Inner West Independent

“Absurd” suggestion to demolish heritage power station slammed

Smoke stack on the now disused power station at White Bay. Photo: Wikimedia

By ALLISON HORE

In a suggestion which has raised ire in those passionate about Sydney’s heritage, the NSW Treasurer and Transport Minister have both hinted at knocking down the disused White Bay Power Station in Rozelle.

In parliament, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet called the heritage listed former coal-fired power station a “shocking building” and said it “should be knocked down like the Sirius Building”.

The comments, which cast doubt on the historic building’s future, came as the government announced work had begun on the construction of the Metro West project, billed as the largest transport infrastructure project in the nation’s history.

At a ground-breaking event for the project at White Bay on Wednesday, Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the first tunneling machines for the Metro West project would be in the ground by 2022. He also said he was in discussions about the future of the power station which he said “adds no value” to the prime waterfront land.

“That site no one is able to do anything with so ultimately we’ve got to make some change,” Mr Constance said.

“It’s full of asbestos, it’s a highly contaminated site, it really adds no value…but we’ve got to work through a process in terms of the decision of the government.”

Inner West mayor, Darcy Byrne, hit back at the suggestions to knock down the building which was heritage listed in 1999, calling it an “obscene threat” which would “constitute a crime against the heritage of Sydney”. He said the treasurer’s “absurd” statement demonstrated “deep ignorance” of Sydney’s industrial history. 

“When the Government looks at the Inner West they see dollar signs and development opportunities,” he said in a statement. 

Director of Conservation at National Trust NSW, David Burdon, told ABC Radio Sydney said asbestos in pre-1980s buildings is often cited as an excuse to tear down heritage buildings rather than restore them. But he said it is “not an uncommon problem” and that it “can be dealt with”. He added that although the building is heritage registered, it wouldn’t be enough to save it from the wrecking ball.

“We like to think that when a building is on a heritage register, or on a list, that it is protected. But unfortunately it’s not the case, and there are a number of cases where heritage listed buildings have been knocked down,” he said.

From heritage to Hollywood

Construction on the historic power station began in 1912 to satisfy the power requirements for the expansion of Sydney’s rail network. Electricity production at the site ceased on Christmas day in 1983, making it the longest serving of all Sydney’s metropolitan power stations. 

Heritage enthusiasts say the site has enormous value as the only power station to retain machinery representative of electricity production in the early to mid twentieth century

Now the site is a popular venue for photographers and film and television shoots. Scenes from the 2003 film The Matrix Reloaded were filmed there and the site was used as a principal location for filming of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaption of The Great Gatsby.

A number of plans to save the site have been floated in the past, the NSW Government themselves touted the site as having the potential to be the next “silicon valley”. 

Most promising was a 2016 proposal by Google, who hinted their interest at buying the site to house their Australian Headquarters. A number of design concepts for the building were released showing the heritage structures integrated into functional modern office spaces.

In 2017, Google withdrew their interest due to a lack of public transport into the precinct. Ironic, given it is construction of a major public transport infrastructure project which now threatens the iconic heritage building’s future. But Mayor Byrne said the NSW government had “stubbornly refused” to provide this transport at the time. 

“They promised to create Sydney’s own “silicon valley” at White Bay but now intend to deliver only a pile of rubble by the sea,” he said.

Mayor Byrne said the Inner West council would work together with local community groups to do all they can to protect the site from demolition, opting instead to support “adaptive reuse” of the site. He said that there was no reason for the building to be demolished for the Metro West to be constructed.

“Inner West Council will fight alongside our local community to protect this unique site from the Government’s thuggery and for the adaptive reuse of the Power Station instead,” Mr. Byrne said.

“We will resist any attempt by the vandals in Macquarie Street to put the wrecking ball through this unique site.”

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