Lord Mayor Clover Moore was just one who attended that expressed scepticism. “I’d like to be able to say that I welcomed with unreserved optimism the announcement of the plan to revitalise the Bays Precinct, but government-sponsored urban renewal on public land does not have a good record in Sydney.
“A bit like Charlie Brown in the Peanuts cartoon – who persists in believing that Lucy won’t whip the ball away at the last minute before he kicks it – I engaged in the summit in the hope that things would be different this time. The Treasurer’s target for 16,000 homes in the Precinct, announced on [the previous] Tuesday, made it feel as if the ball had already been whipped away. However, the Minister for Planning assured me that there was no basis for that announcement [as no target had been decided.]
“Any future development should respect the heritage and character of the area. Public access to the foreshore must be maximised.”
Professor Peter Phibbs, from Sydney University, told the SSH that UrbanGrowth should learn from the experience of the overseas experts and not make the area just for the “uber rich”. “Almost all projects overseas have at least 20 per cent affordable housing,” he said.
Professor Phibbs also advocated for good public transport connections, and for getting the public involved early in the planning process. He had a reservation about the summit regarding the latter: “I did think that perhaps there could have been more discussion with the ‘locals’ as part of the event beyond Q and A on panels.”
For Associate Professor Michael Darcy, from the University of Western Sydney, the common principles that emerged at the summit were “to ensure that planning and governance are inclusive, the place is well connected to the city and surrounding neighbourhoods by early provision of public transport and other infrastructure, and there is strong intervention to ensure diversity amongst the future population.
“Everyone at the event agreed on the need to maintain aspects of the working harbour – especially small business operations, but everyone also agreed on the need for continuous foreshore access. This contradiction will need some thoughtful design solutions,” Professor Darcy said. “Like many of the participants I was sceptical about the promises of a ‘blank page’. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, with one exception, the presentation sessions were open-ended and there was a very strong and articulate community voice in the discussions.
“I think there was broad agreement on two things. First, that whatever happens at the Bays, it needs to be a distinctive Sydney solution and not an attempt to reproduce something from elsewhere. And second, that the project should not be rushed – time needs to be taken for all stakeholders to properly understand the sites and also to develop the right planning and decision-making processes before jumping in.”