Google has walked away from plans to turn a disused power station 2km from the CBD, into its new Australian headquarters in a major blow to the NSW’s government’s $20 billion “Bays Precinct” redevelopment of 95 hectares of waterfront land on Sydney Harbour.
The global tech giant spent more than 18 months in negotiations with the state government’s developer, UrbanGrowth NSW, about taking over the heritage–listed White Bay power station – currently a rusted shell including two disused chimney stacks beside the Anzac Bridge, west of the CBD, after former premier Mike Baird flagged turning the area, which includes 10 hectares industrial waterfront land, into a tech hub.
But Sydney’s traffic woes appear to have killed off the idea, with the government admitting that it could not deliver the infrastructure Google required in time.
“Ultimately, the complexity of the project and the timing of associated transport infrastructure could not meet Google’s requirements at this time,” a government spokesperson said.
The Anzac Bridge is often choked with traffic and the turnoff that would lead to the site is often banked back to halfway across the bridge.
Plans for a metro rail line to the area are still more than a decade away. The option of a ferry service to the Blackwattle Bay area from Circular Quay has not been flagged, despite increased residential density at sites such as the former Harold Park paceway in recent years.
A number of community leaders, from former Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne to the former CEO of Urbangrowth NSW have repeatedly warned that public transport infrastructure was essential to any redevelopment.
The government has instead focussed on delivering more road infrastructure, but the timeline for public transport improvements would mean the site would be surrounded by construction work.
Google said it was still committed to finding a new “long-term” HQ in Sydney, which is believed to be up to 100,000 square metres, but abandoned talks with Urbangrowth NSW by mutual agreement.
“We are grateful to the NSW government and UrbanGrowth NSW for their efforts to deliver on their impressive vision for White Bay power station,” a spokesperson said.
“Through the genuine and productive negotiations in the last few months we’ve come to realise that achieving that vision isn’t possible within our timeframe.
We remain committed to Australia, to supporting innovation in Sydney and across the country and will continue to liaise with the government to identify an alternative long-term home here in Sydney.”
Google currently has its Australian headquarters at Darling Island, Pyrmont. It maintains a sales force in Sydney as well as an engineering division, which was most famously responsible for the creation of Google Maps.
Losing Google as the signature tenant at the White Bay station puts its future in doubt as a tech hub after the government already knocked back more than a dozen proposals for the site, including one from Lendlease.
After calling for submissions from the private sector in 2015, the NSW government and planning minister Rob Stokes rejected all 13 proposals they received, instead appointing the government’s property developer UrbanGrowth NSW as master developer of the precinct.
UrbanGrowth NSW chairman John Brogden said at the time that none of the proposals complied with the government’s wishes.
Former premier Mike Baird said he wanted transform the old power station into “a global centre for hi-tech jobs and innovation” for “global giants of technology and innovation cluster and connect with start-up entrepreneurs, business incubators and accelerators”.
At the time the premier sold off the Australian Technology Park in Redfern to a consortium led by the Commonwealth Bank, which is consolidating its operations from Parramatta in western Sydney on the inner city site. A bid by Australian tech giant Atlasssian to take control of the site was rejected by the government.
“The NSW government under Gladys Berejiklian said it remains committed to turning White Bay into a tech hub,” an Urbangrowth NSW spokesperson said.
“Given the iconic nature of White Bay Power Station and its significance to Sydney, we will continue with our methodical and considered approach to its redevelopment.
“Later this year, UrbanGrowth NSW will be commemorating the site’s centenary of operations and will release further information in due course.”