The Bays Precinct

The NSW government wants to get it right on the huge urban redevelopment opportunities unfurling with its so-called Bays Precincts, finally ripe for limited public airing. Next week it will host a three-day international summit to work out how this can occur. The caveat is that it can’t be like anything that’s happened before. And key speakers are being kept under wraps for now.

The site stretches 5.5 kilometres around the harbour, two kilometers from the city.

Premier Mike Baird said the NSW government would ensure that “underutilised and degraded waterfront areas in and around Blackwattle Bay, the Sydney Fish Market, Rozelle Bay, Rozelle Rail Yards, and the heritage-listed White Bay Power Station are regenerated to provide a vibrant new harbour front”.

The precinct, he said, “presents possibly the most exciting and ambitious urban renewal and city building opportunity in the world today”.

“At the moment we have an urban wasteland that is four times the size of Barangaroo sitting right next to the world’s greatest harbour.

“We owe it to future generations to make sure we get the renewal of such a significant area right, which is why we’ve decided to hold an international summit in Sydney in November, to which we will invite the greatest minds in the field of city building and urban regeneration from across Australia and the world.”

Planning Minsiter Pru Goward said The Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Program would be a 30-year program.

The opportunity is truly immense. Especially on sustainability. And so are the ambitions.

The topic certainly was a strong one at the Salon for Sustainable Precincts a few months back. The call was for things to be done differently. Much differently. The Bays needed multiple developers, not the monochromatic outcome of only one developer seen with Barangaroo.

What was needed said our guests were to set the target outcomes first, before considering design competitions (that might be ignored anyway) or any notions of “how to”.

Key too was the crying need for social housing that would be affordable for the ordinary working folk such as nurses or cleaners, some of whom now have to travel long distances to earn an increasingly shrinking crust.

This week NSW UrbanGrowth chief executive David Pitchford flagged “a new methodology for urban transformation”.

The words sounded good, blending the notion of solid data and rigor with the more creative and innovative flights of possibility that we want to see from urban regeneration.

“It should start with aspirations and needs; about what we want Sydney to be like in the next 30-50 years,” he said in media reports this week.

According to the little that has been revealed about the summit there will be various “assemblies” to discuss different issues under a “Life Cycle informed structure” on Thinking Cities, Funding Cities, Building Cities and Living Cities.

“Starting from an entirely different place to that usually adopted, this Life Cycle will direct, determine and develop our planning, building and city living outcomes,” the official media statement says.

The international experts attending will be a Who’s Who of urban development, even though their names will remain under wraps.

But a hint of their calibre might be this quote from the UrbanGrowth:

“UrbanGrowth NSW’s approach is generating interest around the world. Pedro Rodrigues de Almeida of the World Economic Forum has described it as ‘an alternative, context-driven methodology for the urban transformation of cities with the potential to attract world-leaders and investors’.”

Local attendees will certainly not include developers, except in their role as representatives of industry organisations such as Property Council, NSW Urban Taskforce, along with architects, planners and so on.

There will also be a liberal sprinkling of public servants from various agencies of planning, health transport and so on.

“Because it’s a learning opportunity for policy makers as well,” a spokeswoman for UrbanGrowth said.

The purpose of the summit is “thinking, hearing, discussing, and learning what is possible and how, including funding models and financing options, as well as forging relationships that will enable ongoing collaboration”.

First part is Thinking Cities.

“Before thinking about building designs, our starting position is Thinking Cities – reflecting on the strategic significance of the site, its context economically and culturally, and its potential land uses and beneficiaries. It brings together our ideas, ambitions, aspriations and needs to define what we want Sydney to be,” a statement from UrbanGrowth says.

The second phase, Funding Cities, is clearly an essential “must” to make the wishful thinking transmogrify into something real.

Building Cities, “the usual starting point for major projects” comes at the end, “not just about building design, shape and colours; rather, it is about the highest and best integrated land use and transport planning”.

The risks

But among the big ambitions and opportunities looms another large element, the risk of political backlash.

More than any other state or territory government, NSW is acutely sensitive to the political mire that can swallow up any amount of well intentioned planning ambitions.

Public hostility last year scotched so-called planning reforms that the property industry had so longed for and thought were so close to delivery.

Some of the protests reacted to the community being shut out of decision making at the building approval end. But others verge on an anti-development-anywhere sentiment that ignores the reality that if it’s not urban consolidation, then the alternative is more wasteful greenfield development.

The danger is that the Bays precincts will ignite another storm. Its sheer scale is enough to make the government highly sensitive.

It was bad enough with Barangaroo, a smaller precinct, right on the edge of the CBD.

But then this was a project that morphed from fresh, innocent recipient of an international design competition that was, in general, well regarded by the community – to a developer’s dream with unending changes mostly approved by the state government and all taking away from the public amenity.

Already the feisty local council Leichhardt on which a big chunk of the Bays Precincts currently sits, is not impressed. Mayor Rochelle Porteous this week told well-read local newspaper the Inner West Courier that she was “extremely concerned” about plans for the precinct, about which she’d had a confidential briefing.

Let’s hope the government gets it right this time.

Here’s what the Task Force for the Bays Precinct recommended in August 2012

Public Ownership

1.Publicly owned foreshore lands and harbour waters be retained in public ownership.

Planning Framework

2. Retain sydney harbour reP, sreP 26, sydney LeP 2005, and the adopted master Plans, as the key planning instruments for management of development in the Bays Precinct waterways and lands.

3.The strategic planning principles for the Bays Precinct developed by the taskforce be adopted and applied to decision-making in the Bays Precinct.

4.Where the government’s current review of the planning system may repeal sreP 26 and sydney harbour reP, the aims and objectives, and land use controls of these policies, and including the strategic planning principles developed by the taskforce should be retained in new state, regional or local planning instruments.

