Three days before the NSW election, Camden mayor Peter Sidgreaves has opened up about where he stands on development and infrastructure – and on his controversial preselection as the Liberal candidate.
In an interview with the South West Voice in Macarthur, Mr Sidgreaves said his conscience was clear on winning Liberal Party preselection and rejected claims he was gung-ho on development and growth in Camden.
It was suggested in the media and elsewhere that last year he and his good mate and sitting member Chris Patterson somehow stitched up a deal to keep out other candidates for Liberal preselection.
“Yes, I do believe my conscience is clear,’’ responds Mr Sidgreaves when the question is put to him.
“I nominated to be the member for Camden off my own bat, and at the same time any other member of the Liberal Party could have nominated,’’ he said.
“In terms of the timing, Chris Patterson was actually in London at that time.
“I wasn’t in communication with him at all, and I put my nomination in knowing that if Chris didn’t step down I would withdraw my nomination.’’
But was there a heads up, a nod and a wink from one mate to another?
“Not at all. The only heads up I had was that about a year before the election Chris made comments to the press that he was actually considering standing down,’’ says Mr Sidgreaves.
“So I took that as potentially an opportunity, knowing that if I had to go into a preselection against Chris Patterson I would be stepping down.
“I had no intention to steamroll him.
“My intention was to show to people that I was keen to further serve the community and serve Camden.’’
There’s just one word that describes Camden at the moment, and that’s “growth’’.
And on that subject, Peter Sidgreaves, the mayor of Camden and the Liberal Party’s candidate for Saturday’s poll, has been lambasted in some quarters for being a supporter of all out development.
Nothing could be further from the truth, says the man himself, who was first elected to Camden Council in 2012.
Indeed his views may surprise a few people.
“Development in Camden is part of the state plan for the south west growth area,’’ he says.
“Camden Council is merely delivering on this state government plan.
“So my view on council has been that if we can’t dictate what’s coming there, let’s make the most of the opportunities, let’s make sure we fill those areas with green space.
“And I would say that’s been achieved.
“I would say that the development for the precincts that have been released probably have been released too early,’’ he said.
“Take Leppington as the example: that was originally released in 2014, but it’s been taken back by the state government to review, and so that’s not re-released at this point in time.
“I think there’s no doubt as you go closer to the new airport, and that something that’s certainly changed the game a little bit, there will be housing development and the state government would be asking for higher dwellings per hectare.
“That’s just logical when you are two or five minutes from the airport,’’ Mr Sidgreaves said.
“Something I would like to comment on, because I don’t think a lot of people know about this, but the south west growth area kind of ends between Bringelly and Narellan, 200-300 metres on the western side of The Northern Road.
“What we’ve done at council is the Rural Lands Strategy, and it says that anything from that border west and south west, anything that’s currently zoned as rural, will remain rural.
“For landowners whose land is not viable, there is a short process to change that zoning, but council won’t change the rural zoning by default.
“And that goes from north of Cobbitty, all the way around and down to almost Camden town.
“That’s been in place for over year and it seems to me a lot of people, especially in Camden and Camden South, are not aware of it.
“We did that because we didn’t want the same level of development and zonings to be coming across and taking over Camden.
“Our view in council is the best of both worlds.’’
One of the first things Mr Sidgreaves did on getting elected to Camden Council was propose the development of a strategy to bring more local jobs to Camden and the end result was the creation of the Camden Region Economic Taskforce a year ago.
“The most important thing to remember about the task force is that five of the seven board members are independent local business people,’’ says Mr Sidgreaves.
“Council don’t always have the answers for these things, and by sharing responsibility with the members of the board, the environment council sets is the right one not only to create new investment but to also help existing local businesses grow.
“It’s a joint partnership and I would say it’s working very well at this stage.’’
He nominates the campaign to establish a Macarthur or South West Justice Precinct as one promising initiative which may bring plenty of new jobs to the region.
He “absolutely’’ promises to keep pushing for local jobs if elected on Saturday.
“It’s one of my priorities,’’ says Mr Sidgreaves.
“This idea came to me early when I was on council and we were talking about the rate of population that was coming to Camden and looking at figures of over 65 percent of people at the time left the Camden local government area to go to work.
“Now if our population goes from 50,000 to 100,000, and in 20 years it will be about 233,000, if we don’t create local jobs, and diverse local jobs, then it’s just going to put more pressure on road and rail infrastructure,’’ he said.
While accepting that rail plans have changed a little bit, because of the airport, Mr Sidgreaves says he would like to see this type of transport infrastructure built sooner rather than later.
“What we will be doing and it’s already on the Greater Sydney Commission district plan, is extend the rail line from Leppington across to Badgerys Creek, and from there to the North-South line, from St Marys in the north to Badgerys Creek and to Narellan, and through to Macarthur at some point to create that connectivity,’’ he says.
“What I am pushing for, and the previous mayor has been pushing for as part of the Cities Deal, is to have the line from Badgerys Creek down to Narellan done at the same time.
“I will certainly be pushing to get that done at the same time as the line from St Marys to Badgerys Creek.
“The district plan does shows the planned line to Narellan being completed within 10 years.
“My view is to get it done as soon as we practically can,’’ Mr Sidgreaves said.
He was elected Camden mayor last September for a two year term, but Mr Sidgreaves says if he wins on Saturday he will step down.
“If I get elected to state parliament I will be stepping down from mayor, within the first two to four weeks, but I won’t force a by-election that would cost the people of Camden $100,000, so will stay on council until the next council elections (due September 2020).
Peter Sidgreaves and his wife Amy have a young family of four daughters, Lani, 8, Kaiyah, 6, and twins Brielle and Zara, 2, so our final question is what was he thinking throwing his hat in the ring to go to Macquarie Street.
“This was also the case in 2012 when I threw my hat in the ring for Camden Council, we had one young daughter and one on the way, and I decided, being aware of the growth that was coming to Camden, I wanted to make sure that Camden, you know, the natural beauty, the history, the heritage, wasn’t destroyed.
“So I stood for council for that reason, and now, after six and a half years, I realised that it’s not just my family that I am fighting for, I am fighting for the families of all the residents of Camden, and that to me makes me just as proud as fighting for my children alone.’’