City Futures Blog

News and research in housing and urban policy, from Australia’s leading urban policy research centre.

City Futures Blog random header image

The 30 Minute City (part 2): challenges and opportunities in Western Sydney

Posted by on August 29th, 2016 · Cities, Government, Guest appearance, Housing, Planning, Social housing, Transport, Wellbeing

By Kerry Robinson, General Manager, Blacktown City Council. This is the second of a two-part series adapted from presentations to the Planning Institute of Australia mid-winter breakfast on the 30 minute city; see part 1 by Professor Susan Thompson, City Futures Research Centre.

2016_Blacktown hospital-aerial-Skyview

Blacktown City is 20-22 km across and home to 348,000 people, 111,000 jobs and a $14.billion economy, the sixth most productive economy in New South Wales.  In 20 short years Blacktown will grow to over half a million people, with 180,000 jobs and an economy of $30 billion, nearly double what it is today. Blacktown is just one City within Western Sydney. Western Sydney has a population of 1.691 million, and an economy of $95 billion which will soon have a population of more than 2 million people.  By way of comparison, the Gross State Product of Tasmania is $24.5 billion and its population is about 500,000 people.  The population of Canberra is less than 400,000.

The barriers to achieving an equitable city in Blacktown are enormous. For starters, a bus takes 27 minutes to travel from Willmot to either Mt Druitt or St Marys Railway Stations.  It is a trip of 7 kilometres.  The journey to work would take me 12 minutes by car.  Let’s be more generous: let’s say I’ve just moved into Stockland’s Elara Estate in the middle of Marsden Park, in the middle of the carefully planned north west sector.  My journey to work at Mount Druitt will take half an hour.  What all this points to is that the 30 minute city at the moment is smaller than Blacktown.

Housing equity

Housing equity is also an extremely important component of the 30 minute city. The greatest social problem in Western Sydney is the aggregation of disadvantage in social housing estates. Blacktown has whole suburbs of social housing: Willmot and Shalvey.  It also has many estates which have hundreds of homes but are somewhat smaller than a whole suburb. If we are to achieve equitable cities, social housing must be spread across the whole city.  Not just across the affordable bits, but everywhere! I have absolutely no problem with the good burghers of Vaucluse and Dover Heights taking their share, notwithstanding that the cost of delivery will be higher than in Airds or Claymore.

In my role as a Director of Link Housing, it would be remiss of me not to say that the community housing sector has a huge part to play in delivering housing equity.  However, it can’t just be handed the old problems.  Whilst it can bring skills and opportunities, government needs to inject equity and this is a problem which exists across the whole of the country.

Housing equity also needs to address the issue of affordability. This is an issue for which there is no silver bullet.  Politicians are understandably shy of addressing the root cause of affordability.  It is a land valuation truth that the relative value of a new block of land at the edge of the City is inextricably linked to the value of the home which sits beside it.  That home’s value relates to the value of the one beside it and so on.  We cannot continue to accept platitudes which talk about fixing affordability by fixing the supply of new lots which represent in any one year less than 1% of the turnover of dwellings across the City.

Culture, arts and education

Now, returning to Blacktown. Blacktown also has huge diversity.  We have a population from 184 countries with 156 languages.  We have suburbs with the lowest SEIFA Index scores in Sydney.  We have 11% of our housing stock as social and community housing.  And yet, the newly developed suburb of The Ponds is ranked as one of the most socially advantaged in Sydney.

But Blacktown is not a 30 minute city; a city with equity; a city with work, study and recreation within 30 minutes. As with the rest of Western Sydney, Blacktown lacks the resources which successive governments have chosen to lavish on the east.

Blacktown Canberra Tasmania
Population (2011 census) 303,528 356,585 495,354
University Campuses 1 3 1
Stadia 13 7 17
Symphony orchestras 0 1 1
Art galleries 1 24 53
Libraries 5 10 35

And yet, the State and the Commonwealth are happy to continue a model of arts and culture funding which sees 1% of capex and just 10% of arts and culture opex spent, not just in Blacktown, but spent across the whole of Western Sydney. It doesn’t take a grand cities strategy to fix this.  It takes equitable location and policy decisions by Governments.

