An artist's impression of a revitalised Parramatta Road at Granville.

Sydney’s aesthetically challenged Parramatta Road looks finally set for a major makeover after this week’s release of the $31 billion Parramatta Road Corridor Urban Transformation Strategy. The plan is now to slash the number of houses previously slated for the area while increasing the amount of commercial development.

UrbanGrowth NSW, which released the plans, said the strategy responded to two imperatives: supporting Sydney’s growth and making the corridor a better place to live, work and visit. The road, as many Sydneysiders know, has been plagued by congestion, pollution, declining amenity and high vacancy rates for years.

The new plan predicts room for 27,000 new dwellings along the corridor, which stretches about 20 kilometres from Camperdown to Granville, as well as the potential for an additional 50,000 jobs. The figures are a major decrease from the draft plan’s 40,000 dwellings, and previous UrbanGrowth figures of 50,000, with the change related to concerns over local infrastructure capacity and a Greater Sydney Commission plan to increase commercial activity in the vicinity.

The strategy plans to create a diverse range of housing types, including affordable housing, as well as attracting new business, promoting sustainable buildings and transport options, providing for increased open space and encouraging active lifestyles.

On sustainability there will be “best practice” BASIX Energy and Water targets, five-star NABERS minimums for commercial buildings, reduced car parking, 66 hectares of additional open space, and the potential for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to a base case.

“The Parramatta Road Corridor of the future will offer residents and road users improved transport – including more efficient and reliable public transport, and walkable neighbourhoods,” NSW planning minister Rob Stokes said. “It will be a better place to live and work, while preserving the things we love about our local areas.”

Affordable housing is a key plank, with a minimum five per cent slated for the area, though the plan says the target would be able to be changed “in line with government policy of the day”.

The plan, however, hinges on the controversial WestConnex motorway shifting 50,000 vehicles each day off Parramatta Road. Whether the shift will occur is uncertain though, with modelling by SGS Economic & Planning for the City of Sydney predicting increased traffic volumes on Parramatta Road of up to 25 per cent as cars try to avoid hefty tolls.

Labor seems to agree.

“The exorbitant tolls they’re putting on the M4 will push more traffic than ever back on Parramatta Road and that will make improvements to amenity and people’s quality of life impossible,” NSW opposition leader Luke Foley told media.

The Greens also stepped in, lambasting a lack of commitment to additional public transport.

“Without a commitment to light rail on Parramatta Road, or green open spaces for our kids to play, the government is simply proposing more crowded residential towers with poor transport connections,” Greens spokesman on urban growth and renewal Jamie Green said.

Opposing responses from industry

The news was welcomed by Shelter NSW, a peak advocacy organisation for affordable housing, with executive officer Mary Perkins saying it had better outcomes than the draft plan previously on display.

“The lesser number of dwellings and households planned for, though still significant, will allow more linkages to employment opportunities and allow better planning for urban amenity,” she said.

She also said there were concrete actions to encourage affordable housing, including the insertion of affordable housing principles in local plans; the identification of all the local government areas in the corridor as having a need for affordable housing; and the preparation of consent conditions on development that enable the levying of monetary contributions to fund affordable housing.

However she said the minimum target of five per cent for affordable housing was “underwhelming”, particularly as the state government was driving planning controls and land use for the corridor, with land surrounding set to see a significant value uplift.

“In these circumstances, a target of 15 per cent would be more appropriate,” she said.

The Urban Taskforce, however, was critical of both the reduction in housing numbers and the affordable housing contribution.

“It was only a few months ago that the planning minister announced that Sydney’s population growth was stronger than previously anticipated in the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy, requiring 10 per cent more [housing] than expected, so a 33 per cent reduction in housing targets in the very desirable inner city area seems to be contrary to government’s policy,” chief executive Chris Johnson said.

The five per cent affordable housing levy would have “a negative impact” on project feasibility, he said, and would likely increase the cost of the other 95 per cent of housing.

“Hopefully these negative signals to the development industry will not dissuade them from developing in this precinct as Sydney is in dire need of more housing supply,” he said.

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