‘No Manhattan in Magill’: Minister’s call on uni campus development

UPDATED | Planning Minister Nick Champion says the state government will not use the acquisition of UniSA’s Magill campus to build “Manhattan in Magill” high-density housing – accusing local Liberal MPs of running an “irresponsible, NIMBY-style campaign” about the site’s future.

Aug 10, 2023, updated Feb 15, 2024
The local heritage listed Murray House on UniSA's Magill campus. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The local heritage listed Murray House on UniSA's Magill campus. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Malinauskas Government announced in July that it had agreed to buy the University of South Australia’s Magill campus for $64.5m as part of its funding package to support a university merger.

Currently zoned primarily for community facilities*, the 15-hectare site will be leased back to the university at a cheap rate while courses are shifted to other campuses.

UniSA Magill campus

UniSA’s Magill campus is home to significant and regulated trees and a creek. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

While the campus’ eventual closure looms as a major housing development opportunity, Planning Minister Nick Champion told InDaily that Renewal SA will not begin master planning the site “for at least five years” and the campus will remain in university hands for 10 years.

“The status quo’s going to prevail there,” Champion said.

“There’s been a bit of news coverage and Facebook stuff and commentary and the like aimed at concerning the local community and creating issues, worrying soccer clubs that use the oval.

“All of that is irresponsible, NIMBY-style campaigns about an issue that is not there.

“There’s not going to be a Manhattan in Magill.”

Champion also said the local heritage on the site, which includes the 1884-built Murray House, will be protected as part of any masterplan and the community will be consulted if the campus is earmarked for rezoning.

Liberal Party frontbenchers Vincent Tarzia and John Gardner, whose electorates meet at St Bernards Road, have been communicating with constituents about the future of Magill campus and encouraging them to make submissions about the issue to a parliamentary inquiry into the university merger.

In a recent community newsletter, Tarzia accused the Malinauskas Government of not consulting properly on the future of the site.

“Hundreds of local residents use these grounds for a variety of recreational activities daily, from soccer to walking their dogs,” Tarzia wrote.

“Our community certainly does not want to see high-density housing built on the site.

“This will only lead to more traffic congestion on roads that already are in need of more infrastructure and investment.”

A community newsletter distributed by Vincent Tarzia’s office raising concerns about the future of Magill campus.

The parliamentary inquiry this week published 29 submissions about the university merger – nine of which are from residents concerned about the future of Magill campus, particularly around preserving open space.

Champion accused the Liberal Party of “harvesting… votes through raising community anxiety” and running “wild campaigns against density”.

“I think there are a number of Liberal Party politicians who are out there running campaigns on a site they know is going to remain a university campus for 10 years,” he said.

“There’d have to be a rezoning process as well, which would involve, by its nature, a code amendment (and) community consultation.

“What we’re seeing here is hysterical nimbyism.

“These sorts of campaigns which are designed to make the local community anxious are not rational, and not fair, and not right – and they should cease and desist given that fact.”

Tarzia hit back at Champion, telling InDaily the Labor Party has “zero credibility when it comes to planning policy in and around Campbelltown”.

He also pointed to a community newsletter distributed by former Labor Member for Hartley Grace Portolesi in December 2013 welcoming UniSA’s commitment to staying at Magill campus.

“Not that long ago, Labor was promoting the benefits of the Magill Campus educational site, but not any more,” Tarzia said.

A leaflet distributed by former Labor MP Grace Portolesi in December 2013. Image: supplied

“The anxiety of local residents comes from the complete lack of consultation of communication by this Labor Government about the Magill Campus – not one resident was told that the Campus would be closed under Labor’s Merger proposal before the election.

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“We want to see actual consultation, upgraded state road infrastructure, preservation of open space and an updated road traffic management plan.”

Tarzia said he was consulting with local residents about the future of Magill campus and will communicate with the parliamentary inquiry “in due course”.

As part of the Magill campus acquisition, the state government is also purchasing two smaller blocks of land on the eastern side of St Bernards Road – currently playing fields, a car park and a series of sheds.

Magill campus

A map of the state government’s acquisition plan for UniSA’s Magill campus. Image: supplied

That land is zoned for low-rise and medium density housing and will be ready for development earlier than Magill campus.

Champion said he had already talked with the local mayor about “appropriate” use of the eastern land parcels.

“It’s already zoned general neighbourhood. So again, that does not allow high-rise apartments or Manhattan in Magill – that’s not going to happen,” he said.

“We have these localised campaigns designed to make the community anxious about high density options that would never be entertained and aren’t entertained on this site as it’s zoned at the moment.”

The eastern side of St Bernards Road between Edward Street and Woodforde Road. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Asked if high-density housing will ever be entertained on Magill campus, Champion said: “It’s a university site for 10 years – master planning won’t begin for five years because master planning has to be contemporary because you have to do community consultation.

“There’s a number of issues on the site. There’s heritage buildings which have to be protected.

“Raising issues around that is just silly because everybody in the community knows that has to be protected – all of these issues will be countenanced by the master planning.

“The worst outcome would have been if it were sold directly to a private developer.”

Labor MPs have not been immune to raising concerns about high-density development in their own electorates.

When InDaily pointed out that southern suburbs Labor MP Chris Picton had raised resident concerns about a government-backed housing development in Hackham, Champion replied: “It’s perfectly legitimate to raise issues, it’s perfectly legitimate to write, to advocate, to talk with the community – there’s nothing wrong with that.

“But when we have people out there talking about high density options that aren’t being entertained, then that’s just nimbyism. It’s just a scare campaign.

“And politicians of all shapes and sizes gotta be responsible.”

Champion during his time Planning Minister has attempted to reshape debate about urban sprawl, telling InDaily in February the term has become a “whipping boy” in the perennial debate about where to locate new housing in Adelaide.

He has also scrapped a government target set in 2017 for 85 per cent of all new housing in metropolitan Adelaide to be built within “established urban areas” by 2045, signalling a greater focus on vacant greenfield land for new housing developments.

*An earlier version of this story mischaracterised the extent to which the Magill campus is zoned general neighbourhood (low and medium density housing). While one small allotment on the site is zoned for this, the majority is zoned for community facilities, according to the Minister’s office. 

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