George Street Public Domain Briefing

(10am, Monday 1 March 2013, Lord Mayor's Reception Room)

Hello, everyone. Welcome. I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our City.

Today, we want to brief you on the proposed light rail on George Street, where we are up to following the Government's commitment to light rail, and the changes that will mean for the whole of the CBD.

It's great to welcome back Jan Gehl, who is uniquely positioned to give us a global perspective on transforming cities; we'll also have a project update from Jenny Faddy and an overview of our draft concept design for George Street from Bridget Smyth.

Michael Cook from Investa Property Group, also has a presentation for us.

There will then be a 30-minute discussion period before we wrap up.

We've been working on transforming George Street as a great civic spine since the early days of Jan's work with us.

At first it was a bold, transformative concept; then we worked out how it might happen; we did the research; we engaged with people like you; and we've spent a long, long time and a great deal of effort in putting the case to government - more time and effort than we should have!

Now, however, things are starting to move. The Transport Minister has given the green light to the George Street light-rail in the final Long Term Transport Masterplan. The light rail will be the catalyst for transformation of our city.

This won't only affect George Street. Major change in one part of our densely-packed CBD inevitably impact on the whole city, and its systems. So the changes made in George Street will be seen from College Street to Darling Harbour, from the Quay to Central Railway and beyond.

To unclog George Street and transform it to a great boulevard, we need a complete overhaul of the bus network, which has remained essentially unchanged since the 1950s - just with more of them choking George Street.

We need to look at how traffic moves around Sydney, how deliveries are made and how pedestrians use our streets.

The opportunity George Street presents is a hugely exciting one for all of Sydney, and of course there are challenges.

We are dealing with them methodically, and effectively, through an unprecedented City-State co-operative effort.

Our Access and Transport team have been working with the State Government's experts on pedestrian movements, cycling, traffic and public transport. The success of George Street will depend on a successful access plan which re-routes the hundreds of buses coming daily into the City.

The two teams of experts are working together to solve these issues and develop an agreed Access Plan for the whole City which should be finalised in the next few months. We hope that shortly after, their plan will be given the necessary State approval.

As you know, the City has committed $180 million for the public domain works which will improve George Street with wider footpaths, trees and street furniture, fully accessible light-rail stations and a collection of exciting public art.

It will also improve how we move around the city, it will allow properties to re-connect to the street, and it will provide spaces for Sydneysiders to pause and enjoy their city.

Ninety-three per cent of all journeys within the City are made on foot, and it's time we gave priority to the majority. These are the workers, the shoppers, the café patrons who give the City life, and who keep it ticking over, the people, in fact, who make it a city, rather than a funnel for traffic.

We articulated this vision a long time ago. We have the research and information to back it up. Now we have a Government which has taken the first step to making it happen.

We are committed to seeing it through, and we want the Government to match that commitment.

Without it, Sydney risks dying of its own congestion. With it, we get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a real transformation that will benefit everyone - business owners, residents, workers and visitors.

I hope you'll join us in making it happen.

Thank you for your interest in coming here today, and now I'd like to hand you over to Jenny Faddy, who will give you a detailed update on the project.

I hope you've all been inspired by what you've heard and seen today how light rail can ease traffic congestion, provide an efficient, quieter and less polluting transport system, and can provide us with the great urban street Sydney has lacked until now.

Now comes the time to get to the nitty-gritty business of making it happen. Essentially the timetable is in the hands of the Government but as I said at the beginning, there is a high degree of co-operation between our design teams and our experts.

We are now finalising a Memorandum of Understanding to broadly determine how we will work together, and what will be the key issues for each party to deal with. It sets out a very broad management framework and will confirm the City's long-promised contribution of at least $180 million for public domain works.

We expect to sign the MoU by the end of this month and we will then continue work on a Development Agreement with the State. This will be a more specific document which will stipulate precise roles and responsibilities and the scope of work - for example, that the City can specify the design of lighting, the choice of trees etc.

At present, the requirement is to have this document finalised by August 30.

City staff are already meeting with the design team from Transport for NSW for preliminary discussions on these matters, as you have seen in the presentations today. Obviously it is a hugely complex project but one both parties are excited and energised by.

The Government's proposal for light rail which was announced late last year was little more than a line on a map and they are now investigating that in more detail, with an obvious question over the route through Surry Hills.

The George Street route, however, raises no questions other than whether the pedestrian/light-rail/cycling zone can be extended from its present start at Bathurst Street as far as Liverpool Street, which would make sense to us to include the cinema and entertainment strip in that section of the street.

We need to think creatively about that space, whether it is pedestrianized on a 24-hour basis, or whether the traffic needs to reflect how the precinct operates very differently at different times of the day.

The Government has also asked the City team to continue with a number of necessary background studies which will help finalise the design and make the construction phase as smooth and "surprise-free" as possible.

The Government is aiming to have planning approval in place by the second quarter of next year, and to have the whole system fully operational by no later than the first quarter of 2021.

As always, with projects that involve digging up streets and installing infrastructure, disruption is part of the deal. There will be noise and inconvenience to pedestrians, drivers and businesses. People will get annoyed, and people will complain.

We will continue to consult with you every step of the way. We will continue to work with you, and the Government, to minimise disruption as far as humanly possible.

We will be keeping you informed every step of the way, and we'll be striving to maintain the balance between delivering the project as quickly as possible while minimising the inevitable disruptions.

Light rail will not simply make a great boulevard out of George Street but it will transform our whole CBD and provide greater connections to our east.

I urge you all to visit our exhibition that will be at Customs House in April, showing our endorsed concepts for George Street.

Thank you all again for coming today, and thank you for your input. I hope we will have your continuing support in achieving this wonderful and urgently needed scheme for Sydney.