Did Google just screw over NSW?

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The Sydney Opera House and Google Cultural Institute have teamed up to bring the Opera House’s archives to the fingertips of the public

Google has pulled out of a major Sydney redevelopment project.


DON’T be surprised if the NSW Government switches its web browsing to Bing, after Google put a hole at the heart of ambitious regeneration plans for Sydney’s CBD fringe.

One of the world’s largest tech companies, Google was the headline tenant of a multi-billion redevelopment project on an industrial Sydney Harbour backwater.

But the US giant has pulled out which has now raised doubts about the entire project.

An urban planning expert has told news.com.au Google’s withdrawal is a “huge blow” for the Bays Precinct project. The opposition said the project had “fallen apart” due to bad planning by the Government.

Dubbed ‘Silicon Harbour’, the Bays Precinct would have seen 5.5 kilometres of harbour front, and 95 hectares of mostly government-owned land, turned into a hub for technology firms and start-ups.

Google was to have been the tenant of the redeveloped White Bay Power Station, seen in this image.

Google was to have been the tenant of the redeveloped White Bay Power Station, seen in this image.Source:Supplied

The Government’s development arm, UrbanGrowth NSW, had hailed the development as an “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver innovation and attract jobs, reinforcing [Sydney’s] reputation as an internationally-competitive, resilient and prosperous global city to live, work and visit”.

But that vision may have to wait following Google’s decision to renege on its commitment to move its Australian headquarters to the former White Bay Power Station which currently lies derelict at the heart of the precinct.

On Wednesday, a statement from UrbanGrowth NSW said it had come to a “mutual agreement” with Google Australia to abandon plans move into the power station.

“Both parties have been through a collaborative, respectful and comprehensive process to determine a range of options for the site.”

White Bay Power Station is currently derelict. Picture: Toby Zerna

White Bay Power Station is currently derelict. Picture: Toby ZernaSource:News Corp Australia

Google said it was looking for “an alternative long-term home in Sydney”.

The Government said it remained committed to the development of the site as a technology and innovation hub.

“Given the iconic nature of White Bay Power Station and its significance to Sydney, UrbanGrowth NSW will continue with its methodical and considered approach to the power station’s redevelopment.”

Fairfax reported that a lack of transport links was a key factor in Google walking away from White Bay.

While the planned Sydney Metro West underground line does include a stop at the Bays Precinct, it is way down the list of priorities with a new rail link in the city’s north west under construction and a second line to the south west the next cab off the rank.

Speaking to news.com.au, Tarsha Finney, an expert on architecture and urbanism at UTS, said good transport links to big development sites was “undeniably and absolutely essential,” and with those links a decade or more away Google may have chosen to base themselves somewhere more connected.

Aerial view of the Bays Precinct which the NSW Government wants to become a tech hub.

Aerial view of the Bays Precinct which the NSW Government wants to become a tech hub.Source:Supplied

The loss of a high profile tenant such as Google was a “huge blow,” said Peter Bishop, a professor of urban design at University College London who is visiting Sydney.

“You won’t get big people coming in without the infrastructure. It’s enormously difficult to refit the power station without an anchor tenant and it might mean rethinking what the strategy is.”

UrbanGrowth NSW are now faced with finding a large new organisation to fund the expensive conversion of the old power station, close to Balmain, or look at converting it at huge cost and hoping smaller tech companies will take up the space.

“No one knows what to do with these closed down iconic redundant pieces of infrastructure,” said Ms Finney.

“The Tate Modern art gallery [housed in an old London power station] has worked but there’s only so much cultural programming you can use to fill those enormous spaces.”

Artist's impression of a redeveloped White Bay Power Station which Google was to move into. Picture: Supplied

Artist’s impression of a redeveloped White Bay Power Station which Google was to move into. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

UrbanGrowth NSW’s head Barry Mann played down Google’s pull out saying “I don’t think it’s a massive drama, it’s a really long-term project, it’s going to take 20 to 30 years across the entire Bays Precinct … and we’re only three years in.”

But Opposition leader Luke Foley has slammed the Government’s entire plan for White Bay.

“It’s all fallen apart because the Government has only had a plan for the area for more and more high-rise apartments,” Mr Foley told ABC.

“You won’t get companies like Google and their talented mobile workforce to relocate to a precinct unless that precinct has public transport, accessibility and open space”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian spruiked another infrastructure project on Wednesday announcing the Land and Property Information’s titling and registry services has been leased for $2.6 billion.

The Australian Registry Investments consortium, that includes Australian institutional investors, First State Super and Hastings Funds Management as well as 20 per cent stake from the UK’s part nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland Group won the tender.

Ms Berejiklian said $1 billion from the concession would be used to upgrade stadiums in Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park.

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