As an aside, at the Australian Local Government Conference in Canberra last year I suggested to the director of a major Australian performing arts company that there was absolutely no reason why its new facility couldn’t by located in Western Sydney. He simply laughed at me.  It is this deeply ingrained discrimination against Western Sydney that we need to tackle as part of creating an equitable city.

State Government in Western Sydney

The State Government has about 40,000 office based public servants located in Sydney CBD and a couple of thousand in Parramatta – not in Blacktown, not in Western Sydney, in Sydney’s second CBD, Parramatta. In Blacktown there are just 800 office-based public servants since successive governments removed Sydney Water and the RTA from our city centre.  For all of the import of being a Regional City, all that the State has shifted to Penrith is a few public servants.  Sure there is a relatively new State Government office block, but most of the people working in it were moved from elsewhere in Penrith or in Western Sydney.

The purpose built Family Court building in Parramatta is hardly used. There is no Supreme Court sittings in Western Sydney and no superior commercial court sittings in Western Sydney.  It doesn’t take a grand cities strategy to fix this.  It takes equitable location and policy decisions by governments.  It takes a consistent and coherent policy approach.

What do we need to do?

  • High value jobs in western suburban cities are delivered by the market in business parks. We can argue as to the merit of this and whether this trend will continue, but over the post-war period in Sydney this was certainly the case.  Look to Macquarie Park and to Norwest Business Park and to the new Sydney Business Park in Blacktown City.  Celestino is promoting Sydney Science Park as the next suburban high value job location, close to Badgerys Creek.
  • Meanwhile our planners continue to insist that our traditional town centres – think Gordon, Sutherland, Blacktown – all must have commercial cores where only office buildings are allowed. In Blacktown we’ve been waiting 4 decades for the market to deliver the salvation of the town centre in the form of glossy fronted office buildings and its not come!
  • What we need are dense mixed use suburban centres. Places that are catalysed by an equitable distribution of government jobs, cultural facilities and private investment.  What we don’t need are:
    • $450m poured into Sydney Modern, worsening the cultural inequity in the city;
    • The State Government telling Western Sydney that it should be happy to get a version of the Powerhouse so that it can make money from an apartment development. Further, no-one should accept a building project in lieu of an equitable arts and culture strategy;
    • We don’t need a rebuilt football stadium in Moore Park when the Government still hasn’t been told by the NRL where it will accept a Western Sydney stadium;
    • Destination NSW focussed on “the business case for bed stays” as the sole reason for ignoring Western Sydney;
    • Ongoing concentration of commercial and legal practice in the CBD.
  • A true 30 minute city would see:
    • An investment in a high speed rail matrix: our own cross rail, with capacity for growth, in just the way that Bradfield’s rail legacy gave us 50 years of capacity;
    • The relocation of the Supreme Court and all commercial courts to Parramatta;
    • All future medical research concentrated in Westmead;
    • All office based public servants moved from the CBD to centres like Blacktown, Mount Druitt and Penrith;
    • A century of government investment in arts and cultural facilities in the west to match those of the east;
    • Government policies which force universities to deliver research an equitable balance of research in Western Sydney.
  • An equitable city needs us to plan new business parks so they will become towns. We need planners to recognise that their plan is not an end state.  And we need planners to recognise that all planning decisions are impacts on a land economy: an economy which has cycles of investment and demolition.
  • At the moment it seems that the Commonwealth’s proposed investment decisions are based on generating economic output and are being assessed primarily on add to the GDP. We will need much more than this to redress two centuries of investment in the east of our city.  We will need strategies which truly deliver equity across the city.

One Comment so far ↓

  • Philip Graus

    An excellent piece. The high value jobs outside the Sydney CBD will be health and education including the research jobs that go with them. Focussing these facilities in strategic centres like Blacktown as well as the 30 minute city are vital. Blacktown has the hospital and should have a university campus in its CBD. go for an urban innovation precinct rather than a greenfield office park

Leave a Comment