Animating White Bay Power Station


This project proposal has arisen from the invitation by Urban Growth after the International Experts Summit November 19-20 to participants to make any further suggestions they felt useful. I am taking advantage of that invitation.

Before doing so, I would like to congratulate Urban Growth on a most successful and stimulating conference. I am sure very good things can flow from what was learned from both the excellent speakers and knowledgeable fellow participants.

The Proposal


This proposal is made in the spirit of the Community’s Planning Principles as developed over the last decade and endorsed twice in 2014. It closely follows from suggestions made in the first Community Plan 2006, the Community Reference Group (CRG) Report 2009-10 (SHFA 2010) and the Plan proposed by a group of  members of the CRG also in 2010. It also largely follows suggestions made in the report of the Bays Precinct Taskforce in 2012.

It is proposed simply as an INTERIM project and in no way is intended to pre-empt any longer term proposals for the adaptive reuse of the White Bay Power Station and the remaining wharves of White Bay itself. Such proposals must be subject to all processes determined through the Bays Precinct Strategic Plan and involve the community throughout.

The Context of the Proposal

White Bay is the area of the Bays Precinct where the water meets a dense population on the land but current arrangements offer local people no access to the foreshore or the water. We know that locals want access and we have been negotiating for it for some years, with a little success.

Speakers at the Summit, in particular during the long and rich session on White Bay, inspired me to make a suggestion. Many speakers said that small and temporary projects, which they called ‘meanwhiles’ in the case of the Tate Modern (Hyslop), are often critical in unleashing creative suggestions for overall change. These ‘meanwhile’ or temporary projects demand some public, and possibly private, investment but return hugely in terms of public familiarisation with neighbourhood change, increasing the range of available ideas, increasing goodwill and enthusiasm from the local community and visitors more broadly and possibly inspiring further sources of investment. Above all, perhaps, such ‘meanwhiles’ enable locals to begin what may be a very long process of rebuilding trust in a situation where there is currently little and where people feel deeply that no-one is listening or taking their needs, either present or future, into account.

The ‘Meanwhile’ Proposal

The ‘meanwhile’ I have in mind has two sources. On the one hand, it draws directly on my knowledge of what local residents and businesses have said over many years about what they both want and need. On the other hand, it responds to recommendations made by international expert speakers, most notably Hyslop and Randel but others too, at the Summit about mechanisms for community participation in planning urban renewal in precious areas of the Bays Precinct kind. The Bays Precinct is the most valuable urban renewal area in Sydney and redevelopment must be got right. This proposal is intended to help get it right.

The focus of the Summit segment on White Bay was actually the White Bay Power Station. The Power Station, in my view, is critically important as its adaptive reuse can offer a multiplicity of activities, including employment (recognising that Sydney is short of employment lands), and address the needs of both locals and a wide range of others. Equally important, it is the only current permanent magnet infrastructure and so the obvious focus of renewal activities, especially where employment is concerned.

But the Power Station is only part of White Bay and even early discussions should recognise that.

White Bay has two other components. One is the maritime activity area, culminating at the North end in the Cruise Terminal and Bailey’s marine refuelling, followed by a space which has diverse but essentially temporary uses such as storage of fireworks for New Year’s Eve. Towards the Power Station, the water becomes much shallower and there are no deep water berths, or even any berths. This area, closest to the Power Station, is currently totally unused. It is also a very narrow area of port frontage with no wharves. Finally, it is where the historic Bald Rock ferry terminal used to be located (the end of Buchanan St) and very close to the most densely populated area on the Balmain side of the BP. It is unfortunate that the Port Authority chose the very period of the Summit which was meant to start from a blank page to advertise leases of indeterminate length in this critical area, an area which has not been used for many years (see advertisement in the Financial Review of the weekend preceding the Summit) but this should be part of the negotiations which would surround my proposal.

My suggestion has several components and benefits.

