Artist's impression of Parramatta Square, which will be completed in 2019 in the best case scenario.

Artist’s impression of Parramatta Square, which will be completed in 2019 in the best case scenario.

As its colonial heritage testifies, Parramatta has been a big part of Sydney’s past. Now there’s growing recognition of how vital Parramatta will be to the city’s future.

A marker of Parramatta’s emerging economic clout came this week when a $2 billion proposal to rejuvenate its commercial hub took a major step forward. Plans for Parramatta Square were first mooted more than two decades ago but demolition work is now approved and there are hopes the project will be completed by 2019. The redevelopment has been billed as  “western Sydney’s Martin Place” and will be one of Australia’s biggest urban renewal projects. At least five civic, residential and commercial towers will rise around a large public domain adding 150,000 square metres of high-end commercial office space that will accommodate more than 18,000 workers, students and residents on any given day.

Parramatta Lord Mayor, Scott Lloyd, said the renewal project was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and the Premier, Mike Baird, praised the council for taking plans for Parramatta Square forward.

David Borger of the Sydney Business Chamber.

David Borger of the Sydney Business Chamber. Photo: Supplied

“The NSW Government has identified Parramatta as our second CBD … it will play a very significant role in providing employment and housing opportunities that are essential for Sydney’s global competitiveness,” he said.

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Why is Parramatta so important?

There’s a lot riding on Parramatta’s transformation. The western Sydney economy has traditionally relied heavily on manufacturing, a sector weakened by global economic forces, and jobs growth in the region has lagged behind other parts of the city recently. The traditional commercial centres of western Sydney, especially Parramatta, need to adapt if they are to attract and keep the high quality knowledge industries where future jobs growth is likely to be strongest.

Artist's impression of Parramatta.

Artist’s impression of Parramatta.

Baird, who is also the minister for western Sydney, says the future of the city and the state are tied to Parramatta.

“This is a great state, Parramatta is a great city, and the future of both are heavily connected,” he said on one of his many stops in western Sydney during this year’s state election campaign.

Tim Williams, chief executive of lobby group the Committee for Sydney predicts the city’s future will be determined in its west.

“Sydney’s structure is challenging. We’ve got this rather constrained CBD on the far east of our city but about two million people live west of Parramatta,” he says. “The next big step in Sydney’s transformation is to do Parramatta comprehensively and well … the city needs Parramatta to be an economic powerhouse, a second economic pole.”

While Sydney’s CBD remains the nation’s most valuable economic location, modelling by consultancy PwC shows Sydney’s economic centre of gravity –the point around which economic output is evenly balanced – is nine kilometres west of the central business district and drifting north-west. That drift underscores the growing importance of economic clusters inland from the CBD. PwC’s analysis of Sydney’s local areas showed the Parramatta-Rosehill area generated more than $7.6 billion in 2012-13 and was growing at a faster rate than both the CBD and North Sydney. It’s estimated that more than 20 per cent of Australia’s Top 500 companies now have a presence in Parramatta’s CBD.

PwC’s economics director, Rob Tyson, said the growing recognition of Parramatta’s importance – signified by urban developments such as Parramatta Square – could be a “tipping point” in realising the huge potential of western Sydney.

“All of our research and economic analysis in the past points to the fact that Parramatta is becoming increasingly important in the whole tapestry of Sydney’s economic network,” he said.

Baird has declared Parramatta the “infrastructure capital of the world” because of the investment planned in the region. He points to a $26 billion pipeline of spending on road and rail projects in western Sydney – almost one in every two dollars allocated for state transport infrastructure. That includes Australia’s biggest road project, WestConnex, and its biggest public transport project, the North-West Rail Link. The pipeline grew last year when the Abbott Government announced a new airport will be built at Badgerys Creek.

Baird argues the sheer volume of infrastructure spending in store for western Sydney has attracted the attention of the world’s leading infrastructure players and they see great opportunity in the region over the next decade.