The state government’s plan to transform Parramatta into Sydney’s second CBD is coming to fruition, with developer dollars and white-collar jobs pouring into the city. But while the private sector is keen to go green, the public domain is lagging behind.
According to former City of Parramatta Lord Mayor and current Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber, David Borger, a greater emphasis on green space and street trees is crucial to deliver a sustainable CBD.
Mr Borger is an urban planner, and was a minister in the 2007-2011 NSW State Labor government holding the portfolios of Western Sydney, roads and housing, and also assistant minister for transport.
He told The Fifth Estate the city was growing both upwards and outwards, with increasing numbers of young people coming to Parramatta to live and also for recreation. He said the city expected to see around 10,000 new residents in the next few years.
But in terms of making great places to attract and retain people, what is missing is the kind of boulevard that marks other great cities, he said. The city needs the tree canopy and “shady places” that tie places together.
For example, along Argyle Street where the Parramatta rail station and transport interchange is located, there is “not a single tree”, he said. The trees were “squeezed out” of the urban design by development and engineering specifications.
“That [lack of trees] pushes people away. It increases the urban heat island effect and glare – and people feel uncomfortable,” Mr Borger said.
“And that is their first experience coming into the city.”
He said the city needed an alliance of both private and public sector to prioritise trees in the city.
“There is a real estate dividend, and a human dividend,” he said.
“Street trees are a simple thing to do to attract investment.”
The momentum to fix the streetscape needs to come from the public sector, particularly council, as it has responsibility for streets, verges and footpaths, Mr Borger said.
In terms of private sector developers in the city area, he said the new housing estates are “getting their acts together” as developers are recognising the dividend that comes from trees and green space.
“Some of the new large projects incorporate great landscape at the beginning [of the development],” Mr Borger said.
Some of the commercial buildings in the city centre are also going literally green, such as the Commercial Hotel, which has installed a large green wall.
Sustainable buildings are also part of the city’s CBD transformation. Mr Borger said corporate land developers including DEXUS and GPT did try to incorporate green principles in their commercial projects.
Increasing development activity and corporate buy-in
There is a huge amount of development activity, including a three-tower project by Lang Walker that is designed to deliver 110,000 square metres of commercial space, providing for around 10,000 workers. The developer is currently at the stage of negotiating pre-commitments from potential tenants.
Mr Borger said the professional services sector was growing strongly in the city. Deloitte has shifted to Parramatta bringing 400 staff; KPMG plans to be there in two years’ time and PWC is opening a new office in January or February next year.
Professional services firm GHD is already established in the area, and planning to double its staff in Parramatta to 160 in the next couple of years, he said.
The mid-size firms are also growing in presence, particularly law firms, he said, and Sydney Water is moving all its utilities, professional services and engineering personnel to offices in the city in the near future. Lendlease too is moving its engineers there.
This ballooning number of services firms also means a greater number of highly professional, well-paid people not only working in the area but also utilising retail, services and potentially taking up residence.
It will also mean greater demand for accommodation, and there are five major hotel projects either planned or underway, Mr Borger said.
The Park Royal Hotel is planning to double in size, he said. Meriton has 200 serviced apartments planned, Crown Group both a hotel and serviced apartments, Sheraton plans to develop a new hotel with the next three years, and W Hotels also has a development planned.
Domestic investment dollars
One noteworthy aspect of the flurry of capital investment in developing within the city is that the majority of the money is domestic investment, not offshore developers.
Mr Borger said it is possible there will be 6000 more public servants working in the CBD within the next few years. They include staff from the Department of Education, Office of Environment and Heritage, Attorney-General’s Department, Police Department and NSW Water.
Other major projects in the city include the $1 billion expansion of Westmead hospital, a new Western Sydney university campus that will host around 10,000 students from January 2017, the planned relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, the new National Theatre of Parramatta in the Civic Precinct, and the redevelopment of Parramatta Stadium.
Culture is a real focus in the city’s transformation, Mr Borger said. Tropfest, for example, recently relocated to a base in the city.
Retail to boom
Retail is also ready to go through a cycle of revolution, he said. The growth in the number of residents provides increased demand for retail.
Major new retail centres are planned, existing ones are being redeveloped or refurbished, and the majority of the new commercial buildings will have retail spaces at the base of the buildings, he said.
