Construction of a new bridge at Wentworth Point, west of Sydney started on Monday, has been fully developed and paid for by the developers of the new housing project, thanks to a value uplift scheme approved by the state government. It looks like a win-win all round.
For more than a decade, whenever Billbergia Group founder John Kinsella and the Scott Carver team sat down with sketches for the Wentworth Point precinct that they were planning, they always added a line across Homebush Bay to Rhodes to represent a footbridge to connect the two communities, according to Scott Carver director Bob Perry.
On Monday that vision was finally realised, with the launch of construction on a $60 million 330 metre bridge across Homebush Bay that is completely privately funded by the Wentworth Point developers, enabled by the uplift in value of additional apartments approved by the state government.
It’s understood to be a first in Australia for a project of this size.
Among the multiple benefits of the bridge that will be shared by the residents of Rhodes and the residents of Wentworth Point are two bus lanes, a shared pedestrian and cycleway, provision for future light rail, closer access to trains and easier connectivity for the electricity network.
In what could well be another first for Sydney, private vehicles will not be permitted to use the bridge. The aim is to exclusively promote public transport connectivity and the healthy options of cycling and walking. Emergency vehicles will be able to use the bridge to improve response times for police, fire and ambulance, if required.
The Wentworth Point Landowners Alliance, which paid for the bridge, comprises Billbergia Group, which initiated the project, brokered the alliance and contributed 60 per cent of the funds, Sekisui House, which contributed 20 per cent, and Homebush Bay properties and Homebush Bay Holdings, which contributed the balance, according to development director for the four land owners, Rick Graf.
Mr Perry said the Alliance entered into a Voluntary Planning Agreement with the New South Wales state government, and in return was able to secure permission for an additional 1300 apartments across the 25 hectare site, which in turn will pay for the bridge.
The state government suggested the bridge should carry buses in addition to pedestrians and cyclists, and the alliance agreed to this proposal.
Connecting people and creating jobs and economic activity
Construction will be by joint venture partners VSL and Brady Marine, with completion expected in early 2016. On completion ownership will be transferred to the NSW government through the Department of Roads and Maritime Services.
The project is expected to create 250 jobs directly, and 1650 indirectly.
Designed by Arup as a precast concrete segmental balanced cantilever bridge 12 m in width, the project will have multiple benefits. This includes reducing the distance from the Rhodes railway station for Wentworth Point residents from eight kilometres to 500 m and enabling easier access to the major retail centres on the Rhodes Peninsula. In turn, the residents of Rhodes will be able to easily access the Wentworth Point primary school, the re-developed Sydney Olympic Park Ferry Wharf and the waterfront and community amenities planned for Wentworth Point.
Ausgrid will also benefit. Currently the main electricity grid runs under the bay via a series of ageing cables which require replacement. To construct the submarine tunnels and replace the cables was estimated to cost $25 million. The bridge will be a designated high tension feeder route, with conduits for the grid’s 132 Kilovolt and 11 Kilovolt cables incorporated into the bridge structure.
“By taking the cables through the body of the bridge, that represents an upfront saving of $25 million for the state government,” Mr Graf said.
Fibre optic cable and recycled water pipes which will enable recycled water to be reticulated from Rhodes to Wentworth Point are also being installed.
A hundred hands on shovels at the sod-turning
A launch ceremony on Monday was attended by the mayors of the two councils that will be joined by the bridge, Mayor Hicham Zraika of Auburn City Council and Mayor Angelo Tsirekas of City of Canada Bay Council, who took charge of a nine metre-long golden shovel delivered by crane. About 100 people who had been part of the planning, design and development approval process were also equipped with shovels and turned some earth.
A vast number of stakeholders
The detailed design, formal planning and development approval process took five years, with numerous stakeholders involved, including NSW Planning, Infrastructure, Transport for NSW, State Transit Authority, Environmental Planning Agency, Road and Maritime Services, Environment, Water, Heritage, Canada Bay, Auburn and Parramatta Councils, Sydney Olympic Park Authority, Ausgrid and many others. Wentworth Point and Rhodes Peninsula residents were also extensively consulted, and expressed a strong preference for the bridge to improve public transport connectivity.
Urban Activation Precinct
The Wentworth Point development has been gazetted by the state government as one of Sydney’s six Urban Activation Precincts, and is situated adjacent to the Olympic Park urban renewal area. The cycle path across the bridge will be the final link in a 30km cycleway which extends from the inner city to Rhodes and then through Wentworth Point to Olympic Park along the Parramatta River.
