Contamination concerns grow as Botany Bay booms

It’s quite a transformation. The Botany Bay local government area has gone from industrial heartland and barren port landscape to a new boom housing area in less than a decade. Cranes dot the skyline and industrial sites, particularly those on the edges of old residential areas, are being snapped up by developers for high-density development.

According to census data, the population of the area has grown by nearly 15 per cent in the five years to 2011 after declining slightly during the five years before. More than 1500 new residential units were added in that time.

Under the 2031 metro strategy, the City of Botany Bay area is due to get 6500 new dwellings.

As mayor Ben Keneally notes, the area is just nine to 10 kilometres from the city and close to beaches, yet affordable.

But as the development progresses, there are questions being asked about how to accommodate a rapidly growing population alongside some of the potentially most dangerous manufacturing plants in Sydney while also dealing with the legacy of contamination from industries long departed.

This week a parliamentary inquiry was announced into the performance of NSW's Environment Protection Authority after a string of controversies including botched prosecutions and accusations of cover-ups, particularly over the contamination in Botany.

Fairfax Media reported this week about a site in Pagewood which is heavily contaminated with chlorinated hydrocarbons PCE and TCE, both carcinogens. The site is being cleaned up with a view to turning it into seven storeys of residential development. It has been rezoned for residential use by the state government but is yet to be approved for development by the joint regional planning panel for the area and the council.

As Fairfax revealed, the EPA will have a limited role in the clean-up with most of the supervision falling to private certifiers. Yet more than 300 units are proposed for the site. There have also been complaints about the current clean-up as the site is directly across the road from the Pagewood primary school.

Fairfax has also reported extensively on residents’ concerns about contamination from the Orica plant, which has left the Botany Bay aquifer so contaminated that the use of bore water from the bay is prohibited as far north as Surry Hills. The inquiry is expected to look into how the EPA has dealt with ongoing concerns by residents around the Orica site.

But other above-ground issues are also agitating residents.

In 1983, a report to the state government recommended it buy back houses in Denison Street, on the eastern border of the Botany Industrial Park, home to Orica, because of the risk of fatalities if there was a catastrophic incident.

The report was extensively rewritten before its release in 1984 and Orica has since upgraded its chloroalkali plant, which was deemed the highest-risk facility.

But the most recent risk assessment, released in late 2013, still identifies a risk of fatality for those living nearby, of half a chance in a million each year, because of a major incident at the plant. A larger area is deemed at risk if there is a toxic gas leak.

Meanwhile, development is creeping closer to the Botany Industrial Park.

Mr Keneally says the council is managing the risk.

"The residential growth areas are outside hazard contours of Port Botany and the Banksmeadowpetroleum chemical area [ORICA is within the latter]," he said.

However, he acknowledged there are real safety issues associated with major industry and significant pieces of infrastructure.

"Operationally, council is involved in disaster planning with a range of relevant stakeholders," he said. "From a planning perspective we work closely with the Department of Planning, the EPA and other stakeholders to address all risk issues."

A new quantitative risk assessment of the transport hazards posed by moving dangerous goods on roads deemed dangerous goods routes through Botany is due later this month.

The review has been prompted by a proposal for a Bunnings store on one of these dangerous goods routes – Denison Street – which has been rezoned but is being considered by the Botany council and the joint regional planning panel.

Mr Keneally said the report would be used not just to help decide the Bunnings proposal but also as a planning tool for future development in the locality of Denison Street, and to update traffic data.

Meanwhile, residents say the council’s policies giving additional height and floor space on sites that are bigger than 2000 square metres is putting pressure on the local infrastructure and leading to seven- or eight-storey buildings up to 22 metres high being proposed next to low-rise residences.

The council has sought a change to its local environmental plan to address what residents say is a planning disaster in the making.

"I think we have passed the metro strategy targets just with the development in Mascot," says resident and activist Melissa Darke, who has been campaigning to moderate some of the larger developments.

Mr Keneally also acknowledges it is likely Botany will exceed its targets, particularly as Meriton plans a 2300-dwelling project at the British American Tobacco site.

The story Contamination concerns grow as Botany Bay booms first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop