Home to white beaches, broad forests and the shiny urban towers immortalized in the film, The Matrix, Sydney wears its global icons proudly: the Harbor Bridge, spanning the world’s greatest harbor and the Opera House, on its southern shore.
The city is an economic hub of Australia and has has ridden the wave of 25-plus years of uninterrupted economic growth.
Sydney is a city with a big footprint, its western corridors to the north and south of the Parramatta River absorbing a burgeoning population, with growth rates among the highest in the OECD.
Greater Sydney is made up of 33 local councils. The state of New South Wales has jurisdiction over transport, planning, health and education, but is without an integrated framework for planning and investing in the greater metro area. The Greater Sydney Commission was established in 2016 to integrate land use and infrastructure planning for the city.
Already a region beset by bushfire and flood, Sydney also faces severe climate-related risks, most notably with heat waves. Coastal property is at risk of sea-level rises and the city’s growth will put its natural resources such as fresh water under pressure in coming decades.
In 2018, Sydney is in the midst of an unprecedented infrastructure boom of metro lines, light rail, highways, schools and hospitals. It has a renewed focus on housing and affordability, and a mandate to invest in the west.
The future of Sydney is bright as the population swells to over eight million people by 2050.
Sydney’s planning invariably makes mention of affordable and accessible housing, calling for affordable rental housing targets, and such housing is a clear objective of the A Metropolis of Three Cities – The Greater Sydney Regional Plan. It sets an affordable housing target of five to 10 per cent of new dwellings, subject to viability, but these targets are not fixed in the subsidiary plans developed by regions and Local Government Areas (LGAs) (Council Local Environmental Plans). The responsibility for implementing housing affordability is devolved to councils that have not addressed the issue so far.
The city has set housing targets by region to meet and balance the projected demand but as with affordability targets, they rely on implementation by LGAs in Local Environment Plans, which has not been forthcoming. Sydney’s proliferation of LGAs is a structural barrier to delivering the housing needed for effective growth.
The planning framework makes provision for compact development in urban renewal precincts aligned with new transit infrastructure and broader priority precincts for medium- or high-density development. Design guidelines have been issued for medium-density infill development.
In support of amenity in the transition to a more compact city, Sydney has the Apartment Design Guide (ADG), which provides controls on natural ventilation, solar access and design review requirements. It also has the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) framework, which requires minimum thermal comfort, energy and water performance for all new dwellings. Both the ADG and BASIX are embedded in the regulatory approval framework for new dwellings.
Sydney’s ocean-side and harbor public realm are world-renowned and receive the bulk of attention and global interest, possibly to the detriment of its urban realm.
Streets are the most common public places in most cities. Their importance is reflected in both the land use planning and transport planning for the city — the Movement and Place Framework. District plans make allowances for the flexible use of streets for community activities and the importance of streets supporting healthy and active lifestyles, specifically mapping street life and meeting places, including live music, farmers’ markets, high streets and eat streets.
The importance of public places is clearly identified in the city plans — diverse places from streets to squares to rooftops and beaches, community gardens, farmers’ markets, co-working spaces, music venues and playgrounds.
The responsibility for delivery of the plans is devolved to LGAs and the mechanisms for implementation are not spelt out.
The planning for Sydney’s waterfronts is stronger than for its urban places. Specific planning documents include the South Creek Corridor Plan in the west and planning priority for delivering high-quality, open space in the east.
Planning for Sydney highlights A City in its Landscape as a primary goal and developing a city of extensive and connected green space is central to the city planning agenda. The green infrastructure plan for Sydney considers waterways, parks and open spaces, urban tree canopy and ground cover and urban bushland.
The metropolitan plan is supported by other government initiatives, including a metropolitan water management plan, biodiversity investment opportunity mapping and New South Wales (NSW) Guidelines for Urban Green Cover to support canopy cover across the city.
The NSW Government Architect’s office has developed a Green Grid strategy for metropolitan Sydney that includes a spatial framework for project opportunities.
Services and infrastructure that meet communities’ changing needs are high-profile objectives of the Greater Sydney Regional Plan, although the detail of health, education, and investment is to be found in agency planning frameworks. The NSW School Assets Strategic Plan provides a needs-based assessment of the projected primary and secondary students to 2030.
Expanded childcare and schooling are dealt with in the regulatory planning framework as well as the strategic planning framework, the State Environmental Planning Policy (Educational Establishments and Child Care Facilities).
Sydney has four world-recognized universities and each is expanding in partnership with government and industry in planned innovation precincts for Health and Aerospace aligned with strategic public investment in new infrastructure. The importance of high-value cultural institutions is identified in the plans but the specific long-term investment planning is less obvious.