First, the transport element. Locals have long wanted the return of the ferry service which was terminated by Ports some decades ago. Since the end of the ferry service, the population of the area immediately surrounding White Bay has enormously increased with the end of the industrial Harbour in the neighbourhood and the construction in its place of medium density apartments and townhouses which now house several thousand new residents as well as more established locals. Journey to work data tell us that many residents work in North Sydney, Darling Harbour and the City. They have difficulty using the current bus service whose vehicles not only have to join the huge traffic queues on Anzac bridge but which are usually full when they reach our area during commuting times. A ferry service is thus high on many people’s agendas. We have been working on this for some time. The new temporary Exhibition Centre on Glebe Island has the beginning of such a service but it does not come to White Bay which currently has no wharf and only operates on exhibition days. This is a waste. But it is easily remedied. Grant Gilfillan, the Head of Ports has already publicly expressed his willingness to provide access to the waterfront for a ferry service.

The ‘meanwhile’ proposed here would thus provide a valuable transport service, a ferry for locals to go to the city on their way to work and leisure. It would also service arrivals and departures for passengers using the Cruise Passenger Terminal on their way to and from the city and beyond. Such a ferry service would take cars and buses off Anzac Bridge. Speakers at the Summit agreed that ferries were part of the traffic solution for the Bays, which at present has none, and be especially good as a first start before the introduction of larger scale solutions.

Equally important, the ferry service works two ways. It can provide a popular and enjoyable way to bring visitors into White Bay and from there to the rest of the Bays Precinct. Bringing people from elsewhere in to see the Precinct for themselves  is fundamental to communicating the message that the Bays Precinct is for the whole of Sydney, not just people who live in the Bays, and even beyond. Enabling people to see for themselves further enables the message itself to begin to have real meaning and start creative discussions.

Speakers at the Summit said ‘Put on activities and people will come’. The ferry service gives them an enjoyable means to come. New activities at the Power Station give them the reason to come.

A Power Station ‘meanwhile’ provides those activities. Several speakers at the Summit session on White Bay advocated simply making the Power Station safe and opening it to the public for small scale activities as soon as possible. Those activities could be periodic, such as markets and seasonal fairs, recreational and cultural, such as small scale concerts, or more professional, such as creative activities, pop ups of various kinds, indoors or outside. Small scale research or prototyping could also be possible and use local skills as a prelude to many future employment solutions, whether in the realm of higher education, other cultural facilities, a green energy hub or hotel and retail – perhaps all these since the building is so large. These activities correspond well to existing local education and skills as well as interests and the needs of the future economy of the city. They also have broader appeal.

These activities could be enriched and the whole Power Station heritage and place in the development of Balmain in the past made clearer to the public by a light display on the walls of the Power Station which could be seen by everyone travelling on Anzac Bridge as well as locals driving in and out of Balmain.

Participation in these activities would thus provide the initial focus of interest for visitors who then begin to see the possibilities of a Power Station adaptively re-used and restored to its former glory. It would enable visitors to interact with locals, explore the area and think about the possible for this section of the Bays and beyond. Further it could lead them to imagine ways to achieve the desired future, to recognise the heritage value and the place of the Power Station and the Bays Precinct in the history of Sydney. More immediately, it also links different areas of the Peninsula with an industrial past and links the rest of the Peninsula and the Rozelle and Blackwattle Bay and Glebe sides of the Precinct in new and interesting ways.

These activities could start very simply. One speaker on White Bay at the Summit (Randel) suggested that just putting in a garden and a promenade would bring people in and begin the dialogue on the future. It was suggested that the Power Station be stabilised and then opened very soon to the public so people could begin to see what they have in the area, to value it and to offer suggestions for the future. The dust sift fence could be easily removed as it is no longer needed and the building properly shown off to the community.

Enormous benefit

I suggest in summary, therefore, that a small public investment in a ‘meanwhile’ or series of ‘meanwhiles’ of the kind proposed here could have a big impact on the smooth and interesting development of White Bay Power Station and its environment on many counts. By providing something of immediate and practical use to residents and business people, in this case a ferry service, with the possibilities of new activities alongside in what is now a very unwelcoming zone, this proposal would show locals that they have a lot to gain if the revitalisation of the Bays Precinct is both useful and exciting, improving amenities rather than imposing new burdens. But equally valuable, it would also create a focus for people from other areas and beyond to visit the Bays Precinct and begin to appreciate the possibilities. The fact that the Bays lands are an asset for the whole city has been a constant theme in local consideration of the area and Urban Growth and the government as a whole have emphasised this broader value. My suggestion thus aims to advance both the very local and much broader amenities and agendas and involve both locals and visitors.

Jane Marceau

White Bay Joint Steering Committee

November 24 2014

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