Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s stewardship of Oxford Street was the focus of frustration at a lively Oxford Street LGBTQI Community Candidate Forum, on Sunday afternoon. 

Members of the LGBTQI community gathered at the Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst to discuss the future of Oxford Street with candidates for Lord Mayor and their representatives. 

Moore, who did not attend due to another commitment, was represented by Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully.

The remaining four speakers were Labor’s Linda Scott, the Small Business Party’s Angela Vithoulkas, Unite for Sydney’s Karen Freyer, the Greens’ Sylvie Ellsmore, and the Liberal’s Shauna Jarrett.

Frustration Over Oxford Street Plans

Unite for Sydney’s number two, Karen Freyer, who substituted for Yvonne Weldon who was unwell, spoke of her frustration with the current Lord Mayor and the shortcomings of the Oxford Street Creative and Cultural Precinct Proposal.

She pointed out that the plan has no requirement to protect the LGBTQI heritage and cultural integrity of Oxford Street and promised that if elected, “We will consult with the LGBTQI community on all matters where the community may be affected by creating a Rainbow Advisory Committee.”

“We will work to make Oxford Street the natural place for all Sydneysiders to dance, eat, drink, and watch shows. A street that remembers and retains its gay heritage and welcomes the next generation of LGBTQI residents,” she declared.

Oxford Street Needs To Be Revitalised

Liberal candidate, Shauna Jarrett, acknowledged the importance of Oxford Street to the LGBTQI community and the need for the street to be revitalised in an “economically sustainable way.” 

Stressing the need for deregulation in achieving a sustainable and revitalised Oxford Street, Jarrett quipped, “LEPs, DCPs, XYZPs, all sorts of other plans. (We need to) cut through all of that to enable creative businesses that you as locals want and need.”

Labor’s Linda Scott disagreed. “Unlike the Liberals,” she said, “I believe in planning controls. I don’t believe in complete deregulation. I don’t think that’s the right thing for the future here in Oxford Street.”

Scott stressed the importance of Oxford Street as a historical and cultural safe haven for LGBTQI communities and argued that “it’s important to have that reflected in the planning controls.”

Demolition By Neglect

Small Business Party’s Angela Vithoulkas called the conditions on Oxford Street, “Demolition by neglect.”

Considering the revitalisation of Oxford Street from a business perspective, Vithoulkas stated, “It deserves not only to be renovated in a way that promotes the amenity, keeps people here, happy where they are in their locale but invites people in too. Because you need that vibrancy of the local economy to thrive to get everything else happening.”

Green’s Lord Mayor candidate, Sylvie Ellsmore questioned the focus on developers in the revitalisation of Oxford Street and recommended that renewal plans focus on maintaining a vibrant LGBTQI community rather than relying on developers.

She said, “Important community assets like a Pride Museum need to be directly built with Council or invested by Council because they need to be protected forever and the only way to do that is to keep them in public hands.”

Lockouts, Lockdowns

Current Deputy Lord Mayor, Jess Scully, blamed the clearways, lockout laws, COVID-19 lockdowns, and the construction of two Westfield shopping centres as contributing to Oxford Street’s degradation. She defended Council’s actions, stating, “Oxford Street has had a really rough decade. And I think we have to start…from a place of reality about what we’ve been through on Oxford Street the past decade.

“Yes, the City of Sydney has been a significant landowner on Oxford Street, but we need private sector investment as well to unlock the potential of Oxford Street, to bring really great creative precinct curation and management to this place.” 

At the conclusion of the meeting, a motion was put forward that called for meaningful grassroots community organisation and consultation on matters relating to Oxford Street, a halt on Oxford Street height increases pending comprehensive community consultation, and protecting the cultural and historical integrity of Oxford Street while cultivating a vibrant, living LGBTQI precinct for the future. The motion passed unanimously.

The Sydney Local Council election will be held on 4 December.