OPINION | Bad planning is ruining life in Macarthur

NO SHOW: Protection of our wildlife, water security and vanishing local dams, and the BBQ hotplate model of new housing estates are some very serious local issues worth debating. Unfortunately, not all seem to think so.
NO SHOW: Protection of our wildlife, water security and vanishing local dams, and the BBQ hotplate model of new housing estates are some very serious local issues worth debating. Unfortunately, not all seem to think so.

Some people reckon the March 23 state election is about priorities: stadiums, or schools and hospitals.

Others say it's about the survival of live entertainment. Or infrastructure, or assets sales, or budgets.

Dunno about you, but to me, it is very local: a referendum on how our Macarthur region is being developed.

Any reader of this column will know I'm no fan of the government’s model: endless 'heat island' housing estates with no trees or backyards, roads so narrow that local ambos reckon it’s putting lives at risk, and no adequate public transport. (Ramming through massive estates at Menangle Park, but refusing to extend the electric line there for its commuters...that sort of thing, etc, etc.)

We’re expected to have squished-up rooftops at rural Thirlmere while leafy parts of the North Shore are protected from over-development.

Endless housing...but our local dams are almost empty, and their catchments are mined under.

Housing planned for koala habitats in Wilton...but remote sites set aside for koalas where there are no koalas.

My anger is not political.

I used my column to endorse the Liberals in 2011 because it (then) had the best deal for us, and I'm not naive enough to think Labor is any less in love with developers.

But at least Labor is this time promising us a reduction of local housing quotas, to ‘stop the squeeze’, a Koala National Park in Campbelltown, and 'heritage protection' of Camden CBD. A pause. A glimmer of a glimmer. With the Libs it’s just more BBQ hotplate estates, full steam ahead, and bulldozers in koala forests.

I agree 100 per cent with the Camden and Wollondilly independents Andrew Simpson and Judy Hannan, calling for a return to best-practice town planning, rather than developer-led growth, which often means the only green spaces left is land they can't use, such as under power lines or in flood zones.

But here's the thing…

I'm willing to be proved wrong in my opinions by good arguments.

If our local Liberal MPs actually have an amazing secret plan to push quality instead of quantity they should share it with us.

And the ideal forum for us to hear it would have been at the big candidates Q&A forum held at Wests Leagues Club last week to discuss local environmental and development issues.

Organised by the very-active Macarthur branch of the National Parks Association (NPA), it drew nearly all the candidates – except the local Liberal candidates.

When this paper reported on the three empty chairs, a few critics slammed us as being biased, one demanding, "please stick to the truth".

Does that mean to avoid being, um, fake news, we should have reported that the Libs DID turn up?

But they didn't. In fact, despite getting about two months' notice, they didn't even reply to the invitation.

Feels like a snub.

But some of their defenders suggest another motivation: “The forum was stacked with tree huggers," the critic wrote online, "why should Liberal candidates go if they are heckled and ridiculed by the audience.”

Two responses to that:

1. This is grossly unfair to the local NPA branch, a highly-professional and scientific group who strive to be non-political (only last week one of its key members publicly praised Barry O'Farrell for supporting the Dharawal National Park campaign in 2011.) And the audience was dominated by many highly-respected community members, including Campbelltown's Citizen of the Year, Ricardo Lonza.

2. So what if they were heckled? When I was an editor I regularly fronted up to hostile crowds, or stood up to a wall of money and power. It's called having the courage of your convictions.

Shouldn't all potential local members of Parliament be willing to speak out for us (and to us), and be bold souls willing to stand up and fight...not refuse to answer invitations from local community groups, or hide away from hard questions?