Great cities are more than their residential neighbourhoods. In a fast-growing, physically constrained city, competing pressures on the use of land are understandably intense. Over the past 20 years, how our city works has changed. How the city functions, and the spaces and places where Sydneysiders work, have transformed dramatically.
Amid Greater Sydney’s growth in the knowledge economy, the story and importance of our industrial and urban services activities get somewhat overlooked. Data actually tells us that the industrial and urban services sector is growing; becoming more efficient and adaptable, providing more jobs and making a key contribution to our city’s economy as a critical component in a metropolis that works.
Greater Sydney is the manufacturing capital of Australia with industry gross value added (GVA) of $21.5 billion (GSRP 2018a) and contributing 22.2 per cent of national GVA in 2015–16.
The GVA for Greater Sydney’s industrial and urban services land grew by more than $16 billion between 2011 and 2016 to $83.7 billion while job numbers grew by 48,633 over the same period.
Studies indicate only 8 per cent of land across Greater Sydney is presently zoned for non-residential uses such as industrial and urban services. Despite this, 19 per cent of all jobs across Greater Sydney are classified as industrial and in some Districts the proportion on industrial land is as high as 37 per cent. (GSC 2017 and 2018b)
The Property Council of Australia has expressed concern to the Commission that, with take-up rates of industrial land at approximately 150 hectares per annum across Greater Sydney, the currently available 295 hectares represents less than two years forward supply and argues that critical shortages have led to dramatic land price increases in the Western Parkland City over the last two years.
Managing and supporting our industrial and urban services land requires a carefully considered and managed approach and, where appropriate, protection from competing land uses such as residential. Far from advocating for the status quo, this Paper identifies this land as evolving and advancing to be at the forefront of helping our cities demonstrate resilience in adapting to automation, new format logistics and the need to stimulate employment activities that lead to a more equitable and efficient metropolis.
More careful and thoughtful plans are required for these precincts, to increase the density and range of activities which can take place within them and ensure that they remain productive, affordable and economically viable locations for businesses. Cities around the world are increasingly recognising that successful commercial centres, innovation clusters and health and education precincts rely heavily on their proximity to land which offers vital support, service and interface functions.
The value of industrial and urban services land should not be based only on the volume and types of jobs generated, but the operational role and function it plays throughout the city.
This is a key consideration.
For Greater Sydney, alongside active management of existing employment areas and allowing for their evolution, there is also a need for a long-term, spatial approach to providing employment areas in newly developing parts of the metropolis.
Both old and new industrial and urban services activities share important characteristics central to their success, as well as the fundamentals to a functioning city: proximity to end-markets and the creation and sustaining of local networks. They also remind us that while the nature and scope of employment-generating activities will shift over time, the core drivers underpinning why productive activity succeeds in these locations remains.
This Paper also argues that industrial and urban services also share the need to access affordable land for industrial uses.
Greater Sydney is not alone in responding to such pressures. Cities with similar demands – London, San Francisco, Vancouver and New York – are also taking a more strategic approach to ensure the economic and employment-generating conditions provided by their industrial lands are supported and protected.
All cities need an intelligent approach to land use decisions which support a functioning city. In this, industrial and urban services land is an integral component: relinquishing it in the face of shorter-term imperatives is likely to be costly in the long term because once the land has moved to a higher value use, it is highly unlikely ever to be converted back.