Imbalances in the investment patterns for cultural infrastructure between the established eastern city and the growing western city remain a challenge for Sydney.
Sydney has elevated risks to climate change and strong institutional capacity to respond to those risks.
The NSW Climate Change Policy Framework identifies the importance of both adaptation and the removal of GHG emissions from the state economy, with a target of net zero GHG emissions by 2050. The adoption of the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities program has raised the awareness level of systemic resilience issues across the city.
The city also has elevated risk of extreme heat waves in the west, where most future residents will live. The land-use policies of urban greening to alleviate heat stress will become increasingly important. Sea level and coastal inundation risks also pose long-term climate challenges to the harbor city.
Sydney’s energy sector is still dominated by coal and the city lacks the key policy signals to stimulate a low-carbon energy grid. Similarly, a clear plan to transition the transport sector to electricity, hydrogen and another low-emissions alternative is yet to be seen.
Australian cities have long delivered a world-leading mix of amenity, livability and prosperity, making them a global destination of choice for immigration.
Robust growth in Sydney’s population is projected to continue, with most new residents living west of Parramatta, in a region expected to experience some of the more intense climate change impacts through heat stress.
The Greater Sydney Commission has taken a long-term view of metropolitan planning aligned with infrastructure planning to enable this growth effectively, and to the benefit of all Sydney’s communities. The draft regional plan for Greater Sydney has been concurrently developed with the metropolitan transport plan, Future Transport 2056, and the State Infrastructure Strategy, meaning better connections for people in Greater Sydney.
Several strategic planning documents for Sydney’s future integrated transport have been developed by state agencies and the Greater Sydney Commission.
Greater Sydney’s many local councils have also developed strategic plans for their jurisdictions that are aligned with broader infrastructure planning. Examples from significant councils such as the City of Sydney and the City of Parramatta were also considered in this assessment.
Sydney is awash with transport infrastructure work:
New metro lines under construction to the north-west and the city center, with southern extensions in planning
Motorway resilience and capacity projects in construction including improved connectivity to sea and airports
Construction and planning of multimodal logistics hubs
Light rail and high capacity bus networks in implementation
Funding and planning approval for a second international airport.
The Greater Sydney Commission’s Towards our Greater Sydney 2056 plan was developed along with the metropolitan transport plan, Future Transport 2056, and the State Infrastructure Strategy.
There is a depth of transport choice and plans for continued improvement to connectivity. The only missing piece is high-speed rail and its suitability is still being considered.
In terms of global gateways, Sydney has documented plans for responding to air and sea connections.
The international air gateway to Sydney (Kingsford Smith) will be expanded by the construction of the Western Sydney Airport, due for first-phase operation in 2026.
Sydney is primarily served by the ports of Botany, Kembla and Newcastle. They are forecast to approach capacity outside the timeframe of this study (mid-2030s to mid-2040s). Projects are planned to support improved connectivity and integrated performance for supporting rail and road infrastructure.
Councils and state agencies develop and implement the shared path projects intra- and inter-local government jurisdiction. City of Sydney has plans for more than 200 kilometers of dedicated cycleway network.
Pedestrian and low-speed zones are common and continue to increase across Sydney, recognized in council pedestrian strategies and achieving a safer vehicle/pedestrian/cycle interface.
There is no overarching strategy for end-of-trip facilities to support increases in active transport but these features continue to represent value in the commercial decisions made in selecting commercial and residential space.
Sydney recognizes the change in behavior of residents in reducing reliance on personal vehicles. In response, its Sustainable Sydney 2030 Strategy considers this reduced demand and the ability to transition on-street parking to other uses including shared-vehicle-only parking.
There is discussion of building code requirements related to car park design suitability for adaptive future use.
Although there is acknowledgement of behavioral change in planning documents, firm strategies and commitments to progress are generally of smaller scale.
Sydney and NSW have reacted to on-demand services in much the same way as other places. The nature of these mobility services is such that public funding or investment in infrastructure has not been needed to support the implementation, and the rapidly evolving nature of the market has not allowed for much future planning with confidence.
The activity undertaken in Sydney has been to clear the regulatory and legislative obstacles to the efficient delivery of these on-demand services. Authorities say 50 legislative and regulatory amendments have been enacted to smooth the transition in transport.
Both the Future Transport Plan and the Greater Sydney Regional Plan note the potential of automated/driverless vehicles, electric vehicles and drones (primarily in relation to last-mile freight but acknowledging the future may include passenger transport). These future technologies are generally seen as suitable for “further investigation” without firm strategy or implementation.
