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Ryan said the indemnity, which related to a portion of the base near Joongah Street, suggested that “no work should be taking place anywhere on the Randwick Barracks site”.

Defence said it had issued the indemnity to satisfy the conditions of a development consent.

A Randwick Council spokesman said it was provided before the state government developed strict remediation guidelines and criteria for asbestos-contaminated land.

“NSW contamination guidelines have evolved significantly in the past 20 years requiring developers to meet strict environmental and health standards which Defence has indicated they will meet,” the spokesman said.

Defence has been linked to the site – previously used for a rifle range and naval stores – since the 1860s.

A Commonwealth risk assessment conducted in May 2016 identified an isolated area of “fuel-related contamination”, as well as asbestos in shallow fill material across the army base. It said the contamination posed no significant risks to human health, provided the fill materials were not excavated.

The proposed redevelopment includes two housing projects. Credit:Department of Defence

Olive said he had heard Defence representatives refer to asbestos, heavy metals and chemicals including polychlorinated biphenyls PCBs and DDT on the site. He said testing and any remediation should have been completed long before plans for development began.

Randwick Barracks Neighbourhood Defence Committee chairwoman Janice Gray had reservations about the “true extent” of contamination and whether the land could be remediated safely.

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“The site must have a 100 per cent clean bill of health, independently tested and audited,
before any building work can commence,” she said.

The proposed Bundock Street redevelopment and the “Sydney Live-In Accommodation” project will provide housing for defence personnel and their families.Credit:Department of Defence

“The committee also understands that people are advised not to grow vegetables or to have chickens on land that was formerly part of the Department of Defence site.”

Saving Sydney’s Trees spokeswoman Margaret Hogg, who is also on the committee, said the site had been referred to as “Cancer Hill” by staff at a nearby hospital “in times gone past”.

Defence said contaminants identified on the base were typical of those found on many industrial sites.

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The department said there would be a remediation action plan for the projects, and contamination risks would also be assessed when the plans were referred to Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek.

O’Neill previously wrote to Defence Minister Richard Marles urging a halt on the plans pending “proper consultation”.

“There will be specific opportunities for the community to offer feedback once plans are ready. No federal approvals will be advanced until that has occurred,” O’Neill said.

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