It’s a social story
From Mr Perry’s point of view, the bridge is “more a social story than a transport story”.
“The bridge will bring people across into Wentworth Point from Rhodes, and visa-versa. And that is an important part of creating a richer community life, as it is important to have people from outside your community coming into it,” he said.
“The bridge project is having a catalytic effect on the optimism of retailers and the community. The amenities are now being planned for Wentworth Point with a sense of optimism.
“It’s always been a bit of a chicken and egg situation of when to put in amenities, as they need to have the people there to use them, but they are also part of what attracts people to a community. The bridge really diversifies the patronage of the community amenities.
“It is a challenging thing trying to build communities.”
The bridge that quietly changes everything
Mr Perry said the bridge is similar to what ecologists call an “influencer” species, a non-dominant organism that has an influence across a significant majority of species in an ecosystem.
“The bridge quietly changes everything. Without it we have two isolated peninsula communities, with it they become much more than communities that stand alone.”
The bridge is also the “missing link” in Sydney’s network of urban cycle ways, and Mr Perry believes it will also have a broader impact in terms of encouraging a pedestrian culture.
“This is also a major piece of health infrastructure as it encourages the idea that the urban environment is as much about pedestrians as it is vehicles. In all the town centre planning and design, everyone is being conscious of it being very much for pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars.
“It is also an example of the private sector just getting on with things, and not waiting for the government to make them happen.”
Wentworth Point – the design
Other key elements of the masterplanning at Wentworth Point that will contribute to an active lifestyle include an activated waterfront precinct, with a promenade for cyclists and pedestrians that extends to Olympic Park, an outdoor recreation area around the bridge access at Wentworth Point, and a total of 3.9 hectares of parks and landscaping.
Currently there are 15,000 people living at Rhodes, and up to 6000 at Wentworth Point across the first stages of developments. It is expected that within a decade Wentworth Point will be home to around 20,000 people or more.
Mr Perry said work will soon be commencing on the 18-room school for 1000 primary students that is being funded by the state government, and there are also plans for the precinct to have a disability centre and library.
Among the four development segments Billbergia’s masterplan portion will include child care centres in addition to retail and commercial office space.
Mr Graf said all the residential developments at both Rhodes and Wentworth Point have been plumbed with a second purple pipe system for recycled water.
The tallest buildings in the precinct will be 25 storeys, and many of the high rise towers will be set above five to eight storey podiums, with setbacks from the street which allow for pocket gardens and landscaping.
Among Billbergia’s section of the site, mature trees are planned for the boulevards with permeable sections in the pavement ensuring they can grow deep roots without disturbing the road surface, and that rainfall can provide a degree of irrigation.
Geotechnical engineering has been carried out to create an engineered topography that raises land levels equivalent to one or two storeys in height. This allows for parking to be provided out of the way of the main streetscapes and resolves the difficulty of providing basement carparking on sites where the natural level of the landscape has a watertable just below the surface.
Other design elements include the use of natural light, natural cross-ventilation, passive solar orientation and thermal massing, with a seven star NatHERS rating aimed for across all apartment developments. Mr Perry said one of the benefits of designing whole city blocks at a time was being able to optimise designs for individual buildings with reference to the other buildings planned for the immediate vicinity.
On its portion of the site Sekisui House has invested more than $1.248 billion in residential apartment projects and surrounding infrastructure on the peninsula including a $12 million contribution to the Homebush Bay Bridge.
The Sekisui House residential projects currently comprise The Address, a four-staged master-planned estate of 996 apartments across 11 buildings and The Waterfront estate of 1155 apartments across 12 buildings situated on 21 hectares of waterfront land. The Waterfront is now completed and fully sold.
President and managing director of Sekisui House Toru Abe said the start of construction of the Homebush Bay Bridge was a major step towards the delivery of the future vision of the entire Wentworth Point urban transformation.
“We are going to refer to Homebush Bay Bridge as our ‘green bridge’ due to the restricted access it will give to private vehicles – it’s bound to have healthy lifestyle benefits for both the Wentworth Point and Rhodes communities, Mr Abe said.
“The NSW government’s plans for the Wentworth Point Urban Activation Precinct as well as the construction of the Homebush Bay Bridge project will dramatically transform Wentworth Point and provide major new amenity for existing and future residents to enjoy.”
The Wentworth Point Urban Activation Precinct is part of the broader Sydney Olympic Park Specialised Precinct, which was identified in the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031 as a location for future jobs and housing growth.