The City of Sydney has installed electric charging points in public car parks. An automated vehicle trial is under way around Sydney Olympic Park.
Well-developed physical and digital infrastructure affect productivity directly by connecting economic agents, reducing transaction costs, easing the effects of distance and time, facilitating the flow of information, and facilitating integration of markets into global value chains. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are becoming increasingly important; there is a growing sense that they facilitate innovation and lift company and country productivity by giving decision-makers more complete information.
The City of Sydney’s Digital Strategy outlines a way to find which services and programs should be delivered digitally in the future and which should remain available offline. The creation and publication of this comprehensive document alone is an important indicator of the maturity of Sydney’s approach to using technology for the betterment of its citizens’ lives.
Traditionally wired internet services have been provided via copper wires designed to support landlines. Fiber optic cable is replacing these copper wires in most countries. Fiber is a fixed-line internet that can support much higher bandwidth for multiple users than the copper wires. It's made from glass and uses light to transmit data over long distances. It is far superior to copper wire and is essential to support both consumers and businesses as we become more dependent on our ability to receive and transmit large volumes of rich media content and information.
Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) is superior to Fiber-to-the-Node (FTTN). The latter uses copper wires from the street to the business or home and fiber to the street only. The existence or plan to install either version of fiber is a critical element in facilitating digital connectivity.
Under the Australian National Broadband Network, Sydney and Australia are predominantly receiving FTTH.
Each new generation of cellular technologies has brought greater functionality available in more places with ever faster access to information. In almost all cases these improvements have been accompanied by decreasing access and usage costs resulting in mobile devices becoming an essential and ubiquitous tool for communications, content digestion and content creation. 5G will give wireless broadband the capacity it needs to power thousands of connected devices that will reach our homes and workplaces.
Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) is a Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) radio technology standard developed to enable a wide range of devices and services to be connected using cellular telecommunications bands. It is the backbone of the IoT. NB-IoT focuses specifically on indoor coverage, low-cost, long battery life, and enabling many connected devices. The move towards autonomous vehicles and connected infrastructure will make reliable robust access and connectivity essential.
As more people and devices are being connected and depend on the internet the complementary wireless technologies of 5G and NB-IoT will become redefined as part and parcel of our critical infrastructure.
The availability of Wi-Fi is considered essential for both personal and business applications. Many cities recognize this and provide free public Wi-Fi access both through commercial providers, such as telcos, and businesses, such as cafes, as well as by the responsible authority itself. Regardless of who is providing the free public Wi-Fi, access and availability enables citizens and visitors to easily access a range of services at no cost.
Sydney has many commercial providers of free Wi-Fi and plans to increase access.
Open Data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. There is a global movement in developed countries for governments at all levels to make their vast amounts of public data freely available.
Making government information available to the public as Open Data can facilitate government transparency, accountability and public participation. Opening up official information can also support technological innovation and economic growth by enabling third parties to develop new kinds of digital applications and services.
Open government applications seek to empower citizens, to help small businesses or to create value in some other constructive way. The City of Sydney, New South Wales Government and the Australian Government all provide open government data.
Citizens using services, especially government ones, must have confidence that any information they provide is confidential and stored appropriately, that the system they’re using is safe and secure, that they know how their information will be used and that they can easily retrieve any information they provide. If a service cannot guarantee confidentiality, integrity and availability of the system, people will not use it.
The presence of strong legislative and regulatory forms of protection for data security and privacy is essential to sustain confidence and usage of online sites and information. Australia and the New South Wales Government have comprehensive security and privacy legislation.
Sydney’s Digital Strategy provides the overarching framework for digital transformation, guiding the approach that will be taken and articulating the things that need to be considered and achieved to be successful. The document recognizes the necessity of having robust, reliable, secure infrastructure and connectivity to ensure that the vision for a Digital City of Sydney is possible.
The presence of this strategy together with the political support evident in producing and implementing it is a positive indicator of future readiness.
Like all cities on Australia’s east coast, Sydney is hampered by the energy policy gridlock that has dominated Australian politics at a federal level for more than a decade. The energy grid in NSW is predominantly fed by coal-fired power stations, with the Clean Energy Regulator placing the state as the second highest emitter of CO2 in Australia in 2016 to 2017.
Policy uncertainty on climate change mitigation has led to an under-investment in new generation infrastructure to replace aging power stations. This is changing as belief strengthens that Australia will strive to meet its Renewable Energy Target obligations of 33,000 GWh by 2020.
The private sector in NSW has led innovation in the energy sector, with rooftop solar systems common and micro-grids and a slow smartening of the grid. This innovation is often despite, rather than because of, the regulatory environment. Unlike Victoria and Queensland, there is no explicit state renewable energy target for NSW.
