Following NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge’s scathing piece about Barangaroo on The Guardian, Architecture and Design looks back at the developments at Barangaroo and considers where it is heading next.

Decrying the loss of prime public space to a casino and the small amount of money that will come as a return, Shoebridge is calling for a scheme to ensure enough funds flow back so the public can build to ‘a decent park’ and maybe even a community hall or two.

The Barangaroo development was announced back in 2003 and was expected to reinvigorate the CBD in the west. An initial concept plan designed by international award-winning firm Hills Thalis Architects was approved. It included a harbourside park along the 1.4km waterfront along with new commercial, retail and residential developments.

However, Thalis’ design was criticised by many with Ed Lippmann, director at Lippman Partnership, saying, “[Thalis’] plan lacked vision. The government’s brief clearly called for a visionary plan that would position Sydney as Australia’s truly global city and would establish a framework for our urban growth, one which included ESD initiatives, a clear understanding on how that precinct could evolve over time and would be a benchmark of urban planning and environmental sustainability. His plan was essentially a subdivision plan.”

Thalis himself said there were obscured plans to shrink the amount of public space available at Barangaroo. Telling Architecture and Design in 2009, “They’re actually removing public space at an exorbitant cost.”

So in 2009, with lobbying by former Prime Minister Paul Keating, Thalis’ design was scrapped and Lend Lease came on board.

Chairman of the Barangaroo Delivery Authority Mike Collins at the time said, “We consider [Lend Lease’s plan] to be outstanding, and are confident that it will reinvigorate and add new life to our city, reinforcing our position as a global financial hub in the Asia Pacific and creating wonderful new public waterfront places for the people of Sydney.”

Meanwhile, James Packer was eyeing the site as a potential setting for a casino and a design competition was launched to find a design for the proposed $1 billion six-star Crown Hotel. A lot of controversy surrounded this competition as no Australian architects were considered.

Ultimately London-based Wilkinson Eyre Architects took out the winning design, with the design touted as one that could create an architectural postcard, helping to attract international tourists and allowing Sydney to compete with other global destinations.

October saw Danish urban designer Jan Gehl quit, who was originally commissioned by the government to ensure Barangaroo’s public areas were “people-friendly”.

He told Fairfax Media that he had withdrawn his support for the project as economic pressures had created a “strong urge to build as much as possible” and that “concerns for the people landscape have gradually evaporated”. Finally saying Packer’s casino was “contrary to what was needed”.

Then in November last year, the NSW Government approved the casino and entered a binding agreement with Crown.


On this, Shoebridge comments, “With this last insult it seemed like Barangaroo had struck rock bottom. All of NSW could see how yet again property developers, big business and NSW politicians had come together to sell out the public interest.

“Disgusted as many observers had become, a number held on to the hope that there would be some public return with the commercial arrangements delivering enough revenue to construct what remained of the public open space and headland park.”

But now, Fairfax reports a Supreme Court ruling could leave taxpayers forking over hundreds of millions of dollars, putting public works in jeopardy.

When Lend Lease won the development for Barangaroo South, it was to, in turn, pay the government a series of fixed payments based on land values. These contributions of about $1 billion were expected to pay for the public works, including the touted headland park and public infrastructure.

The court ruled in Lend Lease’s favour and it is expected the payments will fall far short of expectations. The Barangaroo Delivery Authority is appealing the decision, but it leaves the government in an interesting position, particularly in trying to find the money elsewhere.

Is this a tale of boom and bust? Or does it tell a tale of a typical Sydney urban sellout, which ultimately forgets about the people who will be using the public space?