Community Christmas Reception

(2pm, 11 December 2011, Sydney Town Hall)

Hello, everyone, and welcome. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nationalities who make up this great city of ours.

I'd also acknowledge City Councillors here this afternoon and Monica Barone, CEO of City of Sydney.

This afternoon is an opportunity to thank you for your support and contribution and to give you an update on our work this year. I'm pleased you could be here to celebrate with us the end to a very busy and productive year.

We are on track to achieve our ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets—70 per cent by 2030.

This year, our organisation was officially endorsed as Australia's first carbon-neutral council.

The City strongly supported a price on carbon, which will give greater certainty in the shift to renewable energy sources. The passage of the legislation was an enormous relief and I commend the Federal Members who acted responsibly and voted for our future.

During 2011, we've worked through complex technical and tendering processes for innovative sustainable energy, water efficiency and waste plans.

Just this week, Council endorsed a preferred contractor to provide greener local energy through tri-generation. We are working to establish low-carbon precincts at Green Square, on the CUB site and UTS, and at Town Hall. This could expand to Martin Place and, we hope, to Barangaroo.

Council has also approved a contract to install low-energy LEDs on 6,500 street lights, following an 18 month trial that demonstrated LEDs can halve energy use and pay for themselves in around 12 years.

I'm told that other local councils in NSW are watching our work closely and we hope that Ausgrid (formerly Energy Australia) will follow with installation on its 12,400 lights in our area.

Building retrofits have reduced carbon emissions by 17 per cent across our property portfolio since 2006 and we have signed up to a full portfolio refit that will reduce emissions by 20 per cent.

And we are two years ahead on our waste targets to divert two thirds of household waste from landfill by directing it to recycling and composting.

As part of our promotion of recycling, we joined the national Garage Sale Trail in April, hosting two trails in Surry Hills and Glebe. We'll expand that across the whole City next year.

We welcome the State Government commitment a light-rail network along George Street, through the City and into surrounding areas, and we've set aside $180 million for public domain improvements in George Street when light rail proceeds.

This will be one of the most important projects that will transform our city —culturally, environmentally and economically—for coming decades.

Meanwhile, we've completed part of the Kent Street bike route connecting Pyrmont with the Harbour Bridge (our "Bridge to Bridge" route) and the Bourke Street cycleway ("the Woop") from Woolloomooloo to Waterloo, including stunning landscaping that sets the standard for our major walking and cycling routes.

Council has endorsed design for a separated cycleway on Wentworth Avenue Elizabeth Street — which will link College Street through Prince Alfred Park and on to Redfern and south.

Cyclists are helping minimise congestion, which costs the economy $4.8 billion annually—and is set to nearly double to $8 billion by 2020 if we do nothing. Cycling has increased by 60% this year.

We know cycling is not for everyone, but we need to make it safe and viable for those who want the option. Our greatest challenge is not the cycling infrastructure, but the cultural change needed to embed cycling as a healthy and legitimate form of transport.

Our streets don't belong to any one group, not to cyclists, motorists, pedestrians but to us all and our street share program aims to encourage respect for all groups.

The City supports car-share through dedicated parking spaces across the LGA and use is growing. It's worth remembering that each car share vehicle can replace as many as 10 private vehicles, so it's an important contributor to reducing congestion and parking pressures.

We've planted over 7000 trees in the past five years, with a target for 20,000 more over the next 20 years to increase our urban canopy by 50 per cent by 2030. We continued our program of street plantings, rain gardens and living colour to enliven our city.

This year, we completed improvements to Rushcutters Bay Park, with renewed landscaping, paths and lighting, steps down to the water, a new kiosk, and public facilities, revitalised tennis courts and a restored Reg Bartley Oval and a renovated and restored historic pavilion.

We've re-landscaped Prince Alfred Park which includes a meadow, barbeque facilities and children's playground/s. For active sports it includes a running and walking circuit, exercise areas, five tennis courts, two basketball courts, a new half court activating the look-out space over Central Railway.

The stunning Neeson Murcutt - designed Prince Alfred Park heated pool, which will have landscaping folded over the structure of the change facilities will be completed next year - rain has caused some delays.

The new Waterloo Oval Youth Centre, also with an innovative green roof, will open in 2012 as well.

We've continued our revitalisation of small parks and playgrounds that provide vital recreational space for our village neighbourhoods—including Lillian Fowler Reserve in Newtown; Rochford Street playground, Kirsova 2 Playground, Flora & Knight Reserve and Green Bans Park in Erskineville.

We've also renewed Bourke Street and Walla Mulla reserves in Woolloomooloo.

There have been a large number of homeless people in the area and we really welcome the State and Federal Government's action this year to provide 70 rough sleepers with the chance to move into homes of their own with support.

The City's extensive homeless services — unique for local government in Australia — continue to provide assistance and help individuals and family groups find accommodation.

This year we sponsored a car market for backpackers in the Kings Cross car park as part of our strategy to stop Victoria Street being used as a car sales yard. After my Private Members Bill went through Parliament, our rangers finally had the power to fine backpackers selling vehicles on the street.

In Chinatown, the revitalisation of Little Hay Street, Kimber Lane and Factory Street is underway; and we've endorsed proposals for a City Farm at Sydney Park.

