Western Sydney’s councils are embracing growth.
That was the clear message from a lunch held by the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) on Thursday, May 8, at the Waterview Function Centre at Sydney Olympic Park.
UDIA chief executive Stephen Albin interviewed five western Sydney mayors – Blacktown’s Len Robinson, Parramatta’s John Chedid, The Hill’s Michelle Byrne, Penrith’s Ross Fowler and Liverpool’s Ned Mannoun. Compared to the growth-adverse nature of many councils, each of the Western Sydney mayors were very positive about encouraging housing, jobs and infrastructure.
Mayor Fowler said Penrith had more ambitious jobs growth targets, compared to the NSW Government, and was undertaking a place-shaping program. He said much of the 10,000 hectare Western Sydney Employment Area (which includes the Badgery’s Creek airport site) was in his council area and the council was keen for a single planning authority to deliver that initiative.
Mayor Byrne said The Hills Council was encouraging a range of housing, including new apartments near the North West Rail Link. She said retirees were choosing to stay in The Hills and were often keen to downsize. She said infill housing did present some community consultation challenges, given the area’s traditional low density nature, but she wanted to make sure the new rail link was well-used and there was strong support for the link. “We don’t want ghost stations,” she said.
Mayor Robinson said Blacktown Council was encouraging four urban renewal precincts with the potential for tens of thousands of new homes along with continued broadscale greenfield urban land release. He also outlined the potential game-changing benefit of the proposed southerly extension of the North West Rail Link through Marsden Park and the Mt Druitt housing estate, which would potentially help link areas of high youth unemployment with the potentially jobs-rich airport site. Transport for NSW is currently consulting on rail corridors in the region.
He did point out, however, that his council had an official position – through a very slender majority – against the airport.
On new greenfield house block sizes, Mayor Robinson said there was no question block sizes were falling and he didn’t have a problem with it. A recent UDIA report focused on this trend.
“Most people are coming to our area from Asia or Europe, and they don’t want a big backyard, they want a small area to raise a family and a park nearby where they can kick a ball around,” he said.
Mayor Mannoun spoke about Liverpool Council’s desire to revitalise the Liverpool CBD. He also agreed with smaller block size trend, saying it helped affordability and at the same the increased density supported community vibrancy. He said the airport site was totally in his area and they wanted to encourage knowledge-based jobs. “We want more than a cow paddock with a few planes landing in it,” he said.
Mayor Chedid spoke about his council’s plans to grow the Parramatta CBD and encourage a light rail network along the Parramatta to Epping corridor, where heavy rail was once earmarked. He spoke about the city-building benefits of light rail, over people sitting in cars in congested roads. He said Parramatta should not be considered Sydney’s second CBD, but the capital of Western Sydney. He said Parramatta was open for business and was deliberately recruiting staff with private sector experience to reflect this.
The number of people attending the event was far higher than the same UDIA event last year. Albin said this was a reflection that the Western Sydney property industry was “going gangbusters”.
However, you also got the feeling that the big turnout reflected the fact that Western Sydney is about to undergo remarkable, monumental change.
The region’s councils are ready to challenge perceptions that Western Sydney is all about roads, red roofs and Red Rooster.
They are embracing the potential of smart infrastructure – airports and light and heavy rail – along with housing choice and knowledge-based jobs.
They want positive, sustainable growth and are not afraid to say it out loud.
In short, the region is finally on the way to becoming self-sustainable – being able to provide enough of its own jobs, lifestyle and amenities – without its residents having to rely on a distant, foreign CBD to the east.
* My employer KJA had a table at the event and is an expert in delivering communication and consultation programs which are necessary when creating great places