Shovel ready, you say? Six recession-busting projects to spruce up Sydney

Shovel ready, you say? Six recession-busting projects to spruce up Sydney

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What can we do to get construction pumping and the city thriving? Here are some ideas.


When this crisis is well and truly behind us, we’re going to need to celebrate, and what better place to clink glasses than a former monorail station transformed into a kitsch drinking hole?

A former monorail station lies dormant at the eastern end of the Pyrmont Bridge.Credit:Rhett Wyman

There are three stations that haven’t yet been demolished: Harbourside, at the western end of the Pyrmont Bridge; Darling Park, at the eastern end of the bridge; and World Square, at what is now a Rydges Hotel.

The government doesn’t actually own the stations – in fact the question of whose problem they are is part of the reason they’ve stayed dormant for so long. But swift acquisition and transformation into classy cocktail dens would leave a unique coronavirus legacy for CBD drinkers.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance has previously flagged the ghost tunnels of St James station could be turned into trendy bars and eateries as a tourist drawcard. That project could also be kick-started as part of the COVID-19 recovery.


It’s a suburban gem, running from the mouth of the Cooks River at Botany Bay to Strathfield, and on to Olympic Park, Rhodes and Ryde. But the track is in dire need of a facelift. Indeed, the entire Cooks River precinct could be a better asset for local communities and the city.

Potential: the Cooks River cycleway runs from Botany Bay to Strathfield, Rhodes and Ryde.

Potential: the Cooks River cycleway runs from Botany Bay to Strathfield, Rhodes and Ryde.Credit:Kate Geraghty

From the swamp around the Eve St Wetlands to the bizarrely narrow Canterbury Road underpass that’s nearly impossible to ride through, the route is ripe for renovation. Once it reaches South Strathfield the signage tends to fall apart, with a clearer connection to Homebush needed.

Gabriel Metcalf, head of the Committee for Sydney lobby group, said the government should speed up construction of the city’s wider cycle network in three years, rather than 36. “It would catapult Sydney up the liveability rankings and set the city up for a carbon-free future,” he says.


Since the day it was completed in 1958, politicians, architects and commentators have dreamt of pushing the button on a controlled demolition of the elevated road. As prime minister, Paul Keating tried to pay the NSW government to knock it down, while lord mayor Clover Moore included its demise in her plans for a “grand makeover” of Sydney by 2030.

The much-maligned Cahill Expressway has had a target on its back since the day it opened in 1958.

The much-maligned Cahill Expressway has had a target on its back since the day it opened in 1958.Credit:Michele Mossop

Labor councillor Linda Scott says the road “has always been a blight on our city’s shining harbour” and “a giant monument to the polluting automobile”. Future Sydneysiders “will ponder why it ever existed”, she says.

It need not be literally demolished. With postcard views over the harbour and the bridge, the Cahill Expressway would be the perfect location for New York High Line-style public space, integrated with the new light rail terminus below.

Similarly, the government could act on a long-standing proposal to turn the disused Lavender Bay railway line into a High Line along the northern side of the harbour foreshore.


As far as parking lots go, the Navy carpark that runs along Cowper Wharf Road in Potts Point has got to be among the least attractive. Built in 1985, the vast slab of concrete sits on prime foreshore real estate just around the corner from Harry’s CafĂ© de Wheels. Its utility to defence personnel could surely be replicated underground, or elsewhere.

Independent local MP Alex Greenwich agrees. “It’s high time that eyesore was replaced with a community activation,” he says.

Indeed, there is vacant, prime land all over the inner east that could be put to better use. An empty block on William Street owned by Transport for NSW, above the entrance to the eastern distributor, has been gated off for years without being put to use.


It has been nearly 40 years since the power station was decommissioned, and more than 20 years since it was heritage-listed. But since a proposal for the site to become Google’s new headquarters fell through in 2017, we’re no closer to deciding its future.

The government’s Bays Precinct transformation plan says the old power station is as an “immediate priority destination”, but that’s in the context of a 20-to-30-year vision. And five of those years have already whizzed past.

Heritage listed: the old White Bay power station.

Heritage listed: the old White Bay power station.Credit:Tamara Dean

With the jackhammers in full swing next door for the next part of WestConnex, it’s high time the White Bay power station was given a purpose that respects its heritage and restores its amenity.


Experts say when it comes to getting much-needed projects off the ground fast, one of the best things the government can do is just hand over the money to local bodies and get out of the way.

Sean Macken, the author of Shovels ready! Stimulating the Western Sydney economic recovery, said spending by local governments proved to be one of the most effective ways to create jobs during the Global Financial Crisis. “It’s not very sexy or inspiring, but better parks, footpaths and roads is not a bad outcome for our citizens,” he says.

And councils do have more ambitious ideas up their sleeves. David Borger, executive director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber, says “shovel ready” projects in the west included: improving the streetscape of Liverpool CBD; redeveloping the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre; completing cycle paths along the Parramatta River; and a second Sydney University campus in Parramatta.

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