By ALLISON HORE
Work has begun on the transformation of the south end of George Street, between Bathurst Street and Railway square, into a “world-class boulevard.”
Granite footpaths, outdoor dining spaces, new street trees, seating and lighting are all part of the City of Sydney’s grand plan to permanently pedestrianise the remainder of George Street from Town Hall down to Central station.
The $35-million project will be completed by the city with the help of a $7.05 million contribution from the federal government and a $1 million contribution from the state government. It will open up the whole light rail corridor, from Circular Quay to Central Station, to pedestrians.
Council endorsed the proposal in December last year, saying the additional 9000-square-metres of car-free space in the city’s CBD would be a boost of the economy and support recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19. Temporary pedestrianisation efforts have already led to an increase in foot traffic.
“We’ve loved seeing people reclaim George Street south while the temporary road closure measures have been in place,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
“Now we want to make these measures permanent, giving people more space to window shop, dine and walk while maintaining physical distancing.”
Exempt from tender
Construction will be completed by Sydney Civil, who, controversially, were given the contract for the multi-million dollar works with an exemption from the usual tender process. The project initially went through a tender process in 2019, with applications from 11 tenderers considered. However, the scope of the project has changed significantly since then.
The exemption from tender, which passed through a split council with the Lord Mayor as the deciding vote, covered the not-yet-tendered items including costs specific to constructing around light rail such as hiring spotters.
With the exemption granted, work was able to begin on the project on-schedule in March this year. Mayor Moore says when the project is done it will complete the City’s “long-held vision of turning George Street into wonderful tree-lined pedestrian and light rail boulevard.”
“Block by block, we’re turning bitumen into beautiful paving with room for new trees, outdoor dining and street furniture,” she said.
Gabriel Metcalf, Chief Executive of the Committee for Sydney, celebrated the announcement. He said the pedestrianised section of George Street from Circular Quay to Town Hall had become one of the “world’s best streets.”
“It makes so much sense to extend that magic to the cultural anchor of Chinatown and the emerging tech hub around Central station,” he said.
“We’re excited to see the next phase of Sydney’s public space renaissance unfold.”
Additional car free spaces will also be created on Devonshire street between Chalmers and Elizabeth streets, Surry Hills, with work set to begin in 2022.
Construction work is already underway on the east side of the light rail tracks, near Bathurst Street. Council say work on the project will be completed in stages, block by block, to minimise disruption to businesses in the area.