Next year we'll continue work at Sydney Park with a water-conservation program that could help us collect and recycle the equivalent of 340 Olympic pools to use in the park and wetlands.

It's part of a full program of work, with plans underway to extend the Glebe foreshore walk; improve the streetscape along Crown/Cleveland/Baptist Streets; green Abercrombie Street Darlington; provide new sports facilities at Perry Park; create a new café in the Gardener's Lodge in Victoria Park—and more.

At Green Square, we are finalising negotiations with key land owners to deliver $8 billion worth of development for the Town Centre, with construction set to start, I hope, next year.

The City has quarantined funds for Green Square community, cultural and recreation facilities as the population grows, and this year we purchased land for part of a public transport corridor. We are seeking State and Federal action to secure the entire corridor for Australia's largest urban renewal project which should be connected to the light rail network.

We're now reviewing submissions on our draft City Plan - a major document that simplifies more than 60 existing planning documents into one plan, making it easier for both business and residents.

It balances preservation of our distinctive villages with the need for more housing and office, retail and industrial floor space.

New planning controls for Harold Park, adopted this year, provide for development while unlocking more than a third of the site as public open space. And at Ashmore Estate in Erskineville, the City has rejected draft planning controls imposed by the previous government.

Our lively business sector is reflected in the annual City of Sydney Business Awards, which this year attracted a record 640 nominations - a 62 per cent increase in the number of people voting.

Late last year, we revised our business support program, renaming it the Village Business Partnership Program, to help business groups representing local economies. The first grants have been approved for Potts Point; South Sydney, Haymarket; and Pyrmont/Ultimo—with other groups also developing plans.

Our Redfern Shopfront Improvement Matching Grant Program has funded the removal of 12 roller shutters from shopfronts to enliven Redfern and Regent Streets; and our Finegrain Business Development Program has enabled cafes, small bars and even a shirt shop in hidden spaces such as Reiby Place, York Lane, Alberta Street, Market Row and Sussex Lane.

As part of our support for a thriving retail sector, the City sponsored Vogue Fashion Night Out, making Sydney one of 17 world cities to hold the event this year, and our Retail Advisory Panel has worked with us to promote our city centre as the place to be this Christmas, including a new Christmas website.

We are supporting our creative communities through studio spaces; conversion of the Burton Street Tabernacle to the 200-seat "Eternity Playhouse", with a gallery and café; and temporary art projects in Taylor Square, among other activities.

We're set to re-activate Oxford Street, by using Council-owned properties to create a creative hub. We invited expressions of interest and have now selected a mix of 15 artists and creative organisations, both non-profit and commercial, to take up short-term leases by January.

And just last Monday, Council endorsed my proposal to investigate using vacant properties on William Street for a creative industry hub, including artist live/work spaces.

Over 60 cultural and community organisations already receive offices, rehearsal, performance or studio space through the City's Accommodation Grants Program.

Through our late night economy "OPEN" project, we are working to attract a wider range of people to the city centre at night, and improve safety and residential amenity. I encourage you to read our discussion paper and tell us what you think as we finalise a new policy next year.

In the meantime, we're pushing ahead with quick start projects, in response to feedback, such as enabling late night "food trucks" on Sydney streets, and redeploying portable urinals and Precinct Ambassadors to provide immediate benefit over the summer holiday period.

With the help of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel we launched Barani/Barrabugu - or Yesterday/Tomorrow - a free booklet on more than 60 important Aboriginal sites across the City.

Art and About 2011 featured works by international Michael Landy's Acts of Kindness and Janet Echelman's stunning Tsunami 1.26, just outside on George Street.

Our public art program continues to enliven the City, with the Laneways Art featuring until January. Forgotten Songs, one of the most popular works of 2009, has been permanently reinstated in a renewed and repaved Angel Place — which I launched this week.

A new City Art website profiles some 200 artworks, with map functions allowing people to explore public art in Sydney. And while you are on the net, check out the Dictionary of Sydney website, which now includes almost a million words that tell the stories of Sydney, with plenty of pictures, maps, and films.

We continued to draw enormous crowds to events such as New Year's Eve and Chinese New Year, and we are a major supporter of Sydney Festival, Mardi Gras and the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Once again, the year has been fast moving and fantastic year of achievement—I've only skimmed the surface today.

I take this opportunity to thank all of you who've come to our consultations, taken part in our sustainability workshops, worked in community gardens, voted in our Business Awards or contributed in any way to your neighbourhood.

That's what builds a strong community, and a lively city.

And can I add that I have established a Lord Mayor's Appeal for East Africa, where as many as 13 million people - mostly women and children - are suffering from drought and malnutrition.

While we are enjoying our Christmas, some will be huddled in refugee camps, others will be still on the road, looking for help.

There are collection buckets this afternoon and I ask you to be generous if you can.

Over the past two weeks we've had three fun Village Christmas Concerts at Rosebery, Alexandria and Surry Hills. I invite you to join us for the final concert at Rushcutters Bay from 6pm tonight—it's the first since completing work to make the park greener, more sustainable and safer.

There is also a special light show on Town Hall each evening until Christmas. I hope you will come back to enjoy it.

I wish you and your families and friends, Happy Christmas and a great New Year.

Thank you.