Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, is well known for supporting her residents, but this week she backed the near 300,000 people who work in her city’s office towers, shops and hotels.
The Sydney CBD, just three kilometres from Circular Quay to Central Station, generates around $65 billion in economic output a year, or near 5 per cent of Australia’s GDP. And the share should rise as the nation transitions to the new economy.
But even a CBD needs to be nurtured. It needs space to grow. And its people need a city with amenity, access and reasonably priced housing.
Atlassian founder, Mike Cannon-Brookes, has warned that Sydney is failing start-ups by not providing cheap, easily accessible and interesting locations. Freelancer.com founder, Matt Barrie, has warned of the impact of the lockout laws on tourism and the city’s global reputation.
Many of those issues are for the Baird or Turnbull governments, but this week Councillor Moore and her Director of Planning, Development and Transport, Graham Jahn, proposed a significant change to the city’s skyline to give the CBD the space to grow.
The draft Central Sydney Planning Strategy, which they released late on Wednesday, plans, among many aims, to curb the current enthusiasm for apartment towers and encourage the development of more offices and hotels.
New commercial towers, but not apartment towers, will be able to rise to new heights – up to 300 metres. All new towers over 55 metres will have to be at least half commercial. If the plan is approved the era of the high-rise tower, exclusively filled with apartments, would be over.
The Sydney CBD, like the Melbourne CBD, and other city centres around the world, has staged a remarkable recovery in the past 30 years.
From the nadir of the 1980s, when the city centres had emptied after 40 years of suburban shift, the jobs, and even more dramatically, the residents, have returned to the city.
Today, Sydney seems to punch above its weight on many global surveys. PwC’s latest Cities of Opportunity ranked Sydney at number nine.
The City of Sydney expects the number of jobs in the city to grow at 1.2 per cent a year to 375,000 by 2036 and the growth will be reinforced in the 2020s with the opening of the new Metro. At the same time the number of residents is expected to grow by an even stronger 3.4 per cent a year to 44,000 by 2036.
The growth, as always, has come with challenges. Over the last four years, 52 per cent of new floor space developed in central Sydney was for apartments. The City of Sydney estimates that without change to the planning rules, 45-64 per cent of the projected jobs growth to 2036, could not be accommodated in the CBD.
The City of Sydney proposals have gained support. “There is a genuine consensus that there needs to be far greater balance in the cities, and that is not just in Sydney but in many global cities,” said Greg Crone, the chief executive of architects Crone Partners, who has been designing towers in the Sydney CBD for nearly 30 years.
The Committee of Sydney’s head of strategy and advocacy, Eamon Waterford said the agglomeration of employment – and the resulting demand for commercial space – in our town centres was only going to increase.
“This is why it’s vital to ensure Sydney has adequate commercial capacity to cater to the demand.”
Terry Rawnsley, a partner of SGS Economics and Planning, which provided some analysis to the City of Sydney, said the CBDs were becoming more important in the new economy.
“They have the knowledge-intensive jobs that only appear in the CBDs,” he said.
But they all acknowledge that other factors are needed for the CBD’s economic growth to continue.
Mr Rawnsley said CBDs also needed transport, amenity and affordable housing. “Sydney needs to build more houses, consistently, and in the right places,” he said.
Mr Waterford, said the key was liveability. “We know that much of the attraction for Sydney in terms of global talent and knowledge workers is its liveability,” he said.
“This has two elements – both ensuring the CBD is vibrant with a strong culture, but also ensuring that the city’s infrastructure allows people to access this culture – so that people can live somewhere within their price range that is well connected through transport to these liveability assets.”
MacroPlan Dimasi’s economist and forecaster, Brian Haratsis, who this week will release his latest book, Destructive Cities, said that to be a competitive global city Sydney did not need more commercial space as much as it needed more life. “There are not enough apartments in the Sydney CBD now,” he said. “We need more life in the Sydney CBD.”