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Setback for Sydney’s Bays Precinct ‘Silicon harbour’ redevelopment as tech giant Google walks

The NSW state government’s plans to revitalize Sydney’s Bays precinct have suffered a setback after technology company Google walked away from negotiations to move its Australian headquarters from Pyrmont to the currently disused White Bay Power Station in Rozelle.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “the failure to provide public transport upgrades to the Bays Precinct in Rozelle was cited as a reason for Google’s decision to withdraw from negotiations.”

A Google spokesperson said despite “genuine and productive negotiations” the company had “come to realise that achieving that vision isn’t possible within our timeframe.”

In 2015 then-Urban Growth NSW chief executive David Pitchford acknowledged in an interview with the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects’ Architecture Bulletin that without transport links redevelopment projects like the one planned for the Bays Precinct were unlikely to be successful.

“In The Bays, there is nowhere near the transport infrastructure that needs to be there. We’ve got to address that really important question of mass transit and introduce a whole range of things that will be unpalatable to the government in terms of the level of investment, but without that, it will be a disaster,” said Pitchford.

NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley told the ABC,“You won’t get companies like Google and their talented mobile workforce to relocate to a precinct unless that precinct has public transport, accessibility and open space,” expressing an opinion that mirrored the one he expressed to the SBS in 2016, when he said that successful urban renewal “will only ever become a reality unless we have a public transport solution.”

In a statement, UrbanGrowth NSW said, “The NSW Government welcomes a commitment from Google to continue its search for a long-term Australian headquarters in Sydney.

“The government remains committed to the development of the White Bay Power Station as a technology and innovation hub.

“Given the iconic nature of White Bay Power Station and its significance to Sydney, UrbanGrowth NSW will continue with its methodical and considered approach to the power station’s redevelopment.

“This includes developing the masterplan for the site and working with our industry, community and government partners to determine appropriate uses for the area.”

Since Google announced its decision to abandon negotiations, the City of Sydney’s lord mayor Clover Moore has called for the Glebe Island Bridge, an unused swing bridge over Rozelle Bay, to be reopened and used as the basis for light rail. The heritage-listed bridge, constructed in 1903 to a design by civil engineer Percy Allen, closed in 1995.

According to the Herald, Moore criticized the government for its continued focus on the development of motorways, particularly the WestConnex development.

In 2015, the NSW state government announced its intention transform Sydney’s Bays precinct into an innovation and technology hub that has been dubbed Australia’s “Silicon harbour” with its revitalization plans based on Silicon Valley and newer tech hubs like London’s “Silicon Roundabout.” A focus of the proposed renewal was the heritage-listed, now-defunct White Bay Power Station, which was decommissioned in 1984. The first stage of the plant was built in 1917 to satisfy the requirements of Sydney’s growing train and tram networks. The redevelopment of London’s Battersea Power Station, New York’s Roosevelt Island and Toronto’s waterfront were cited as inspirations for what could be achieved in The Bays Precinct Transformation Plan published in 2015 by Urban Growth NSW.

A “Call for Great Ideas” in May 2015 for the redevelopment of the power station drew 213 submissions including proposals for a tech and business centre from Google, a mixed-use hub for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) from Stockland, Woods Bagot and Meld Technologies and a renewable energy-generating mixed-use development from Grimshaw.

UrbanGrowth NSW held a Request for Proposals process and sought proposals from private developers for the 10-hectare site in October 2015. In June 2016, UrbanGrowth NSW announced that it had rejected all 13 submissions and that it would act as the masterplanner of the White Bay Power Station redevelopment. Urban Growth NSW said that the “process had been closed, as it did not produce a submission that met our vision for the site.”

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