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The changing face of Pyrmont

Pyrmont peninsula is expecting another face-lift through claims it will “transform Pyrmont into the next jobs hub and economic driver of Sydney.” Photo: Committee For Sydney

By ALLISON HORE

NSW Govt and private consortiums are presenting development plans for Pyrmont’s future…

Pyrmont through the ages has had many faces. The face of Pyrmont today looks a lot different to the Pyrmont that was a working class port area, and the derelict Pyrmont scarred by decades of quarrying of the 1980s.

Over the 1990s the Pyrmont area was the focus of intensive urban renewal projects under the Better Cities Program, which saw many abandoned ex-industrial sites back in public hands. Warehouses were revamped, parks and harbourside walkways constructed, and the Star Casino, the National Maritime Museum and the Powerhouse Museum were built, creating the Pyrmont Sydney-siders know well today.

In 2017, the population of the Pyrmont and Ultimo area had reached just under 25,000 residents, making the Pyrmont peninsula the 3rd most densely populated suburb in Australia, after the Melbourne CBD and the Potts Point and Woolloomooloo area. According to property research firm CoreLogic, the median price of units in Pyrmont is a whopping $929,308.

Transformations
But the Pyrmont peninsula is due for another big face-lift. Over the course of 2020 the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, along with other state agencies and the City of Sydney, is working to develop a new “Pyrmont Peninsula Place Strategy”. The NSW Government hopes that this plan will “transform Pyrmont into the next jobs hub and economic driver of Sydney.”

In September 2019, the NSW Government released their findings from the Greater Sydney Commission’s controversial review of planning protocols in Pyrmont. The commission held meetings with, or collected written submissions from, representatives of the NSW government, local government, members of the community and representatives of industry. The review determined that a place-based approach must be implemented for planning procedures to be “fit for purpose”.

State premier Gladys Berejiklian said that this place-based approach to planning would be instrumental in transforming the Pyrmont peninsula into “the next jobs hub.”

“For our city and State to continue to be the jobs capital of the nation, we need this area to be revitalised. We have successfully transformed Barangaroo into a spectacular waterfront precinct and are in the midst of revitalising Central,” she said in an announcement following the results of the review being released.
“Pyrmont is the next frontier.”

A place-based approach involves breaking the Pyrmont peninsula down into its separate sub districts – including Darling Harbour, Ultimo and Wentworth Park – and identifying the defining characteristics of these areas. Planning regulations, and consideration of development proposals, would be based on the identified character and potential of each area.

The ten “Directions for the Pyrmont Peninsula Place Strategy”, released in March, give an overview of how this strategy will be implemented. NSW Planning minister, Rob Stokes, said that all stakeholders working together with a “shared vision”, through these directions, would further transform Pyrmont.

“Pyrmont is already home to tens of thousands of jobs, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sydney and is a much loved home for many residents,” Mr. Stokes said.

“Strategic planning based on strong collaboration and a shared vision will transform this jobs and tourism precinct into an economic powerhouse over the next 20 years.”
The ten directions include a focus on development that “complements or enhances” the area, creating jobs and industry “of the future”, providing more (and greener) public space for workers, residents and visitors to meet and move around, and a respect for the heritage value. The directions also call for a more “unified” planning framework.

Other plans afoot
Even before the Pyrmont Place Strategy is finalised, major development proposals set to change the face of the area have been flooding in. It was the Star Casino’s tower proposal which sparked the Greater Sydney Commission’s investigation into planning protocols in the first place. The Star’s plan, which was rejected in November 2019 for being “overly obtrusive”, would have seen a $529 million tower including a Ritz Carlton hotel and more than 200 units, sprung on the Star’s waterfront site.

Property developer, Mirvac, has also recently released the amended version of their plan for The Harborside, a shopping center that is currently undergoing the approval process. The existing 30 year old Darling Harbour shopping complex is set to be demolished to make way for a new mixed-use development, which will include a new shopping complex and a 153-metre tower containing 357 apartments.

The controversial move of the Powerhouse Museum, which has faced extensive backlash from the public, will also open up prime real estate for developers if it goes ahead.

Even more ambitious than these projects is the $20 billion “vision” for Pyrmont put forward by the Western Harbour Alliance and Committee for Sydney lobby groups which takes inspiration from globally-renowned foreshore precincts like Marina Bay in Singapore. Their concept would turn the area into one interconnected precinct with “distinct character” and cable cars linking the “world class” attractions in the area.

At the launch for the committee’s vision in December 2019, treasurer Dominic Perrottet suggested the vision could lead to $20 billion in investment and lead to the creation of around 10,000 jobs.

But not all are optimistic about such ambitious visions. At the launch of the Committee for Sydney’s report, Lord Mayor Clover Moore said “the vision has a few ideas that should remain just that – ideas.” She made reference specifically to the proposed cable car network, which she said “is reminiscent of – and will inevitably have the same short-lived appeal – as the monorail.”

Ms. Moore also expressed concern that the Pyrmont Peninsula Place Strategy could be used as a way to push through development proposals which had been previously rejected, like Star Casino’s tower development. In a mayoral minute during a recent council meeting, Ms. Moore suggested she agreed there was a need to consolidate local and state government planning controls relevant to the area, but said that “this process must be driven by genuine research and consultation.”

Pyrmont Ultimo Chamber of Commerce representative, Alex Gibbs, told City Hub that residents and businesses in the Pyrmont area are not opposed to more development and infrastructure but that they want to see it “carefully planned.” He thinks the plan needs to look at how to support local businesses to take advantage of the new development in the area.

“There’s an opportunity for both the business and resident community to look at how we embrace tourism as part of this plan. If we encourage tourism that benefits the local community as well as businesses, because there’s investment in really nice shared spaces,” Mr. Gibbs explained.

“This is an area of the harbour that truly embraces the harbour. Every part of the harbour foreshore is open to the public, which is rare in Sydney.”

The “directions” for the Pyrmont places strategy are currently available online and minister Stokes is encouraging the public to give feedback on the directions.

“Feedback from the community and businesses will play a crucial role in setting the vision for this important precinct so we’ve moved consultation online to make it easier for everyone to share their ideas safely from home,” said Mr. Stokes.

The Pyrmont Ultimo Chamber of Commerce will be hosting an online community forum in May to discuss the Pyrmont Places plan, and they are encouraging business owners and local residents to tune in and have their say.

Mr. Gibbs said, “At this time with COVID 19 there are lots of distractions for local business, so it’s hard for businesses to think long term.”

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