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An interview with Cr. Steve Christou , Mayor of Cumberland City Council

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress from what we inherited.”

The Mayor Steve Christou

“We cannot have people parking on the verge or parking and blocking … lanes.”- Steve Christou

“We can’t put 1500 units in an area with retail shops with no upgrades to public transport, schools, or any other amenities.”

The Mayor Steve Christou

“Paramatta, in my belief, is being drastically over-developed.”

Steve Christou

An interview with Cr. Steve Christou, Mayor of Cumberland City Council 

(See Translation in Arabic Section)

With the local government elections due next month, the Middle East Times International interviewed the  mayor of Cumberland City Council, Cr Steve Christou. On the agenda was housing sprawl, over-development in Parramatta and his LGA,  parking and traffic issues, local facilities and council’s obligations to its residents, especially during COVID-enforced medical lockdowns.

Q: Are you happy about what’s happening in the Cumberland area in terms of an overview?

A: As an overview, I think we’ve made a lot of progress to what we inherited. Four years ago, we inherited a merged council. Under my leadership, we’ve made $85 million worth of improvements to the Granville Ward. We’ve got the new $25m Granville multicultural centre; it’s state-of-the art. There is no other centre like it in Western Sydney. We have a state-of-the-art library and recording studio, where recording artists can go; the artists that used it said it’s as good as what they use at Sony. That centre also has meeting rooms. We have the $13.5m Tweedale Stadium at Granville Park (with function room) with millions of dollars for footpath upgrades and residential upgrades and $30 million on stormwater drainage in Merrylands. When people were hit hardest, we’re able to continue to provide millions of dollars in upgrades. Where other councils under Labor leadership increased rates, we did not.

Q: Cumberland can no longer tolerate more changes in terms of units. This may create social and security tensions, including disaster in a lack of parking. What is Cumberland City Council doing? 

A: Well, I’ll tell you honestly, a year ago, I got sent the Liberal state government’s affordable housing figures. They wanted Cumberland to accept 50,000 affordable homes by 2030. I pushed back and said I won’t accept them under my leadership because in places like Woollahra and Killara, their new housing units are less in the double digits. I said ‘let the other suburbs in the northern and eastern suburbs reach the same capacity. We’re Cumberland; come back and talk to us.’ At the moment, we are being flooded with too much affordable housing, which creates tensions through low socio-economic disadvantage, parking spaces, schools, transport and the need to fund upgrades. We cannot take in any more; the need to upgrade the areas put affordable housing into areas that don’t have nowhere near as much as Cumberland. Come back to Cumberland in 10 years and we’ll talk about it.

Q: Cumberland is witnessing great neglect on more than one level.  Hundreds of cars are parked in most streets. This is very risky. What is your comment?

A: As was well advertised in the media about a month ago, we took a very strict line with illegal parking and parking non-compliance to the fullest. We cannot have people parking on the verge or parking and blocking ‘no-stopping’ or bus  lanes. We take a very strict view of this; we’ll continue to monitor illegal parking and blockages as best as we can because it’s a safety risk. 

Q: Excelsior Street, in Merrylands sees a heavy traffic jam of cars turning from Woodville Road. So why are there not traffic lights or speed cameras like Woodville Road ?

A: That’s a state government issue. Our local state members need to pull their finger out and do something for the area. That’s not something council can do. Now, I’ve definitely advocated, you know, to have more safety measures around the Woodville Road precinct. Quite frankly, some of these streets leading off Excelsior Street should be blocked off to Woodville Road so you can’t access them. That would alleviate a lot of the traffic flow problems but, ultimately, that is an issue for the state government and state members to look at. They really need to start representing their communities.

Q: Or, if the traffic still coming do we need to rezone this area?

A: The area is witnessing a lot of traffic flow on level two roads; a lot of people are bypassing Woodville Road, going through Excelsior and utilising that 2-3 km stretch of Excelsior all the way from Guilford to the bottom of Merryland - Granville KFC.

Q: … then all accumulate in the Granville bridge, which really need an expansion? 

A: That’s a problem when you have a lot of development proposals approved or going up. A good example in the area is the old Caterpillar site on the corner of Woodville Road and Church Street; there’s a vacant factory site there that is proposed to house over 1500 units (this was from a few years ago). When it came to my attention 12 months ago, I blocked it in council. Unfortunately, Labor heavyweights are advocating for this and it’s gone to the planning minister where staff will seek express approval. Now that’s not a good outcome for residents. I’ll continue to fight this over-development because we can’t put 1500 units in an area with retail shops with no upgrades to public transport, schools or any other amenities. They’re putting 1500 units in the area; that’s roughly 3500-4000 extra people nowhere near a train station. Our schools are at capacity yet we have Labor members advocating for this kind of building. That is a ‘no’; that is a big ‘no, no’. We should be fighting this as a community and I will continue to fight this because we cannot continue allow over-development of our neighbourhoods.