About two-and-a-half years ago the City of Sydney completed a major study and report, the Energy Efficiency Masterplan: Improving Energy Productivity. This highlights important steps to reduce GHG emissions but is not necessarily linked to external comparable benchmarks. There is room for improvement for Sydney to decarbonize its energy systems and encourage a smart grid that can manage demand, include high proportions of renewable energy, and maintain reliability.
Sydney Water, the government-owned statutory corporation providing potable drinking water and wastewater and some stormwater services to the Sydney metropolitan and surrounding areas, is embarking on a Lifestream Strategy of becoming a highly efficient, world-class utility. It delivers 551 billion liters of water annually, serving about five million people across Sydney in two million properties.
Beyond the implementation of its customer-centric design, Sydney Water is investing in transforming the way it does business, prioritizing customer experience and enhancing efficiencies by working with its supply chain to serve customers better and reduce complexity.
As with other parts of Australia, Sydney faced a chronic water management challenge because of its fast population growth, long-term climate change exposure and water shortages that date back to the early 2000s drought.
This challenge led to a substantial public investment in resilience infrastructure including a desalination plant and water recycling precincts across the city. There has also been a boom in private water schemes due to recent legislative changes, including water recycling plants at Gerringong and St Mary’s. The CAD60 billion Barangaroo development and the Sydney Olympic Park Authority water reclamation and management scheme are some of the larger private schemes. These plants have supported new compact development across the city, enabled by the regulatory framework for competition in the water sector. However, these systems are limited in their reach. It isn’t clear that Sydney has the breadth of resilience features to avoid severe water constraints in a climate-uncertain future.
Although river discharge water quality is strictly regulated, Sydney’s deep-water, ocean-outfall system for wastewater is not world’s best practice, but recent capital investments has greatly improved the public health problems at Sydney’s beaches. Newer treatment plant upgrades indicate an increasing planning focus on better treatment technology and better environmental and public health outcomes than in the past, such as the Lower South Creek Treatment Program.
Warragamba Dam is the biggest concrete dam in Australia and one of the largest domestic water supply dams in the world. Lake Burragorang, which is formed behind Warragamba Dam, is about four times the size of Sydney Harbor. In 1998 the Sydney Catchment Authority was created and is firmly focused on security of raw water sources.
Waste management in Sydney is the responsibility of local governments. As Sydney is made up of many local government areas it was recognized that to attain world-class status in waste management efficiencies, particularly in relation to waste infrastructure, planning would be needed.
In response, a series of alliances have been created specifically to facilitate strategic waste management planning. This has enabled Sydney to be defined as four distinct waste management areas, namely Northern Sydney Regional Organization of Councils (ROC), Western Sydney ROC, Southern Sydney ROC and the City of Sydney (CoS).
Strategic plans for waste minimization and resource recovery exist for all ROCs to 2021 (except Western Sydney) and CoS to 2030. The plans (particularly the CoS) lean heavily on funding generated via the NSW waste levy (CAD60 million to 2020) to achieve strategic goals of changing the nature of waste management by shifting the focus from waste to resource recovery. Funding is likely to decline as new infrastructure is established with maintenance becoming the focus as opposed to innovation.
The aim of a zero waste Sydney is dominant for CoS. International case studies have been considered in the derivation of strategic targets and these include infrastructure planning (collection and management), education, population densification, technology requirements and resource recovery markets.
Landfills are also well regulated and typically well managed. Residential waste is separated and commercial waste in the built environment has high levels of diversion from landfill supported by the green building sector. NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) notes that there is a diminishing supply of approved landfill capacity particularly within greater Sydney and while zero waste to landfill is a strategic target it is unlikely to be achieved in the near term. Other technologies such as waste to energy plants are being investigated.
Efforts to mitigate waste in the supply chain are part of the strategy with actions, including recycled products, starting immediately for council projects and operations. Single-use plastics are common and Sydney suffers from the same highly wasteful goods packaging economy as many other rich cities.
Hazardous wastes remain the responsibility of the NSW EPA and are governed separately to the other domestic or commercial waste streams. The NSW Protection of the Environment (Waste) Regulation 2014 has no hazardous waste reduction targets and focuses solely on environmental protection and handling of hazardous wastes.
Sydney does everyday waste management well and is learning lessons from other more established major cities’ waste management practices. Some funded initiatives are gaining traction and consideration of city expansion and densification plays a key role in strategy. The realization of a zero waste Sydney and achieving a low-waste trajectory is under way and supported by the collaborative approach adopted by the ROCs and CoS.