Greens in the former Leichhardt Council and NSW Government red tape killed off past redevelopment applications for Balmain Tigers’ spiritual home.
Despite repeated campaigns by The Weekly Times to bring the Tigers home, eight years have now passed since Balmain Leagues Club was sold for one dollar ($1), with the buyer also inheriting its $22 million-plus debt.
Since then, the club has fallen into disrepair with floors rotting from water damage and almost every wall covered in graffiti.
Last year a fire – believed to have been started by squatters – broke out and had to be extinguished by more than eight fire-fighting vehicles.
Most recent failed plans
Prior to the present redevelopment proposal by Heworth Development, the last attempt to save the club was made by Rozelle Village developer Ian Wright, was submitted in late 2015.
The original plan for a 17-level residential and commercial building was rejected in 2010 by the Joint Regional Planning Panel due to traffic congestion, its size and the effects it would have on local businesses. The Labor state government back then took control of the site, claiming that it was “significant” to the state, leaving the decision in the hands of the NSW Department of Infrastructure and Planning’s Assessment Commission which ultimately knocked it back .
He blamed Leichhardt Council and its former Mayor Darcy Byrne for supporting angry residents who shot down an initial 32-storey proposal and opposed smaller scale designs.
Mr Wright hoped a proposed 135 apartment block within a 12-storey tower and an eight-storey tower, a new leagues club, a supermarket and 15 specialty shops would get approval because it was fully compliant with council planning controls.
But the fight for approval went to the NSW Land & Environment Court in April 2016 and was knocked back six months later.
“We did everything possible to get a new leagues club and the blame is with Leichhardt Council, who opposed us,” Mr Wright told The Weekly Times last year.
Former Leichhardt Mayor and now Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne, a lifelong Tigers fan, tells a different story.
Mayor Byrne told The Weekly Times it has been the state government and Roads and Maritime Services who have repeatedly killed off attempts to save the club due to traffic concerns on Victoria Road.
“I am a Tigers fan and I, as much as any other fan, want the Tigers to return home,” he said.
Earlier rezoning disaster
His Labor colleagues also stress The Greens and their Mayor Rochelle Porteous were running the council for much of the time the leagues club applications were knocked back.
In March 2015, an unexpected decision by then Leichhardt Mayor Porteous, to attempt to rezone the historic site, would have made it all but impossible for the Tigers to return to their home of more than 50 years.
But the NSW Department of Planning later knocked back Leichhardt Council’s application for the rezoning.
Rozelle Residents Action Group spokesman David Anderson said the block should never have been rezoned for high rise development.
“There is overwhelming local opposition to this” he said.
Tigers fans tell a different tale.
Numerous fans recently spoke at the Balmain Town Hall in favour of redevelopment and said Darcy Byrne has never put their side of the story.
“He can’t say he didn’t know he we feel because he was the one who called the town hall meeting,” an angry fan said.