Tech precinct plan heads to Cabinet

James Riley
Editorial Director

It is more than a year since Premier Gladys Berejiklian stood with Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar in Sydney to unveil the city’s ambition to build an innovation and technology precinct in the corridor between Central Station and Eveleigh.

After 13 months and one state election campaign, that proposal is moving closer to reality, with the formal proposal to redevelop the western side of Central that includes three sites at Henry Deane Plaza expected to be considered by Cabinet within weeks.

Should the blueprint for the redevelopment be approved in the next fortnight, the project would move to its public exhibition phase for comment, and developers Dexus and Frasers would reasonably be expected to move ahead to stage three approval in the state’s unsolicited proposals process.

The so-called Western Walk development has been planned as a mixed-use commercial-residential area, with the underpinning design put together with tech companies in mind. It is understood to include a 6,000 square metre campus-style floor plate, the kind of large-scale open plan office space favoured by fast growing, fast moving tech companies.

Precisely where and how Atlassian’s headquarters will be placed within this mix is not yet clear. Mr Farquhar signed the company on as an anchor tenant for the proposed Sydney Innovation and Technology Precinct when it was first mooted last August, and then reconfirmed its involvement when the Premier confirmed government’s intention to move ahead with the project last February.

While NSW Jobs Minister Stuart Ayres’ office confirms that the government continues to work with Atlassian to finalise plans for the company’s headquarters to be located at the heart of the new precinct, other details – including its precise location – are being held tight.

The government has been tight-lipped about the plans for the Sydney Innovation and Technology Precinct since it was first mooted in August 2018. It commissioned a David Thodey-led taskforce of stakeholders including the local startup sector to conduct a short public consultation on the requirements for the precinct.

But it is thought that the proposal heading for Cabinet includes integrated planning for the three large developments including Transport for NSW, Dexus-Frasers, and Atlassian that would make up the Western walk development.

It is understood the process has not been entirely straight-forward, given the ‘interruption’ of the NSW state election in March and the considerable machinery of government changes that followed, including the move of the Jobs, Industry and Innovation ministries into the Treasury portfolio.

The machinery of government changes also saw the previously independent Jobs for NSW organisation subsumed into the Treasury, and its David Thodey-chaired board disbanded.

Jobs for NSW had been a primary driver of the government commitment to the Sydney Innovation and Technology Precinct.

While there had been discussion about delaying any consideration of government financial commitments until the formal state budget process next year, it is understood Cabinet will now consider the proposals “imminently”.

The Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres confirmed to the government commitment to the precinct but would not discuss timing.

“I am not only committed to, but truly excited by the Sydney Innovation and Tech Precinct. This Precinct has the potential to transform the tech and innovation ecosystem in NSW and we have been busy working to ensure that the vision for the Precinct is delivered,” Mr Ayres told through a statement.

“We are working to implement the recommendations from the Panel Report, including exploring location options for startup space, investigating appropriate rental rates and developing plans to deliver on the Government’s vision for the tech and innovation ecosystem in Sydney,” he said.

“As a further catalyst for growth, Atlassian continues to work with the NSW Government to finalise plans to locate their Australian headquarters in the heart of the Precinct.”

Meanwhile, planners within government are still working on the state government’s own commitment to help fund the allocation of a massive 50,000 square metres of space for technology startups and scale-ups.

Should the Western Walk plans and its redevelopment of Henry Deane Plaza be given the green light, it would be expected the build phase would take about five years to complete.

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