Sidoti used town planners to lobby: ICAC

·3-min read

NSW MP John Sidoti engaged town planners to repeatedly lobby a Sydney council to amend zoning regulations that would benefit his family's property interests, an anti-corruption probe has heard.

And while the ex-NSW sport minister's family did not get the zoning changes it wanted, changes were ultimately endorsed that would permit some intensification of development on its Five Dock site in Sydney's inner west.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption held its first day of public hearings into its investigation of Mr Sidoti on Monday.

The anti-corruption body is investigating whether the MP for Drummoyne improperly sought to advance his family's property interests on Great North Rd.

The inquiry will also examine an alleged "breach of public trust by failing to make a number of pecuniary interest disclosures contrary to his obligations".

Mr Sidoti, who resigned from the NSW government cabinet in early March and withdrew from the Liberal partyroom, denies the allegations.

In his opening address, ICAC counsel assisting Rob Ranken said Mr Sidoti did not agree with planning controls in Canada Bay Council's 2013 urban design study, arguing "Five Dock density was far too low".

This is despite widespread opposition from Five Dock locals to high-density development and expert testimony there was "little public benefit" in extending Five Dock village's higher-density "town centre core".

Mr Sidoti's family owned property at 120 Great North Rd, the site of its former function centre, which fell inside the town centre core.

However, properties behind the site - on Waterview St - did not fall in the town centre core and were kept in medium-density residential zoning.

Mr Ranken argued that Mr Sidoti repeatedly sought to have the town centre core extended to cover the Waterview St site behind his family's property.

This was despite the presence of a heritage-listed property at 39 Waterview St.

"A vast majority of affected constituents were opposed to higher heights, densities, commercial zoning and redevelopment and wanted to retain the village atmosphere of the area," Mr Ranken said.

"The planning outcomes sought by the majority of the Five Dock community and endorsed by council staff presented differently to the outcomes subsequently raised and pursued by Mr Sidoti."

In July 2014, Mr Sidoti allegedly engaged town planners to pursue his family's development proposal for 120 Great North Rd, including for an options analysis for the site and associated joining lots.

ICAC subsequently heard parties associated with Mr Sidoti's family bought an adjoining property on Second Ave in October 2014 and two properties next to 120 Great North Rd in May 2015 and December 2017.

Simultaneously, town planners retained by Mr Sidoti on several occasions approached council and lobbied for changes to the Waterview St zoning rules.

In October 2015, Mr Sidoti and his town planners met with Canada Bay mayor Angelo Tsirekas and council staff. A council resolution was subsequently passed recommending further study of the Waterview St site.

The following year, a new proposal was adopted which retained the Waterview St site's residential zoning but removed the heritage listing on 39 Waterview St and permitted development up to four storeys high.

This was despite a feasibility study done for the council which found many of the sites would not be viable for development for "some years".

Mr Ranken said ICAC would probe the possibility Mr Sidoti improperly influenced or coerced Canada Bay councillors to support his rezoning efforts.

"Mr Sidoti regularly raised with the Liberal councillors issues concerning the urban design study and associated planning proposals, particularly the exclusion of the Waterview St site," Mr Ranken said.

"Mr Sidoti arranged and attended meetings with Liberal councillors ... discussing upcoming consideration by the council of the urban design study and associated planning proposals, how the councillors might decide the issue and on occasion, what motion they should move."