Sydney's Most Valuable Site Set for Preservation Battle

With an election looming, the fate of one of Sydney's landmarks rests with voters as current Prime MInister Kevin Rudd suggests selling Garden Island should he be re-elected. Stephen Nicholls and Antony Lawes consider the site's future.
September 1, 2013, 5am PDT | Kat Martindale
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Not an island at all but a 27 hectare peninsular jutting out into Sydney Harbour, with spectacular views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and out through the headlands to the Pacific Ocean, Garden Island could be a developer's dream. The site is currently occupied by the Australian Navy and their relocation north to Queensland could release billions of dollars into Australian Federal Government coffers. Chris Johnson, head of the developer lobby the Urban Taskforce, estimates that the site could accommodate 10,000 apartments, continuing the density of the adjoining suburb of Potts Point. 

However this runs directly up against the National Trust's vision for the site, where conservation manager, Graham Quint, is hoping to avoid "another Barangaroo" with "more and more high rise and casinos". The National Trust hopes to "keep the island pretty intact and use the buildings sensitively, bearing in mind the historic value of each of the buildings". Making use of the deep-water port as a cruise ship terminal, Quint thinks it would be "a much better site for tourism, entertainment, museums, parkland".

But with property in nearby waterfront suburbs such as Darling Point regularly breaking records for 'most expensive' suggesting record land values for the peninsular and huge demand for residential properties in Australia's most expensive city, the National Trust's vision may be optimistic.  

Commercial services agency CBRE is selling the first draft of apartments on the Barangaroo site this weekend. Chairman Justin Brown suggests that incorporating the heritage buildings in an "adaptive re-use of that would be quite spectacular for Sydney". This plan could include "15- to 18-storey towers against the rock face, which would cascade to waterfront parks". Chris Johnson is more ambitious and thinks that the 20 to 30 storey residential buildings "could be quite dramatic" and that "it would be a lost opportunity in moving the navy out if we ended up with just the same buildings there, with a few community centres and a few art galleries".

The National trust has recognised 15 sites on the Island as being significant "including houses, former barracks, workshops and a boat shed", many from the 1880s, and rock carvings created in 1788 by the sailors from the Royal Navy escort to the first fleet, HMS Sirius. Justin Brown expects that even if the Federal Government relocates the Navy to Queensland, it is likely to be the best part of a decade before the site sees any building, giving the National Trust plenty of time to draw up conservation and preservation advice for new owners.

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Published on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Sydney Morning Herald
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