out the last remaining residents.
A representative of Family and Community Services has written to the residents of Sirius to say the NSW Government is making plans to sell Sirius and suggests the sale will provide funds to house 1000 vulnerable people – the homeless, parents with disabled children and others amongst the 60,000 on the waiting list.
No-one would side with a few recalcitrant residents in Sirius standing in the way of 1000 vulnerable people being housed. However, the author has not disclosed the grounds on which his numbers are based, only responding during a recent forum hosted by Shelter NSW that they are based on ‘a calculation’.
Could the ‘calculation’ be based on selling Sirius for $100 million? If such an amount were used to construct 330 dwellings at an average of $350,000 each, with each housing an average of three people, this would account for one side of an equation, the cost of providing homes for 1000 people.
The other side of the equation is why a developer would pay $100 million for the Sirius site. Earlier this month, the NSW Government announced it had sold two of its finest sandstone heritage buildings, each covering an entire city block in the heart of Sydney. The Lands and Education buildings were sold together for $35 million. A ten-fold increase on this sum would have been a more reasonable expectation in the eyes of most Sydneysiders.
So why would the Sirius site be worth three times as much? Certainly not so that a developer could replicate the existing floor space within the existing envelope. Two years ago, it was reported (in the Sunday Telegraph) that Minister Brad Hazzard wanted the 79 units of Sirius replaced by 250 luxury apartments, and thereafter his comments about selling Sirius focused on his calls to ‘Show me the money’. The Hazzard plan would produce a building that would overshadow The Rocks and dominate the precinct that includes the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
Several NSW Ministers have proposed alternative visions for the Sirius site that would be less dominating, but presumably these would also reduce the return to the government when the building is sold. The recent Green Ban placed on Sirius by the CFMEU and endorsed by Jack Mundey and many others, makes demolition of Sirius problematic, which in turn would further reduce its value when it comes time for the government to sell it.
The government’s current course of action appears unlikely to deliver the $100 million the government had hoped for, and if it proceeds, it might be another case of the government settling for a tiny proportion of a site’s value due to circumstances beyond its control. What if there were a plan to sell the Sirius apartments and deliver $100 million to the NSW Government? What if that plan also saved Sirius from demolition, at the same time saving the government from trashing its own heritage program and allowing Sirius to be recorded on the NSW Heritage Register, as advised unanimously by the experts appointed by the government? And what if the government was able to retain about thirty Sirius apartments for social housing and the Millers Point community? Would this be a plan worthy of government consideration?
The plan is simple enough. Sell fifty Sirius apartments, including all those on the fourth floor and above. Many of these apartments have fabulous views of the harbour and Opera House, and an average price of more than $2 million seems reasonable to expect, or more than $100 million overall. A few Sirius residents might move from one unit to another, or the government might wait until residents like Myra, who is blind and turns ninety next week, no longer need their flats.
The most recent High Rise Asset Management Plan for Sirius advises the building requires minimal repair, but does suggest good options for upgrading and maintaining the building to meet contemporary standards. There is a way to fund this work within this plan. If the value of the 29 units retained for social housing is taken into account, and estimated at the cost of $350,000 per unit for providing accommodation elsewhere, this provides about $10 million for refurbishment and repair of Sirius.
In 2014 Sirius was included in the government plan to sell its Millers Point properties, but it appears to have been a last-minute addition to the plan. The Baird government inherited this plan and has steadfastly kept with it. The Save Our Sirius Foundation has been seeking an opportunity to discuss alternatives with the government, and now the timing is critical. Could Mike Baird save Sirius and a community or will he feel he must stay with a plan that will not work?
Since the NSW government ignored the unanimous advice of the Heritage Council to preserve the Sirius Apartments, support for the Save Our Sirius campaign has continued to increase. Key actions from the Save Our Sirius group have included:
- Appointing of 20 ambassadors who support the heritage listing of Sirius, and the maintenance of social housing in The Rocks.
- Coordinating a Green Ban by the CFMEU, and Unions NSW
- Holding a public rally, at which more than 1,500 people showed their support for Sirius
- Conducting a crowd-funding campaign which raised more than $50,000 for this legal challenge.
- Launching a legal challenge in the Land & Environment Court to have the Minister’s decision not to list Sirius on the State Heritage Register reversed.
- Mr Shaun Carter m: 0421 997 223
Chairperson Save Our Sirius
- Mr Tim Ross
Comedian, Save Our Sirius Ambassador
SAVE OUR SIRIUS AMBASSADOR LIST
- Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney
- Jack Mundey, Environmental Activist
- Alex Greenwich MP, Member for Sydney, NSW Parliament
- Tim Ross, Comedian
- Tao Gofers, Original Sirius Architect
- Ken Maher, National President, Australian Institute of Architects
- Shaun Carter, NSW President, Australian Institute of Architects
- Myra Demetriou, Sirius Resident
- Barney Gardner, Millers Point Resident
- Elizabeth Farrelly, Author, Architecture Critic
- Michael Daley MP, Member for Maroubra NSW Parliament
- Anthony Burke, Architecture Head Of School, University of Technology Sydney
- Paul MacAleer, Sydney Branch Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia
- Irene Doubtney, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney
- Clive Lucas, Restoration Architect
- Meredith Burgmann, Former Member of NSW State Legislative Council
- Eva Cox, Author, Social Commentator, Senior Lecturer UTS,
- Jamie Parker MP, Member for Balmain, NSW Parliament
- Anthony Albanese MP, Federal Member for Grayndler, Parliament of Australia
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON SAVE OUR SIRIUS FOUNDATION
The Sirius Foundation has been formed by people and organisations campaigning to save Sirius and its residents. Groups include: Friends of Millers Point, Millers Point Dawes Point and The Rocks Resident Action Group, Millers Point, Dawes Point and The Rocks, Public Housing Tenants Group.
The Foundation, chaired by Shaun Carter (NSW Chapter President of the Australian Institute of Architects) has middle-ground solutions to save Sirius while achieving the government’s financial aims.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON SIRIUS
The Sirius building, located at 38–50 Cumberland Street, The Rocks was designed by Tao Gofers in the late 1970s for the Housing Commission. It was purpose built for social housing for families and older people, with level security lift access and built-in distress alarms. Its design includes public spaces that encourage interaction between residents in its entrances, corridors and courtyards, and in its rooftop gardens and communal rooms. A combination of private and public spaces and a mix of different age groups have helped the residents of Sirius to form a strong and successful public housing community.
Sirius is a fine example of the Brutalist architectural style, especially in its use of off-the-form concrete and the stacking of cubic components to create a harmonious whole. It is also significant as an early example of rooftop landscape gardening. As such, it is featured on a number of architectural websites and in international architectural literature.
The building was named after the First Fleet ship, HMS Sirius. The building has high social significance as it took form in 1978–79 as a consequence of The Rocks Green Ban which saved The Rocks and Millers Point from high-rise redevelopment.
The Sirius building is designed to provide public housing for approximately 400 people in 79 apartments. It is able to accommodate the young and the old, and various units and facilities are suited to the disabled, the frail and families large and small. Its residents have cared for the building and one another from the day it was opened, and Sirius has been probably the most successful public housing development in the state.