Building Sydney's Future in the West

24/1/22, 8:04 am

Building Sydney’s third city from the ground up is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show what we can achieve by pushing the limits of innovation while creating real value for citizens.

It’s also a tremendous responsibility. Sydney’s Western Parkland City and Aerotropolis, to be known as Bradfield, is the test case for an integrated city of the future. As the building works progress, what are the crucial elements for ensuring the city meets community needs and expectations?

As part of NEC’s Immersion 2021 event, we threw out this question and more to a distinguished panel comprising:

  • Roch Cheroux, Managing Director at Sydney Water
  • Duncan Challen, General Manager Business Development at Celestino, and
  • Geoff Roberts AM, Chief Commissioner at Greater Sydney Commission and Chief Investment Officer at Investment NSW.

The session was led by moderator Helen Hamilton-James, Managing Partner - Western Sydney at Deloitte.

What follows is a snapshot of their challenges and hopes for a truly 22nd-century city.

Not just a business park, but a community

The vision for Bradfield describes a cohesive mix of arts and education, recreational facilities, utilities, and innovation hubs. For Roch Cheroux, the biggest opportunity of Western Sydney is creating something from scratch - something that doesn’t exist anywhere else, where people will want to live, learn, work, and play.

It has been tried before in other parts of the world, not always successfully. Cheroux, who has experience working in the water industry in France, observed first-hand the business districts built in the 1970s in Paris: treeless cityscapes with no green space. As he says: “They are only about business and nothing about life.”

A real modern city is “not creating a place where people will go to work and then go back to another place in Sydney where they live,” Cheroux adds.

That approach will address a huge challenge for businesses in the city: attracting the right talent and businesses.

Lifting our game with a circular economy

For Sydney Water, addressing the urban heat island effect in Western Sydney is a top priority. The circular economy will be demonstrated in the first instance in the reuse of stormwater and recycled water to irrigate trees.

In the longer term, Cheroux says we will need to exploit that nexus between water and energy, and the nexus between water and waste.

But achieving a circular economy needs a real focus by all stakeholders, warns Duncan Challen. One of the biggest challenges is ensuring developers follow a cradle-to-grave philosophy. “We need to start looking at new business models so when we design a building, it will be reused at the end of its life,” Challen says.

And while we’re already starting to move the dial on waste and reuse, Challen believes we need government support in the form of industry mandates to change entrenched attitudes. The enterprises that plan to occupy these buildings will also need to help drive this movement by changing their requirements.

Putting education at the foundation

Western Sydney already punches above its weight in terms of international business, Geoff Roberts says. There are high hopes for Western Sydney to become an advanced manufacturing superpower of the Indo-Pacific region, attracting major international investors and creating an estimated 100,000 new jobs by 2056.

But as Roberts points out, this can’t continue without education.

“Of the top hundred secondary schools in Sydney, 99 per cent of them are based in Eastern Sydney,” Roberts says. “We've got six universities in Sydney at the moment; five of them have their main campuses east of Parramatta.”

He believes there are market failures here that demand government focus. The success of the city will depend on a new education training model based on technical and university training, co-designed by government and enterprise.

Bringing equity for all

It’s not enough to build these impressive new cities and institutions. We must also prioritise equitability of access; and make all citizens feel comfortable living, learning and working in a smart innovation zone.

Sydney Science Park, the city’s $5bn mixed-use epicentre for research, development, education, commercialisation and innovation, is a major opportunity for integrating industry with children from a young age. As Roberts says, children need to be “inspired to be something better than possibly their parents or their grandparents were.”

Everybody must be able to take advantage of what the city offers, including the many migrants and first-generation Australians based in Western Sydney.

“We don't want Western Sydney to be the provider of the cleaners and the car mechanics for Eastern Sydney,” Roberts says.

Engaging with First Nations stakeholders

Western Sydney is home to the largest indigenous urban population in the country. The Deerubbin Aboriginal Land Council is the largest private landowner in the new city.

It’s crucial that we seek the guidance of the local indigenous peoples, the North/South Creek Systems, and show it every day in the design of the city.

Greater Sydney Commission, Celestino, Sydney Water and most of the large landowners in the area are already in talks about how to reflect this. Sydney Water is engaging with the traditional landowners in their development of the site and infrastructure at the Upper South Creek Advanced Water Recycling Centre, as an example.

“It's not only putting a nice Aboriginal painting on the wall, it's really integrating the local people into the development of what we are doing,” Cheroux says. “And through that process, bringing traditional knowledge into what we do.”

This collaboration with First Nations people, and the community more generally, will ensure a future for the existing community while also growing the appeal for others.

Meeting changing needs through collaboration

In a separate Immersion 2021 panel on building customer-centric communities and brands, Amy Brown, CEO at Investment NSW, spoke of the power of geographic precincts in Sydney to “attract global investment, global talent and big corporates.”

Importantly, she also recognised that her government doesn’t have the capability in-house to make a lot of cutting-edge technology. So, it must become the enabler, providing the “digital plumbing” for the “experts from the private sector” to install their equipment or connectivity or technology.

That understanding and collaborative spirit will be essential if Bradfield is to keep pace with exponential changes in technology and consumer expectations. The ability to adapt will depend not just on cutting-edge technology developed privately, but on the private and government sectors working together.

NEC looks forward to supporting our partners through these challenges, working with industry leaders such as Sydney Water and Suez as the development of Sydney’s third city ramps up in 2022 and beyond.

To further understand how collaboration is at the heart of the future of Western Sydney, check out NEC’s Immersion 2021 event.