Q: … so who is responsible for expansion of the Granville bridge? 

A: Again, that is an ongoing issue. That has been a state government issue all along but we can probably seek federal government funding. You know, it’s very convenient that some former elected representatives (now retired) want to blame councils for this mess; this is an issue that happened under their watch for 30 to 40 years.

Q: We understood that the Liberal Party is not nominating anyone in the Cumberland municipal elections, a first. What do you think about this? 

A: I can’t comment on Liberal Party internal matters. My understanding is there is a factional fight happening. Some people within the party don’t want to be represented at local government level; others do. Now, for me personally, why would you want to abandon a community as an elected representative? The reality is in the local government elections, there are only two parties: our local, truly independent party or Labor. That’s the choice people have. We stood up and fought for rights during COVID-19 lockdowns, restrictions and extra mounted police. My party stood up and said ‘we’re not coping this for our residents’. Our residents need to go to work, pay their mortgage, rent and bills, and put food on the table. Labor members hid in their homes on full salaries for two months. When I put a resolution to council, saying that we need to write to new premier Dominic Perrottet asking him to let us out of lockdown immediately; Labor councillors voted against it and tried to block it. That is very telling; that’s not that’s not representing your community. That’s the reality of the choice that residents face on December 4.

Q: You are aware, like we all are, that Parramatta is witnessing a lot of development Don’t you think it’s necessary for Cumberland to keep pace with this development as well especially since the Cumberland area is the gateway to Parramatta?

A: Paramatta, in my belief, is being drastically over-developed. That being said, Cumberland, particularly Merrylands, is the next suburb over from Paramatta.  So what I’ve been trying to lead my council through is presenting Merrylands as a ‘next option’ for businesses wanting to rent more affordable office space 5-10 minutes down the road from Paramatta rather than pay exorbitant rents in the middle of Parramatta, which in this day and age is unrealistic. We are trying to piggyback off the back of Paramatta’s development. I think that’s the way forward for Cumberland City Council in a business sense.

Q: We are also witnessing a lot of companies moving from Paramatta City to Cumberland area.

Answer: Because we’re more affordable and more attractive.

Q: … and the parking as well.

Answer: Parking in Paramatta is a nightmare. I know; I’ve stopped going to Paramatta and not just myself. Many other residents stopped going to Paramatta. I won’t go to a restaurant on Church Street because the parking is horrendous. There’s nowhere to park. Nobody wants to spend 40 minutes doing laps of the blocks looking for a car park. Then when you do park, your time is limited or it’s paid parking. We don’t have this problem in Cumberland. We offer more affordable space for businesses that want to set up. There’s really no difference whether you’re based in Merrylands, or Paramatta, it’s a five-minute drive and the rent is more affordable. 

Q: I know many people here in Granville who take Uber to Paramatta.  If they have a function where there is a restaurant,  they use Uber to go there.

A: This is an ongoing issue of mine. I’ve been advocating on behalf of Cumberland residents because I feel, in this sense, Paramatta Council is not doing the right thing with the train station. On the Cowper Street side of the train station, the quiet side, there’s Paramatta building all these multi-storey units. Parramatta council is receiving what’s called Section 96 money so, when a developer builds in the area, he has to pay a contribution to council for upgrades to amenities. However, Paramatta are upgrading their amenities. We’ve got Granville library, Granville Pool and a shopping strip (with the exception recently of Metro Woolworths). So they’re utilising all Cumberland assets but collecting these developer contributions for their own game.

Q: Do you expect to see the establishment of a metro in the Cumberland area in the future, to come from Parramatta?

A: Like the metro trains?

Q: Yeah, the light rail. That is what they did for Westmead and Northmead; maybe bring it to Granville, Merrylands, as well. 

A: I don’t think it will happen.

Q: Because all their consideration is closed to the west? They really ignored west stations?

A: Metro trains as well. You know, there’s a few issues in the program as well. I think they were running behind all the time. There’s not that much of a demand for a Cumberland service and metro trains is a bit of an outdated system. So it’s not something that I would be keen to invest for Cumberland and or have them come into Cumberland and rip up our roads for four or five years with little outcome other than chaos.

Q: We heard we heard that Cumberland done a good job with the elderly and the poor during the pandemic. Would you like to extend any message to the local community in Cumberland?

A: Under my leadership, we’re very supportive of our local community. I’m very happy that we were extending food hampers through our charity partners. At one time, we were putting out 700 hampers a week to residents. We are still delivering food hampers until the end of November to roughly 350 residents a week. And we’re very proud that, as a council, we’re able to deliver this kind of service and support our community the best way we can. If anybody has any need or question or requires any assistance, my doors always open. Please do not hesitate to remain or email me and I ensure you receive the assistance you require. (Edited copy)


Copyright 2007 mideast-times.com