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Kiama is growing, so what can we do about it?

The Bugle App

Brendon Foye

07 March 2024, 11:38 PM

Kiama is growing, so what can we do about it?

There was an almost palpable tension in the air upon arriving at the Kiama Central Precinct Meeting on 27 February 2024 as attendees lined up to enter a packed Joyce Wheatley Centre.

It was immediately obvious that the majority of attendees came to discuss one of two topics: the Akuna Street development or the Springside Hill development. There would no doubt have been some there to discuss the Dido Street development if not for Kiama Council recommending rejecting the application to build 67 new dwellings on the street.

The $66 million Akuna Street development would see 82 residential units, 24 retail premises, 2 supermarkets and 344 basement parking spaces built on the current car park. The Springside Hill development would see 1000 new homes built on the western side of Kiama. Both developments are currently under review.

With a stacked agenda for the meeting, it wasn’t long before the flood gates opened with questions surrounding the two upcoming developments and how the community can have a meaningful say on Kiama’s future.

This is something that we’re going to hear paraphrased a lot in the coming years, but it bears repeating here: Change is inevitable for Kiama. It’s up to us to decide what that change looks like now to ensure it betters not just current residents, but future generations.

That sentiment was shared by residents and public officials who spoke during the meeting, including NSW Member for Kiama Gareth Ward, and Kiama Councillor Karen Renkema-Lang. Both public representatives shared the view that while Australia’s pressing housing crisis needs to be addressed, so too does the surrounding community infrastructure and services that will support these new homes.

Councillor Renkema-Lang raised the importance of addressing the need for affordable housing, especially for key workers. However, none of that will be possible without proper funding.

“Even what I hear tonight underpinning all of this is all we can see is a big opening up of housing supply. We cannot see any plans, or money actually, put aside to improve our sewerage system,” said Councillor Renkema-Lang.

“It’s OK to talk the talk but we need the money and we need the plans in place and we need the timeline. I would really call on Gareth to take this to the State Government, if they’re going to open the land like this, we need money.”

Gareth Ward agreed while stressing the need for the community to try to influence the NSW Government in particular when it comes to growth.

“One thing I’m going to make very clear to the government is that it’s not just simply about targets, it’s not just simply about numbers, it’s just as important as to how communities grow as the growth themselves,” Mr Ward said.

“It’s incumbent, I think, on the Government that if they’re going to have a discussion around the sort of number of houses they want to put in a particular area, that they actually talk about roads, they should talk about schools, they should talk about hospitals.”

Roads, schools and hospitals are just three of a raft of concerns raised during the Central Precinct Meeting. Lynne Strong, who attended the meeting, put together a list of all of the issues discussed at the meeting along with additional comments from Facebook. You can see the full list at the end of this article, published with Lynne’s permission.

Community Engagement

In attendance was Jessica Rippon Kiama Council’s Director Planning, Environment and Communities who valiantly handled questions from the raucous crowd while echoing the same sentiment that the community needs to get involved on the ground floor to enact real change.

One comment that was more difficult to address came when someone from the audience claimed that “a lot of people in Kiama have lost faith in Council and taking on community engagement,” especially when it came to the Akuna Street development.

“In regards to Akuna Street, there were numerous workshops that were undertaken, which all are opposing the six-to-seven storey height limit, none of that was taken onboard. I feel like the community’s not being listened to,” the commenter said.

“The infrastructure in Akuna Street, the parking study was done during COVID, so it doesn’t truly give an indication of how many cars are coming in and out every day. Or the fact that a lot of the parents from the primary school park their car there with nowhere else to park. If you have a disabled child, there is nowhere else to go, you’re going to lose all that parking. And to say there’s going to be another 300 parks, the majority of that will be for the units. There will be nowhere for workers to park.”

The Bugle has received numerous letters from readers sharing similar sentiments that they feel Kiama Council’s official communication channels do not result in results, or even a positive experience. For example, Council voted to raise the maximum building height for the Akuna Street development height only after selling it to developers Level 33, and despite more than 100 submissions from the community opposing the decision. It’s not difficult to see how the community can feel left out by such a move.

The meeting came at an auspicious time for Kiama Council, which two days later announced plans to launch two “conversation pieces”: growth and community engagement.

What that means in practical terms is that Council is preparing to launch a new Growth and Housing Strategy, which will be a vital document when it comes to lobbying the NSW Government for infrastructure funding, and a refreshed Community Engagement Strategy. 

For the Housing and Growth Strategy, Jessica Rippon says: “We will be hosting robust discussions, be seeking online feedback, partnering with the NSW Government Department of Planning and conducting meetings with our stakeholders and community members to capture ideas and views on growth.” 

“This will include discussions about some of the development proposals that are before Council and future opportunities such as development within Bombo Quarry.”

As for the Community Engagement Strategy, Kiama Council’s Communications and Engagement Manager Claire Doble said the process will start by meeting key stakeholders and various community pop ups this month.

“Once we have prepared a draft strategy, community members will once again get an opportunity to provide feedback. The finalised strategy and accompanying report will outline how community feedback has shaped the strategy,” Ms Doble said.

So now’s the time to have your say about how to have your say! The Bugle also wants to hear from you, what do you want to see in Kiama’s Growth and Housing Strategy? What have your experiences been like engaging with Kiama Council? Leave us a comment.