By The Weekly Times Special Team of Investigative Reporters (TWT STIR Team)
The Colonel, retiring, Ryde mayor Bill Pickering has used the Ryde mayoralty and cited a major development deal hidden from public scrutiny to establish and promote a new housing association he’ll lead as “consulting chief executive”.
Pickering resigned from the Liberal Party, along with sidekick, fellow Ryde councillor, Jane Stott, after the pair’s humiliating defeat in a Liberal Party preselection contest.
They spat the dummy and are now contesting this Saturday’s Ryde Council’s election central ward as Independents. The Colonel must have seen the writing on the wall, establishing the Housing Supply Association as a “not for profit” company along with its website in late June, but claims the start-up industry body “already has government support”.
Pickering’s longtime mate, NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts has given the HSA legitimacy, delivering a keynote address at its launch before 400 guests in Doltone House in late July, hinting the HSA’s members would have preferential access and a say in planning policy.
“We now have for the first time ever a purpose-lead organisation representing industry leaders that are working hand in hand with those seeking affordable housing in government to holistically address the issue of housing supply and affordability,” Roberts told guests.
“I look forward to working closely with the HSA and I would say that if you want a good voice, if you really want to participate in the policy make up, the HSA is a great opportunity for you to do that.”
Company and registration records show the new body was only established in late June this year and there is no record of any contact with Roberts about the HSA in quarterly ministerial diary disclosures since he became NSW Planning Minister early this year.
The irony of recent comments announcing new legislation stripping councils of powers to approve developments between $6m and $30m in value, must have been lost on Roberts, who declared an “end the dodgy and dirty backroom deals” in local councils.
“To the lurk merchants and spivs who inhabit the dark corridors of Council Chambers across Sydney, your trade is done,” Roberts said on his Facebook page.
“Get another job. The NSW Government is done with your corrupt and dodgy behaviour.”
But in the case of his mate Pickering, who has voted numerous times as a Ryde Councillor on matters involving undisclosed interests, Roberts has assisted with more than just a job.
Pickering’s lobbying and public relations firm, Hugo Halliday PR & Marketing Pty Ltd, in Parramatta, from where the HSA will be run, will also become its marketing arm and offer its services to members.
Numerous articles on its website touting for developer business, including one headed: “Developer? Need assistance with your DA approval or opposing community groups?” have recently been removed.
Pickering told launch guests the catalyst for establishing the HSA was a secret voluntary planning agreement (VPA) with developer Holdmark Property Group he claimed provided up to 70 dwellings for key workers.
Also at the HSA launch was MP Greg Pearce, who was in 2013 sacked as Finance Minister in the O’Farrell government over a conflict of interest and Tony Abboud, the Ryde real estate agent at the centre of the Civic Centre redevelopment controversy.
Pickering said the HSA, to be run from the offices of his lobbying firm, Hugo Halliday PR & Marketing Pty Ltd in Parramatta, “has taken this further” and that he “could influence the situation in Ryde but I wanted to go further”.
“What I’ve been able to do with some very like-minded people …. and I thank Holdmark for their participation previously, (is) to extend this noble and proven achievement that we have in Ryde to the state of NSW,” he said.
The VPA with Holdmark supposedly involves $146m worth of developer contributions including “affordable housing” at its site in Talavera Road, Macquarie Park, to build more than 1,300 units in a development of up to 52 storeys.
But details of the VPA, described by one councillor as “undercooked” have not been publicly released and council’s legal advisors have raised red flags over valuations of developer contributions, the absence of binding guarantees and scheduling of public benefit delivery.
“We negotiated an uplift in our floor space ratio which allowed us to build more space to offset the cost of providing the affordable housing,” Gavin Carrier of Holdmark told Seven News Sydney on the day of the launch.
Curiously, the Holdmark name did not appear on Seven’s report, which only showed the name “Gavin Carrier” and the title “Developer”.
Perhaps that was to avoid further antagonising suffering residents in overdeveloped Meadowbank, where Holdmark tried to reinvent its 10 storey development to a whopping 24 storeys, only to have it blocked in January by the Planning and Assessment commission.