Greater Sydney’s population is forecast to reach 8 million by 2056 and, proportionate with current population density and land use statistics, more than half of this growth will be concentrated to the west of Paramatta.
Last year, in a bid to more evenly distribute access to jobs, housing and services across Greater Sydney, the NSW Government adopted land use, transport and infrastructure strategies and began its quest to deliver the Greater Sydney Region Plan – A metropolis of three cities.
This “polycentric” design will see Greater Sydney transform into three separate precincts. The Eastern Harbour City along the coast and harbour; the Central River City with Greater Parramatta at its heart; and the Western Parkland City, clustered around the new Western Sydney Airport, Liverpool, Penrith and Campbelltown.
The overarching strategy: a city in which most residents will not need to commute for more than thirty minutes to their workplace, educational facility or other services. A city with less traffic, less pollution and more equitable access to opportunity.
A seductive vision
“The three cities vision, looking ahead to 2056, will deliver a liveable, productive and sustainable metropolis where everyone more equitably shares the benefits and opportunities that come with the future success of the region”, Greater Sydney Commission Chief, Lucy Turnbull, told Informa ahead of the Sydney Morning Herald Population Summit.
“This includes more equitable access to housing; with jobs, education and services in closer proximity. This is aligned across the Greater Sydney Region Plan, Transport for NSW’s Future Transport 2056 and Infrastructure NSW’s State Infrastructure Strategy”.
So far, the plan is progressing well and looks set to be a success. “We have Greater Parramatta now confirming its status as Greater Sydney’s second CBD, in high demand for homes, and with both Government and businesses investing in locating key staff there.
“The growing Westmead Health and Education precinct is a world leader; and billions are being invested into better transport connections and the establishment of top-tier cultural assets.
“In addition, the Western Parkland City, from where far too many people are commuting for hours every day to work, will benefit evermore from rebalancing Greater Sydney.
“All three tiers of government are committed to the success of the Western Parkland City, as a major economic hub for advanced industries, home to world class tertiary education and connected to their world through the Western Sydney Airport”, Ms. Turnbull added.
A controversial model
Though unique in Australia, polycentricity is not a new concept and has been implemented in cities like London, Paris and Seoul. But not everyone is convinced the model will work in a city which has been, historically, highly centralised.
Some critics have expressed concern over social license, with issues arising from potentially angered communities residing in suburbs which are not prioritised within the plan.
This has been seen in previous infrastructure planning initiatives. In “A Plan for Growing Sydney”, the NSW Government proposed extensions to Parramatta and Port Botany, but drew anger from Penrith residents who felt excluded from the growth, as did residents from the remainder of southern and western Sydney.
Similarly, the ‘Latte Line’ which roughly dissected the metro area from north-west to south-east – drew disdain from some Sydneysiders who were concerned about the potential disparity of jobs, income and opportunities between the north and south of the ‘line’.
Collaboration is key
In this regard, Infrastructure Australia CEO, Romilly Madew AO, says that community engagement is a vital aspect of the journey towards Sydney’s polycentric future.
“Planning must be sympathetic to the needs of community and our recent Australian Infrastructure Audit supports that. We found that 80 per cent of people want to be more engaged in decisions made about their community”, she said.
Notwithstanding social licence, Ms. Madew says the real challenges lie in the integration of planning and infrastructure. “The sequencing of infrastructure alongside development is really important. You don’t masterplan a city centre unless transport is planned at the same time, yet we have seen cases of a disconnect between planning and infrastructure in previous growth initiatives”, she said.
“Creating a polycentric city therefore means more than just building additional houses. It means getting the supporting infrastructure, like schools, healthcare and green space, as well as transport connections, to be ‘turned on’ in the right places, at the right time as people need them.
“But the real ingredient for success in a polycentric model is economic activity in those new centres, and that can be a real challenge. So, the work the GSC and the NSW Government are doing in growing the jobs offer in Western Sydney is critical”.
Ms. Madew advocates the use of city deals as a tool to help achieve this. “Collaboration across governments, and even within governments, can be really hard. We’ve seen the City Deal model help in bringing people together, in both big and small cities, to align the policy and investment decisions across governments and plan for what these places need as a whole, rather than what a particular department or council can deliver alone”.
The trajectory for Greater Sydney’s Region Plan looks promising, but what else is needed, in terms of collaboration, integration and community buy-in, to ensure optimal success? And should the vision be extrapolated to Australia’s other major cities?
Ms. Turnbull and Ms. Madew will continue the conversation at the Sydney Morning Herald Population Summit – 23 September 2019 in Sydney – where discussions will range from the Greater Sydney Region Plan to social and affordable housing, congestion and road-user charging and immigration policy.