All hands were on deck in Sydney’s South West this week to turn the first sod on Australia’s newest city, Bradfield, that will become the central precinct of the Western Sydney airport Aerotropolis.
A parade of pollies, PR and journos ventured to the patch of empty fields an hour west of the CBD for the announcement of over $1 billion to create NSW’s, nay, the nation’s most advanced manufacturing capital.
“What is now a field of paddocks will become a field of dreams,” said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, unable to keep a smile from her face.
Perhaps she was recalling the ongoing ICAC investigation into whether former boyfriend Daryl Maguire abused his position as a parliamentarian for personal financial gain on land deals in the area. But she doesn’t need to know about that.
“Once the buildings are up, once the major organisations locally and internationally are here working away, thousands and thousands of jobs will be created,” Berejiklian continued.
Subject to approvals, the state government will spend more than a billion dollars over four years to develop government land within the Aerotropolis and fund foundational infrastructure, utilities and other services to draw in private sector interest.
Included in that will be the construction of Bradfield’s first building, a visitor centre and research facility, planned for completion in 2023.
Bradfield itself is just one of several precincts across the Aerotropolis, but is intended to act as the heart of the region and an advanced industry hub. Visions for Bradfield’s future industry capabilities include:
-Defence and aerospace industries, such as unmanned aircraft systems
-Manufacturing and logistics, such as robotics and automation
-Future transport industries, like autonomous and electric vehicles
-Construction technology, such as prefabrication and modular building systems
-New energy and circular economy industries, such as renewable energy generation, lithium battery storage, biodegradable packaging and recycling
While this ambitious list sounds a little like the NSW government has been rummaging through Elon Musk’s wastepaper basket and sticking whatever they find to a wall, there has already been concrete interest and even handshakes from some big name companies to bring global tech to the area.
According to the government, 18 “foundation partners” have made commitments relating to tenancy once the area is developed, including Suez, Siemens, Hitachi, Sydney Water and Northrup Grumman.
The first to sign on as a tenant to the new Aerotropolis happened to be one of the largest companies in the world – Japanese conglomerate, Hitachi. They’re good at tech right?
Based on the success of its Kyoso-no-mori facility in Japan, Hitachi will create a collaboration and research centre that will reportedly add over 85 advanced technology jobs to the area.
“Hitachi hopes to accelerate Kyoso-style collaborative creation in Western Sydney,” company vice president Dr Norihiro Suzuki said from a joint press conference at Macquarie Street back in 2019.
“It means we can attract the brightest minds and the best in business to the region: a great opportunity for economic development and job creation into the future.”
Key for the region to work is the airport, which will stand ready to whisk Australian manufactured goods to the four corners of the, probably by then considerably heated, globe.
Executive director of the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Adam Leto told The Fifth Estate the airport was a significant draw card for international companies looking to put down roots in Australia, with the added bonus of having a seat at the table in the planning process.
“With the airport nearly five years away it’s approaching the time of actually getting down to building the place,” Leto said.
“It’s got most of the ingredients and building blocks ready to go.”
One of the building blocks not yet in place is the critical transport infrastructure that will make the commercial hubs possible (overlapping with the need for similar infrastructure feeding the airport).
The metro line will connect the new airport to the rest of Sydney through an interchange at the suburb of St Marys, east of Penrith, and during its construction is expected to create 14,000 new jobs (if you can believe it).
Although Leto says there is currently no connection north or south of that where it can link up to the CBD.
“Where it ends in St Marys you’ll see the gap between St Marys and where the North West Metro starts, so that gap needs to be filled in, and down south you’ve got the opportunity to connect that down to the Leppington Line.”
“Both the north and southern links of that airport line need to be considered and prioritised in a fairly timely manner I would imagine.”
Go west (this is what we’re gonna do)
Tasked with bringing Sydney’s “tale of three cities” to life is state government body the Western Parkland City Authority, under the guidance of chief executive Dr Sarah Hill and board chair, Jennifer Westacott who is also head of the Business Council of Australia.
The WPCA’s role is to work with the eight Western Parkland City councils – the Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Penrith and Wollondilly, and relay messages, gripes and loveletters up the chain to state and federal government ears.
Helping keep councils on side is The Western Sydney City Deal signed in March 2018 by state, federal and council representatives for a $150 million “Liveability Program”, which thanks to additional funding commitments from the councils ballooned to $190 million.
The program directs funding to community infrastructure and public spaces across the Western Parkland City, including parks, sporting facilities, rejuvenated town centres and art and cultural spaces.
According to the website, “projects will deliver community facilities, improve urban amenity or enhance liveability, to enable and complement new housing supply.”
Western Parkland City is projected to grow from 740,000 in 2016 to 1.1 million by 2036, and to well over 1.5 million by 2056. A doubling of the population is slightly more than projections for Sydney’s overall population.
With the expected influx of people comes the imperative for the government to ensure the Aerotropolis is an effective combination of commercial and residential, rather than just another business or industrial park where no one wants to live.
Celestino for Science Park
It’s not just the Bradfield region of the Aerotropolis where commercial and residential innovation will meet. In the Northern Gateway, on the opposite side of the airport, local developer Celestino plans to create the Sydney Science Park.
Celestino purchased the land for the Science Park back in 2010, when a second international airport in Sydney was still a dream and, forgoing less ambitious plans for the site, forged ahead with creating a state-of-the-art innovation hub.
The company is now the largest private landowner in the Aerotropolis.
Interim chief executive Matthew Scard told The Fifth Estate that the zoning granted on the site provided the unique opportunity for a blend of commercial and residential uses
“The B4 and B7 zoning in particular with a mix of permissible uses. So we can actually integrate commercial, industrial with retail, education and residential and I think the key point there is residential,” Scard said.
Scard referred to other business parks where “the lights go off” after business hours and said Celestino was looking to do something very different with its approach.
“The government’s got a similar vision now for Bradfield and it actually makes sense, a lot of people want to work closer to home, it’s better work-life balance, and if your kids can go to school there as well it will really help redistribute people’s movements around Sydney and helps people enjoy Western Sydney more versus leaving it everyday to work in the east.”
That urban heat island problem
Key to making the area liveable is solving the urban heat island issue which has plagued much of Western Sydney and can see temperatures soar up to 10 degrees hotter than the coast in summer.
Helping Celestino to influence lower temperatures at the Sydney Science Park will be an integrated water recycling plant, similar to the one the developer established at its residential estate, The Gables (with the help of then Flow Systems which is now Altogether).
As part of a deal with Sydney Water, recaptured water will be used for green spaces crucial for keeping the temperature as low as possible across the Science Park.
“We’re going to put a lot into the study of the trees and the plants and how recycled water impacts the soil profiles and capture data to actually learn through this project,” Scard said.
It’s hard not to be excited about the prospect of a brand new city built in Western Sydney, with the greenfield potential of incorporating all our best knowledge and a chance to start fresh.
Optimism is rarely wasted and if the project is half as good as what’s being promised we look forward to seeing it for ourselves one day.