Transforming the Parramatta Road Corridor: Unlocking Opportunities

23 November 2016
Source: UrbanGrowth NSW

Parramatta Road has long served as one of Sydney’s major transport corridors, heralded at its 1811 opening as Australia’s first highway connecting the Sydney and Parramatta CBDs. Since this time, the corridor has grown significantly and now supports three million commuters each year. Development along the road corridor is equally as important, accommodating a diverse mix of commercial uses, employment zones and homes for 430,000 Sydneysiders.

Over time, the corridor has become affiliated with traffic congestion, noise and air pollution and decaying commercial and employment cores.

These issues have had such an impact that investments in the desirable bordering inner-west suburbs of Homebush, Burwood, Croydon, Canada Bay and Five Dock in the past few decades have gradually moved away from the corridor.  

With the Greater Sydney Commissions’ announcement on Monday of the Draft District Plans, it is now more evident than ever that the focus of Greater Sydney’s growth is to be centralised within the Greater Parramatta and Olympic Peninsula (GPOP), otherwise identified as the ‘heart’ of Greater Sydney.

By extension, the Parramatta Road and Metro West Corridors are the spines linking GPOP to the established Eastern City CBD and still maintain significance in providing physical parameters between the north and south of the cities. With the significance of the Parramatta Road Corridor re-emphasised by the State Government over the past 6-12 months, UrbanGrowth NSW have released The Parramatta Road Corridor Transformation Strategy’.

The intent of the Strategy is to inform land use within the corridor over the next 30 years. The initiative is expected to drive new development in the corridor by promoting investments in homes, jobs, transport, open spaces and public amenity. It is designed to align with the objectives of the WestConnex road construction project and the Metro West link which will both contribute to relieve traffic pressures on the road corridor.

The strategy has been delivered in two distinct sections, the strategic document itself, and the ‘Implementation Toolkit.’ The former provides the long-term framework for future growth in Sydney, while the latter contains specific considerations to be used by decision-making authorities.

The Strategy

The overall vision is a transformed corridor that provides increased amenity, new transport choices and the appropriate mix of housing and jobs.

The strategy seeks to facilitate the provision of 27,000 new dwellings, down from the 50,000 originally earmarked for the precinct in the drafting phase.

The primary focus has shifted to incentivising new and improved commercial development and employment centres, with the creation of 50,000 new jobs forecasted between Haberfield and Homebush. The strategy identifies eight strategic growth centres within the corridor which will become the focus of future investment and opportunities for government and communities to benefit from value sharing.

The centres include:

  • Camperdown
  • Leichhardt
  • Taverners Hill (Petersham)
  • Kings Bay (Five Dock)
  • Burwood-Concord
  • Homebush
  • Auburn
  • Granville

The strategy also promises $200 million for infrastructure projects, to be developed with the cooperation of local Councils, including the newly formed Inner West Council and Cumberland Council.

A particular emphasis is placed upon streetscape upgrades, such as walkways, urban plazas and cycleways. An additional 66 hectares of open space has also been promised, together with 33km of walking routes. 

The provision of a $131 million rapid bus route from Burwood to the CBD has also been earmarked for delivery. The combination of these infrastructure upgrades will deliver the ’15 minute neighbourhood’ target. These particular improvements will be mostly accomplished through the Urban Amenity Improvement Program, a $198 million initiative under the Parramatta Road Corridor Urban Transformation Program.

The creation of vibrant spaces that accommodate a diverse and resilient economy is also featured strongly. In facilitating the renewal of key precincts, the strategy seeks to attract professional services, allied health operations and training centres to the area, while retaining urban service industries to meet the needs of local populations.

By allowing increased densities, multi-use buildings in and around the strategic growth centres will offer viable options for developers and stakeholders. Strategic rezoning proposals will also be used to incentivise private sector delivery of community infrastructure, another classic example of the governments’ confidence in value sharing.

Housing affordability and diversity seems to be at the forefront of all discussions concerning the future of housing Greater Sydney’s population, and it’s no surprise with the average home in Sydney now worth over 12 times the average annual household income.

Crucially, 15,000 of the 27,000 new homes earmarked within the corridor will be delivered in the next 7 years, meaning that post-2023 approvals for housing developments may be more challenging to obtain.

The State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 70 (Affordable Housing) is also being amended to revise the affordable housing targets within the corridor. A target of 5%-10% has been identified by the State Government however many key stakeholders including the Greater Sydney Commission have expressed a desire to set a minimum target of 15%.   

The Implementation Toolkit

The Toolkit contains the specific measures and controls that will be used to facilitate development within the corridor. These documents are given statutory weight through a recently issued Section 117 Ministerial Direction, and thus warrant close attention.

The Implementation Plan outlines specific actions for the precincts. Land earmarked for development prior to 2023 is identified together with pathways for pursuing approvals. Planning Proposals can be submitted via the LEP Gateway Process or the Priority Precinct Process that is led by the Department of Planning and Environment.

Also of significance are the Planning and Design Guidelines. These contain proposed numerical standards for land within the key centres to be incorporated into each of the respective Local Environmental Plans (LEPs), providing a case for more innovative and intensive types of development that reflect the desired future character of the centres. While these controls will not carry the same weight of local planning instruments in the short term, the 117 Direction requires planning authorities to consider the guidelines when assessing proposals for rezoning.

Implications for Owners and Investors

Land owners are realising the potential of these initiatives and are increasingly looking to capitalise on their long-held assets. Equally, investors are moving to acquire land directly on Parramatta Road or within the key ‘Transformation Areas’.

Even after the initial public consultations, owners have been banding together to secure figures such as $9.65 million, as was achieved for a collection of small properties in Burwood. While the majority of transactions have involved Australian developers, as the strategy becomes fully implemented we can expect the influx of foreign capital due to the underperforming Australian dollar.

While the strategy is being praised by some investors in the employment and commercial sectors, others may be critical over the reduced residential targets. In the current climate developers are tending to pursue mixed-use developments in key centres where the uplift is inclusive of higher residential yields to offset costs associated with supportive infrastructure and community assets.

This particular element of the strategy poses a significant challenge to achieving the types of revitalisation in the corridor being sold by UrbanGrowth and it may just be that the revised housing targets are now too low to drive significant change.

Another obvious challenge facing developers and government is the extent of land fragmentation in the corridor, particularly within those established centre peripheries in the inner-west. This very issue has traditionally restricted rezoning and redevelopment opportunities to larger consolidated sites in the inner ring areas. With growing investor interest in the corridor, it may be that expectations of these new land owners far outweigh developer feasibilities.

We wait to see whether or not the Strategy for the Parramatta Road Corridor and subsequent Amendments to the LEPs can accommodate the real change envisaged. 

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