With winter out of the way and warmer conditions now upon us, it won’t be long before waves of Sydneysiders start flocking to our city’s beaches.

This is especially the case if you happen to live along the coast or within short distance to our famed watering holes, where enjoying a dip isn’t an all-day excursion.

It is however a little more challenging if you happen to live in Sydney’s west, where the journey to the beaches in the east, north or south, can take anywhere between one to two hours.

Making matters worse, there are areas in Western Sydney that can get up to 10 degrees hotter than their coastal counterparts, meaning those that have a greater need to cool down are forced to either take on the long commute, head out to their local pool or just stay home and pump up the aircon. The recent announcement of the new Parramatta Pool is welcome, if not long-overdue news for locals although they’ll be waiting a few more summers to finally use it.

Another option, and one which has been a policy focus for many Western Sydney councils over the past five years is exploring how we can leverage the region’s vast river network to provide locals with lifestyle and leisure spaces that offer a “beachside” experience, without the stress (and sand) and associated travel.

It’s an issue that the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue has also been advocating for, and which was a key feature in our recent discussion paper Stuck in the Middle – Unlocking the potential of Sydney’s Central City.

The Central City, based on the Greater Sydney Commission’s three-city metropolis (the Western Parkland City, the Central River City and the Eastern Harbour City) defines this corridor as an area that roughly stretches from the Hills in the north, through Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park and Westmead down to Hurstville via Bankstown in the south.

It is home to some of Sydney’s major employment centres, including the likes of Macquarie Park, Norwest and Parramatta, and has a major role linking the east with the west – or new Sydney with established Sydney.

Just as significant is that this corridor is also home to some of the city’s most crucial waterways, namely, the Parramatta, Lane Cove, Cooks and Georges Rivers. The rivers are a unifying feature of the Central City, but it is difficult to argue that they are a source of local pride and identity, at least not like the Harbour and beaches are for the eastern city.

Small sections of these rivers have been used by locals for decades, and in recent times there has been a growing, concentrated movement involving councils, residents and water authorities to protect and enhance their health, while also trying to increase the amount of spaces that are publicly accessible and swimmable.

Organised, passionate groups such as the Georges Riverkeeper, Cooks River Alliance and the Parramatta River Catchment Group have done a remarkable job, in a relatively short period, to raise awareness and through a co-ordinated approach, help drive change.

But is it enough?

One of the key asks in our Stuck in the Middle paper is for the creation of a new City Deal, bringing together the three tiers of government to increase collaboration, focus attention on key city-shaping projects, and attract investment.

We’ve seen it successfully applied to the Western City, which also has its own General Coordinator, and we want to see this same model applied to the Central City.

Another important feature of the City Deal is the liveability fund, which allows councils to nominate their own projects for federal funding – Campbelltown Council’s Billabong Parklands is one excellent example from the Western City – proving that a partnership approach can deliver more than just economic outcomes.

Establishing a City Deal for the Central City, with a strong focus on revitalising the Parramatta, Georges and Cooks rivers, could not only deliver a new, authoritative governance framework to oversee their management, but importantly help secure the funding needed to make our waterways and foreshores cleaner and open for public use.

Western Sydney’s rivers were once a popular destination for visitors and swimmers up until the 1950s and restoring these resources to their former glory is going to require a collective effort that extends beyond just the efforts of cash-strapped councils, water agencies and community volunteers.

A City Deal can be the vehicle to open lines of communication across all levels of government, help co-ordinate planning and investment decisions, and deliver project funding.

If we’re serious about making the most of Western Sydney’s green and blue assets, a City Deal might just be the springboard to rejuvenate our rivers and help make it easier for local residents to make a splash in the coming years.   

Adam Leto is the executive director of Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue.

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