Plans to use former James Hardie asbestos factory site for apartments in Camellia
What may be some of Sydney’s least loved land – the birthplace of asbestos manufacturing in Australia – has become the latest object of desire for residential property developers.
The plan to erect high-rise apartments on the former James Hardie factory site in western Sydney would require the removal of enough asbestos to fill more than two dozen Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The factory has been razed, but an estimated 80,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil remains buried beneath where it once stood. This soil is contaminated mainly by asbestos waste fill but also hydrocarbon, lead and arsenic. All of which, developers hope, would be exhumed under the remediation plan for the land.
The development application to clean up the site comes as the state government finalises a strategy that would potentially turn the industrial wasteland suburb five kilometres east of Parramatta into a new neighbourhood .
Hardie ran the manufacturing plant in Camellia, where activist Bernie Banton worked, between 1957 and 1983.
After the factory was decommissioned and the buildings were demolished, the waste asbestos was buried up to four metres deep and capped with concrete and asphalt paving.
Under the application before Parramatta Council, the concrete would be broken with hydraulic hammers and lifted away beneath controlled air pressure tents.
The contaminated soil would be placed into covered trucks, which would travel a dedicated path and dump the soil into an on-site containment cell to be capped by a concrete slab.
It is estimated the process will take 18 months to complete and cost about $5 million. The site’s owners have also submitted a proposal to rezone the land from business to mixed use to allow for potentially thousands of residential apartments with ground floor retail and public open space adjacent to the river.
Two other sites in Camellia – owned by freight logistics company Asciano and waste management firm Veolia – have also had remediation applications approved.
But the full extent of Camellia’s contamination is unknown due to bad record keeping and the suburb’s long history of heavy industrial use.
According to the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, there are 14 contaminated sites in Camellia. It has more contaminated sites than any other suburb in NSW aside from Wagga Wagga.
A Department of Planning and Environment spokeswoman said a high-level review of the contamination had been carried out. The department, she said, had also commissioned a further detailed study which would investigate remediation options.
AECOM land contamination and remediation specialist Paul McCabe said clean-up technology was mature and many waterfront developments, such as Rhodes, were on brownfield sites.
“With the typical sort of former industrial sites that we deal with all over Sydney and all over Australia, it’s just a matter of what it costs and whether you can actually make a dollar out of developing the site,” Mr McCabe said.
The state government is currently considering four light rail routes around Parramatta, including one through Camellia to Olympic Park that an alliance of big business known as The WestLine Partnership is championing and says could be paid for by developers.
The government is likely to announce a process to gauge the seriousness of private offers to help fund new transport proposals. The Transport Minister says the government expects to do a deal on “value capture” for the light rail line, suggesting the route through Camellia will emerge as the favoured one.
“In terms of Parramatta light rail, I think it will be the first project, the first major transport project, in which we are going to have to look very closely at how value capture is applied,” the Minister, Andrew Constance, said this week.
“This is operating in other jurisdictions around the world, and it is operating well, and it means more infrastructure to enable and facilitate more population growth,” he said.
with Jacob Saulwick