13 June 2012 – The Urban Task Force of NSW, headed by former government architect Chris Johnson, and a design consortium are at loggerheads over who has authorship for ideas to revitalise the traffic-plagued and down-at-heel Parramatta Road corridor in Sydney.

The issue came to a head on Tuesday after the Urban Task Force released details of its plans for the 23-kilometre Sydney to Parramatta route, ahead of a breakfast forum on Thursday to discuss the issue and after Mr Johnson told the Sydney Morning Herald that previous plans for Parramatta Road (pictured) had been “blue sky and not grounded in reality”.

Included in the Task Force plans are light rail, a metro, mixed high density development, a value capture mechanism (to enable uplift in values from rezoning to be used for further investment in zone) and a development authority to manage a 25-year program that crossed the boundaries of nine  councils.

However, according to landscape architect Adrian McGregor of landscape architects McGregor Coxall and architect John Choi of Choi Ropiha Fighera, most of the ideas were contained in a 2002 report they helped produce as part of the SydneyCENTRAL consortium, which won an international design competition in 2001.

In a media statement the pair said “we are shocked that a near identical plan could be released without consulting the original authors”.

Mr Johnson denies that there are substantial similarities. He told The Fifth Estate that the Task Force plan was for a “bottom up” approach – a series of specific development concepts put forward by land owners along the route.

Mr Johnson said he was vaguely aware of the consortium plans but that these were flagged “10 or 12 years ago” and had disappeared without a trace.

Mr McGregor said his team had won the competition sponsored by the Inner Metropolitan Regional Councils and had then spent 12 months developing a detailed 200-page report.

The plan included a metro rail, a light rail, the provision of the “missing link” of the M4 motorway, high density development, a value capture mechanism and a development authority that could steer the program over the next 25 years.

Mr McGregor said he took exception to Mr Johnson’s dismissal of previous plans as “blue sky” and “not grounded in reality”.

“Far from blue sky the completed 2002 SydneyCENTRAL plan involved extensive input from 11 local councils, state government, property groups and local community,” Mr McGregor said.

“We produced a report that is more than 200 pages long and it includes an economic study by Hill PDA.

“We did our work in consultation with the Planning Department and the RTA. All the main [government] agencies were actually part of the plan.

“Nobody at that stage had recognised that road as a growth corridor.

“The plan proposed strategic transport initiatives including the Western Metro, light rail and M4 East connection together with detailed urban development plans for the entire corridor.

Mr McGregor said: “It was the first time anyone had thought about solving traffic on a regional basis.

“We proposed the western metro the M4 East connection, the missing piece of the M4 which would connect via an underground road to the City Link.”

This would liberate Parramatta Road of regional traffic and leave it with mainly local traffic, allowing a flourishing of urban development and activity, he said

“We recognised that by doing that we could create a main street, with local traffic rather than the regional traffic of 80,000 plus cars a day.

“There were other ideas, bits and pieces of ideas on a small scale but nobody had actually thought about fixing the road by solving the regeneration issues, which were largely tied to transport.”

Development would be fostered by a value capture mechanism, which would charge developers a portion of the uplift in values that accrued as zoning changed to allow higher densities.

“We identified all the vacant land and talked to the councils about the best places for uplift and where we could rezone and effectively increase density,” Mr McGregor said.

But despite the plans and promised benefits the plan was never publicly released.

“Now 10 years on and still with no outcome, the time is right for the new state government to take a lead role and pull the original plan off the shelf,” he said.

[The original SydneyCENTRAL team members were: Choi Ropiha Fighera, McGregor Coxall, Vim Design [now DRAW], Stanisic Associates, Hill PDA, The Revolution, TTM and King & Campbell.]

“What’s most interesting around this is that the concept of design copyright and design in a city. This is a crucial … for the creative capital of a city.”

“It needs to be recognised that these are the original authors.”

The Urban Task Force said on Monday that its concept for Parramatta Road was a mixed use ‘liveability’ corridor with 100,000 new apartments and 100,000 new jobs over the next 25 years. This would transform the area into “an exciting precinct with high and medium density development that would leave the surrounding low density suburban areas untouched”.

The road was currently an “eyesore with a hotchpotch of caryards, run-down buildings and decaying infrastructure defining its character”.

Mr Johnson said the Task Force had  co-ordinated proposals by a number of its members with large sites to come up with specific ideas for development.

“With the extent of developments proposed comes the potential for levies that can contribute back to an infrastructure fund,” he said.

“An important part of the Urban Taskforce concept is to have genuine mixed use zoning with as many jobs as apartments. These may well be jobs related to the creative and new technology industries.”

Mr Johnson said the ideas for specific development were designed by nine leading architects.

In response to claims from Mr McGregor’s consortium Mr Johnson said the Task Force plans were essentially developer driven.

“Fundamentally it’s done from a bottom up approach. Now that I’m CEO [of the Task Force] I’ve connected all the developers and got schemes worked up for a whole lot of individual sites.”

Australian Institute of Architects NSW president Matthew Pullinger was involved in the scheme and designed the key image, Mr Johnson said.

“He’s done the map where the light rail and the current proposal for the metro would be. And Matthew is doing the light rail scheme for the state government.

“I have no idea, no information on Adrian’s plans. It was 10-12 years ago when they were working on it.

“It was a competition by the Inner Metropolitan Regional Council that had some competition and it went nowhere, nothing happened. It is hard to understand how I was meant to know the details of a report for IMROC that was never publicly released.

“What we’re doing is something with the developers who own sites.

“The reality about making these ideas work is not blue sky – that it would be fabulous to do this, that and the other.”

“This is about real sites and real developments.”

(However, he said that his  “blue sky” comment was not a specific reference to Mr McGregor’s consortium’s plans.)

Ideas for Parramatta Road include what could happen in specific precincts such as the Flemington Market and the Summer Hill Flour Mill, Mr Johnson said.

“I can’t imagine it’s similar to their scheme because there is no scheme out there that I’m aware of that can be discovered.”

However, Mr Johnson said that was a history reference in the Task Force plan that mentioned the IMROC competition and a Parramatta Road Task Force in 2005-06, which he chaired.

New urban renewal authority
The government had on Tuesday announced it would form an urban renewal authority, which Mr Johnson thought, “ought to be able to drive a project like this because it involves nine separate councils and it’s very complex”.

However, the authority, named Urbangrowth NSW needed to be able to compulsorily acquire land and have the power to grant development approvals, Mr Johnson said.