Boulevard of developers’ dreams shackled by red tape

Stephen Nicholls

A TREE-LINED boulevard with trams from the city to Parramatta. Even a metro. And 100,000 new apartments, with 100,000 new jobs thrown in.

That’s the latest ambitious plan for Parramatta Road, and the developer lobby believes it’s all achievable – within 25 years – if a new urban regional authority is established to manage it.

”The Urban Taskforce is calling on the state government to set up an urban renewal authority to help drive a new look for this rundown part of Sydney,” the taskforce’s chief executive officer, Chris Johnson, told the Herald this week.

The former government architect will launch his plans, detailed in a 20-page magazine, Urban Ideas, at a forum on Thursday.

Mr Johnson said the completion of the M4 East was crucial to reviving Parramatta Road but development of the apartments was needed before then.

He said taskforce members had up to 20 sites – some three to four hectares – caught up in council red tape. ”They are looking to develop but they are frustrated because there are nine different councils, different rules along the whole corridor.”

They include about 300 apartments at Summer Hill; more than 1800 in two developments at Auburn and 1300 at Five Dock.

Although yet to be put formally to its owners, up to 10,000 apartments could be built at Flemington Markets.

The developer Iwan Sunito, the chief executive of Crown International Holdings Group, says every council has ”different ideas” so it would be far easier to deal with one authority. ”The state government needs to look at the whole thing as one, especially in this state-significant matter,” he said.

The taskforce plan calls for Parramatta Road to have a much higher density, with six storeys on each side. But further back from the road, buildings could be 12 to 20 storeys.

”If people live in a city they do expect to have a bit of density and a bit of vitality and bustle,” Mr Johnson said. The trade-off would be more green space around the tallest towers and suburban areas could be free from redevelopment.

With 100,000 new apartments, by 2036, Parramatta Road would become the best place to live, attracting young people and creative industries such as businesses similar to Look Print in Leichhardt, whose 70 employees live and work close by.

Look Print’s David Lynch supports the plan. ”A lot of young people want to live in the comfort and security of a cafe society. These are all very young, vital, imaginative and creative people who certainly spend an enormous amount of money in the area.”

Infrastructure NSW is due to make its recommendations to the government in September about the M4 East and other projects. ”I would anticipate that they are looking very closely at the M4 East and other road connections,” the Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, said this week.

While he had yet to see the taskforce’s plan, Parramatta Road left ”a lot to be desired and the potential is enormous”.

Mr Hazzard hinted that a new authority could be established. ”We are looking at restructuring various organisations to have the capacity to drive projects like Parramatta Road and will be making some announcements about that in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

On the metro, Mr Johnson conceded it ”wasn’t going to happen instantly” but suggested it could come about the same time as the very fast train.

”If the very fast train happens, the most likely route would end up with the Sydney stop at Parramatta,” he said. ”If that happens, of course, there would have to be a very fast metro connection back to the CBD.”

He said the completion of the M4 was perhaps 10 years away. ”If it can be done in three, four, five years it would be fabulous, [it’s] just that I know that the state’s pretty broke.”

Mr Hazzard concurred. ”It would be helpful if the recommendations were given in a financially responsible, contextual way, rather than simply expecting money to appear from heaven. The dollars don’t fall from heaven and we have to make those decisions and we’re working on it.”

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