The NSW Government have rejected 13 private sector proposals for the transformation of Sydney’s White Bay Power Station, a move welcomed by the Australian Institute of Architects NSW chapter but lamented by the property industry.
In October 2015, the government's property development arm, Urban Growth NSW announced plans to develop the country's first high-tech hub at the nine-hectare White Bay Power Station site, located at Rozelle in The Bays Precinct. They then put the development to tender and received 13 private sector proposals, which by initial accounts were of a high standard.
“We have 13 proposals from all over the world and the standard is very high," chief executive of Urban Growth NSW, David Pitchford told the AFR in March.
"There is genuine competition and that is reflected in the bids we have received."
But between then and now, things appear to have changed. Urban Growth recently retreated from this statement, denouncing all 13 bids as unsatisfactory and missing the brief entirely. So concerned that their vision for the site’s urban renewal is undeliverable by a single developer, Urban Growth have now also back flipped on their initial tender process by dividing up the site into smaller chunks to make it easier for them to manage the development.
"While some proposals were strong in certain areas, unfortunately there were no complying proposals that addressed the evaluation criteria to achieve the Government’s plan for the site," says Urban Growth NSW Chairman John Brogden.
"As such, Urban Growth NSW will now assume the role of master developer of the White Bay Power Station site. We will break the project into smaller parcels of land as part of a staged development to attract a diverse range of tenants who will meet the Government’s agenda"
The move was welcomed AIA NSW chapter president Shaun Carter who told Fairfax that the public interest would be better protected if the government managed the development project.
"Developing large-scale areas of the city with one single developer lacks the diversity, richness and public interest good city making fundamentally requires," Carter explains.
"We need the government to represent the public's interest by developing the streets, footpaths, parks and all public domain, allocating building lots for private sale based on a well-considered master plan."
A WASTE OF MONEY, BRIEF TOO STRICT
But the move hasn’t sat well with the property industry. Key industry bodies like the Urban Taskforce and The Property Council of Australia believe the government should’ve made their intentions for the site clearer before going to tender and that the brief for the development is too strict and won’t entice private sector investment as is.
“Urban Growth NSW have spruiked the importance of their call for the private sector to make proposals for the renewal of the White Bay Power Station,” says Urban Taskforce CEO, Chris Johnson.
“But after 13 teams have spent millions of dollars in good faith the whole process has been cancelled.”
Executive director of the Property Council of Australia, Jane Fitzgerald called the back flip a “systemic planning failure”, “concerning” and a waste of money.
“The government needs to think carefully about what is going wrong with its large-scale master planning tasks because it’s the private sector that is paying for the failure.”
SORRY, BUT YOU MISSED THE BRIEF: URBAN GROWTH NSW
Brogden says that the proposals missed the mark because they were too heavily reliant on residential development within the site to fund the decontamination and repurposing of the power station.
The proposals therefore missed the brief for the site which called for the development of the country's first high-tech hub, an idea informed by more than 200 submissions to the ‘Call for Great Ideas’ process hosted by Urban Growth NSW.
But key property industry figures say the brief is too restrictive and financially unviable.
Michael Cannon Brookes snr, a business leader who set up Citibank, publicly stated that White Bay “will never succeed” because technology start-ups “don't want to pay what it costs for harbour views”.
Urban Taskforce CEO, Chris Johnson has a similar opinion:
“It would appear that the brief was just too restrictive with the requirement to only house technology companies while restoring a decaying heritage building and to somehow fund this from very limited new development.”
Urban Growth will now partially pay for the rehabilitation and restoration of the site which will take some of the burden off the private sector who previously looked to residential development to recoup these costs as it was considered the safest bet.
They will also take on a more direct role in developing the site in keeping with international best practice, and will focus initially on securing suitable occupants for the White Bay Power Station by the end of the year.