Controversial multi-billion new CBD under fire
Sydney is looking at the biggest ever expansion of its central business district with a multi-billion dollar project to build a forest of skyscrapers on the city's southern fringe.
Bigger than Barangaroo, itself one of Sydney's largest ever development sites, plans have been released by the New South Wales Government which involves potentially building over large tracts of Central Station, Australia's busiest transport hub.
The government has said Central Precinct, as it's being dubbed, will be a "new destination for the local, metropolitan, regional and global community". It will "draw on the character and significant heritage within (Central) and the surrounding suburbs to foster a unique and vibrant urban place."
But critics of the mammoth project have said the government's plan miss one vital feature while the consultation process has been limited and is "failing local communities".
The government has told news.com.au residents have had "appropriate time" to give their view on the mega scheme.
Central Station is currently a hive of construction with platforms for the Sydney Metro and a new entrance being built. That's nothing compared to what's in the works.
The government's draft Strategic Vision of the Central Precinct covers 24 hectares in and around Central which already sees 230,000 people pass through on an average weekday. The site will eclipse the previous largest single urban renewal project in the state - the Barangaroo redevelopment that is nearing completion north of Darling Harbour.
Barangaroo cost $6 billion to bring to fruition. The larger size of Central Precinct and the sheer complexity of building over masses of operational railway lines means it will cost billions more to realise.
Central Precinct is part of the even bigger Central to Eveleigh rail corridor that encompasses 50sq m of land. That's around a fifth of the size of the current CBD. The 3km long corridor is so long that, overlaid on the city centre, it would stretch from the Opera House south through the entirety of the CBD.
According to documents from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Central Precinct will be divided into 10 sub precincts with "city-scale buildings", primarily commercial, to be constructed on the space above the current railway tracks and to the site's west close to Railway Square.
Global Australian IT giant Atlassian has already been pencilled as the key tenant for an office block.
The government has committed to retaining heritage buildings including the Central Station concourse and clock tower and the defunct Mortuary station buildings that were once used to transport bodies to Rookwood cemetery in the city's west.
However, artist's impressions have shown several skyscrapers could be constructed above other parts of the station away from the Grand Concourse.
More the 14,000 jobs could be created in a new technology hub and the government has highlighted the development will open up more links between parts of the CBD currently blocked by the station's extensive footprint.
It's not convinced everyone though.
The Greens have several MPs in the vicinity of the development. The party's spokesman on planning and heritage issues, Jamie Parker, said there was a conspicuous absence in the plans.
He said the site hadn't been "future proofed" for high speed rail which he noted wasn't mentioned once in the plans.
According to various proposals over the years, Central would be a vital cog in any high speed rail network and it would be vital to preserve space at the station for future services.
"While the precinct surrounding Central is in need of a refresh, this proposal doesn't get the balance right," said Mr Parker, who is also the member for Balmain.
"If the government is looking to sell off 24 hectares of public land, their plan should give priority to public green space as well as social and affordable housing - not just private businesses."
The home of local Chippendale resident Jeanette Brokman will be just metres from Central Precinct with much of the development within the suburb's boundaries.
She told news.com.au the site's designation as a "state significant project" meant planning decisions were out of the control of the City of Sydney council, the local authority.
"There is real opportunity to get the planning for the precinct right. However, the community needs to be in the room working with government and industry in a meaningful way before decisions are taken."
That wasn't happening, she said. In the run up to similar projects in the past, workshops had occurred with several month exhibition periods, not the few weeks that the current plans had been on display.
"It flies in the face of the meaning of collaboration which is frequently flagged in the documents. "We're calling on the Minister for Planning to review the process, as it's failing local communities," said Ms Brokman.
News.com.au contacted NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes. He didn't respond but a spokeswoman for the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said the draft Strategic Vision was merely the "first stage" in the plans for Central.
"The proposals in the draft Strategic Vision are not set in stone and there will be further opportunity for the community to comment on detailed rezoning proposals for individual sites," she said.
"There will be future opportunities for continued community involvement as Transport for NSW (the government's transport agency) sets out the opportunities for the precinct."
The spokeswoman said the plans have been on display for six weeks which was "appropriate time to consider the proposal".
"This is typical of the time frames used for the exhibition of rezoning proposals," she said.
"There were also well-attended drop in sessions to give the community the opportunity to examine the proposals, ask questions and provide their feedback."
A big fan of the Central redevelopment is Sydney City Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
This is despite her previously calling the full Central to Eveleigh plan "shocking". This was because it would see the creation of the densest neighbourhoods in Australia with 70,000 residents per square kilometre and mean more than 20 per cent of the city's land would be taken out of council control.
However, she is more enthusiastic about the plans for the immediate area around and including Central station.
In a statement, Ms Moore said she welcomed the government's draft plan and "fully supported" the rezoning of former transport lands near Central Station as part of a future high tech precinct.
"It is essential that Sydney maintains its status as Australia's leading knowledge based economy and global city, and we can only do that by fostering a culture of innovation."
Ms Moore said the development would boost jobs, preserve parkland and connect workers into a major transport node.
"It provides the opportunity to heal the division created by Central Station, in facilitating better walking connections between Ultimo, Redfern, Surry Hills and the CBD."
Final plans for the site are due to be released in 2021.
The Central Precinct proposals are available online.