5.The land use framework for the Bays Precinct be reviewed periodically in line with metropolitan Planning Policy review.

Lease Periods

6. Decisions in regard to new lease periods for commercial use of lands and waterways be reflective of the type of land uses, commercial and operational risk, capital investment, and any contribution of a proposal to the delivery of public benefits. the process for making all leasing decisions should be consistent with government policy on process and probity.

7.New lease periods be limited to a maximum of 30 years. any proposal for a lease in excess of 30 years include independent review and commercial advice, and be subject to ministerial approval.

Glebe Island and White Bay

8. Glebe island and white Bay continue to be used for commercial port and maritime related purposes, including cruise facilities, bulk trade and a variety of intermittent operational and land/water interface uses, and operate having regard to their location in central sydney and proximity to adjacent local communities.

9. Development of a new dedicated port access road to service port needs at glebe island and white Bay and to provide access to the white Bay Power station be supported.

White Bay Power Station

10. The adaptive reuse of the white Bay Power station for mixed use, providing commercial, community, and educational purposes be pursued as a matter of priority, with careful consideration that redevelopment not conflict with or compromise ongoing flexibility in port and maritime operations.

11. NSW government investigate and test development scenarios for the white Bay Power station site, including adjacent lands extending to the foreshore, in consultation with the local councils, the nsw heritage office and the private sector.

Rozelle Rail Yards

12. Protect rozelle rail yards as a significant asset for delivery of future regional transport requirements.

13. When future transport requirements at rozelle rail yards are clarified, the nsw government, in consultation with Leichhardt council, investigate and test opportunities for mixed use development within the rozelle rail yards, providing recreation, commercial and residential uses that integrate surrounding communities.

Rozelle Bay

14. Rozelle Bay continue development for recreational, commercial and industrial boating, tourism, and maritime operational purposes.

Blackwattle Bay

15. Blackwattle Bay continue development for maritime, commercial and recreational boating, and tourism purposes.

16. NSW government investigate the opportunity to relocate the bulk aggregate terminal and concrete batching operations at Blackwattle Bay to glebe island, in consultation with both local councils, recognising the potential benefits to Blackwattle Bay and the need to address potential impacts of these operations on glebe island on the surrounding local communities.

17. Where relocation of the bulk terminal and concrete batching plant may be achieved the nsw government investigate and test urban renewal scenarios for the Blackwattle Bay precinct in consultation with the local councils and community.

Public Access and Public Domain

18. NSW government investigate potential opportunities and priorities for increased public access to operational port and maritime sites within the Bays Precinct, in consultation with the site operators, both local councils and the local community, and prepare an implementation plan for delivery over the short, medium and long term.

19. NSW government, in consultation with local councils and site operators, review the protocols for managing the connectivity to, and interfaces with, adjoining uses – including matters of operational best practice, landscape treatments, fencing, amenity, lighting and view corridors.

Traffic and Transport

20. An integrated traffic and transport plan for the Precinct be prepared to guide future development associated with urban renewal initiatives.

21. The two portals between rozelle rail yards and white Bay under victoria road be retained as a potential active transport corridor to service future increases in transport demands of the Precinct.

22. NSW government undertake a comprehensive analysis of the costs and transport access benefits of retaining versus removing the glebe island Bridge infrastructure, having regard to future development scenarios, in consultation with the key stakeholders, both local councils, and including independent specialist advice.

Development for New and Alternate Uses

23. Encourage new development within the Bays Precinct that can co-locate with ongoing port and maritime uses, to provide for the needs of sydney as a global city and the needs of the adjacent communities.

24. Rezoning of lands within and surrounding the Bays Precinct for residential uses not be supported, where the introduction of new residential development would compromise flexibility and operation of the deep water berths for commercial port and maritime uses over the long term.

25. Any future proposal for residential development as a minor component of urban renewal must be carefully considered, in respect of its impact on the long-term flexibility in port and maritime operations or public open space uses.

26. Any future residential development in the Bays Precinct should include a component of affordable rental housing consistent with nsw government policy.

The Waterways

27. The continued use of the waterways for a variety of commercial and recreational activities be supported.

28. NSW government prepare a waterway management plan for Blackwattle Bay and rozelle Bay in consultation with local councils, the waterways users, stakeholders and the community to build on current boat safety plans to provide for equitable use of the waterway by all user groups, guide on water infrastructure locations, and minimise the risk of mobilisation of contaminated sediments by vessels.

29. Development of additional public boat ramps and improved commercial and recreational boating facilities to improve direct access to the sydney harbour waterways for local community, residents of sydney and nsw, and international tourists be supported and potential new facilities be investigated in the preparation of the water management plan.

30. On-water development for marinas, moorings and other structures in the waterway be managed to ensure both commercial and recreational boating opportunities and foreshore access are not compromised.

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  1. This is just too naive for a publication that often has good insight. What an insipid set of “recommendations” from the self proclaimed “Task Force”. I’m hoping the Task Force are NOT part of the summit…

    A couple of points: you cannot “keep” all of the existing planning guidelines and expect the type of formative change these lands warrant and deserve. The current regime has not led to significant change. The existing master plan for the Bays Precinct has been in place for almost 15 years and has only ever been delivered in part. It never stacked up commerically. Let us not forget, the Balmain Power Station has been studied so many times you could reignite the power station on the volume of paper written about it. No one has EVER come up with a scheme for this building that is commercially viable AND acceptable to the local Council.

    I expect more joined-up-thinking from the Fifth Estate. This is a disappointingly low brow commentry on urban transformation designed to be beloved by those who do not understand (or care to understand) the complexities involved in City Building.

    Come on people. Get Real.