Chief Executive of the Urban Taskforce Chris Johnson says the State Government is at risk of going “weak in the knees” over the renewal of Parramatta Rd.
Mr Johnson, whose organisation represents property developers and financiers, welcomed last week’s announcement of a $200 million redevelopment program for the ailing highway, but warned it would not go far enough without a more ambitious target for job and home creation.
The construction of the WestConnex Motorway will take cars off Parramatta Rd and allow for a renewal project that would plant trees, add bus lanes, replace footpaths and remove power poles. The government has also flagged the rezoning of the corridor to allow for apartment buildings of six to eight storeys, and up to 16 stories in some areas, which would create 25,000 new homes and jobs over 20 years.
But Mr Johnson said the target should be closer to 100,000 homes and jobs, attainable by developing not just the road itself but a block back on either side. He said towers of 20 to 25 stories would be appropriate near existing transport hubs.
“What I’m trying to encourage is the vitality and the absolute plusses of a more urban environment,” he said. “If we try to have one foot in both camps [suburban and urban], it’s just not going to achieve its potential.”
The State Government’s sensitivity to community attitudes about change is understandable, Mr Johnson said. A 2011 Productivity Commission report found 64 per cent of Sydneysiders did not like the idea of a population increase, compared to 52 per cent in Melbourne and 38 per cent in Hobart.
“Sydney is leading the pack around the country in expressing concerns about growth and change,” Mr Johnson said. “That’s creating tension with those who have always seen the suburban model as the Australian dream.”
Projections indicate Sydney will accommodate an extra 1.5 million people over the coming 20 years, making the development of high-density corridors a necessity.
UrbanGrowth NSW, the government agency responsible for the project, said towers are more likely around the western section of Parramatta Rd at Strathfield and Granville. And Mr Johnson argued that the heritage quality of existing buildings in areas such as Annandale needs to be respected.
Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne reiterated plans to turn the road into a precinct for live music and entertainment, which would require rezoning by the state government.
“With a vacancy rate of over 30 per cent in retail properties on Parramatta Road, we cannot afford to wait for decades to begin the economic rejuvenation of the run down strip,” he said.
But Mr Johnson told the Inner West Independent there was no conflict between the two plans, which would both allow for a “vibrant, mixed-use environment”.
Leichhardt Greens Councillor Rochelle Porteous told The Sydney Morning Herald there had been “zero consultation” with local councils and expressed concern about local planning policies being ignored.
But UrbanGrowth NSW says it intends to consult councils and other stakeholders in the formulation of a structural plan to be completed by December.