Light rail and why car growth needs to stop
One of the key infrastructure projects that will benefit the city is the planned Parramatta Light Rail.
“The light rail is a big shiny new project that will connect the CBD better,” Mr Borger said.
It will run from Westmead Hospital to Strathfield.
“When light rail arrives it will be an opportunity for some people to leave cars behind,” he said.
There will also be an opportunity to create transport interchanges outside the centre of the city where people coming in from the northwest, the hills or the south for work can park and then use light rail.
Mr Borger said one thing the city could not do as it grows is increase car usage in its centre.
Bikes on the way
Another positive infrastructure project is the Parramatta River Valley cycleway, which will provide a continuous cycle route from Olympic Park to Parramatta Park once it is completed. The project is being funded by Parramatta City Council and the NSW government.
Mr Borger said it does not currently have enough rest places along the route, however there are significant opportunities for new businesses along the cycleway that can provide for rest and amenity.
He said that the Armoury Cafe at Newington, which is on the route, is “fed almost exclusively by cyclists”.
Building code barriers and public amenity needs
One of the barriers to similar enterprises, he said, is the local building code, which has prevented developments in some areas due to flood risk. This might make mobile businesses or the use of ephemeral “pop up” type structures a viable idea.
A major weakness the city has in terms of its renewal is that the work on public amenities in the city centre has not yet been done.
“There is no playground in the centre of the city anymore,” Mr Borger said. There was one, but it was moved, and has not yet been put back.
“Tens of thousands of people use the centre of the city every day. It is not just a CBD, it is a multi-use centre, and there are lots of children,” he said.
“I don’t think we think enough about children and plan for them.”
There is a new playground on the Parramatta River that was built by the council, however it is not a walkable distance for children from the centre of the city and the train station. The riverside park will be used more by people living in the new apartment developments springing up along the river.
There needs to be a number of play areas in the city, he said.
One park that is in walking distance is Parramatta Park, which is managed by the NSW government.
Mr Borger said the park has been undergoing substantial upgrades under the leadership of Sue-Ellen Fitzgerald, a landscape architect.
Works have included a high quality playground, a new landscaping strategy and plantings, an upgrade to the amphitheatre, new food and beverage outlets and introducing retail within small Heritage cottages on the grounds.
Council this month released an updated concept design for the public domain element of the $2 billion Parramatta Square urban renewal project. The plans are on exhibition for public comment until 12 October.
Designed by 4² – a collaboration between James Mather Delaney Design, Taylor Cullity Lethlean, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer and Gehl Architects – the plans include a number of sustainability and smart city elements.
They include a “digital carpet” paving treatment that can incorporate the generation of sound and power, lighting displays, public art installations and holograms outside the civic and community building.
Also outside the civic building, the design team proposes a series of water pools or billabongs that can be turned on or off in response to the weather to provide cooling on hot days and that will also encourage children to play.
The team also designed for a grove of Cabbage Tree Palms with “smart” shading structures that can incorporate digital art, cooling mechanisms and solar-powered USB charging, as well as shading seating.
At Aspire Tower, a series of grassed terraces are proposed, and grass terraces are also proposed outside two other buildings in the square.
The plans also include spaces for people to have picnics, relax and gather; pathways for passing through the Square; and event spaces.
City of Parramatta said the projected $36.5 million budget for the public domain will be funded by the development of Parramatta Square, and delivered at no cost to ratepayers.
“In the 12 months since releasing the Draft Concept Design, Council has had much more information to incorporate, including community feedback and key milestones in Parramatta Square making it possible to provide a more meaningful approach that took all buildings in the space into account,” City of Parramatta council administrator Amanda Chadwick said.
“The community have told us they want flexible places to meet and relax, the provision of public art, and spaces for entertainment and events.”
Ms Chadwick said council has also adopted a technology masterplan for the precinct.
“Now that we know what all of the buildings in Parramatta Square will look like – including Council’s landmark civic and community building – it was important for us to revisit the Draft Concept Design to ensure the Public Domain meets the needs of residents, workers commuters and visitors to our City, as well as Council’s vision for a preeminent civic and ceremonial space fit for public events,” Ms Chadwick said.