BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS
The future of the Sydney tech industry is in a state of flux, with the informal start-up ‘spiritual home’ of Sydney now set for development.
Australian Technology Park in Eveleigh is up for sale, with developer Mirvac agreeing to buy the site for $263 million.
Greens Newtown MP Jenny Leong criticised the sale, and said the heritage and technology hub would be lost to “flashy Comm Bank logos”.
“This is an irreplaceable part of the historic fabric of Sydney’s inner city. Once it’s taken out of public hands we’ll lose it forever,” Ms Leong said.
According to Ms Leong, a strong community campaign which highlighted the historical significance of the site had pushed the Minister for Environment and Heritage to agree to protect certain heritage items and would maintain public access.
However, Ms Leong said that these minor amendments were “still not good enough”..
“Allowing retail and commercial outlets to overtake this community and heritage space will have irreversible impacts and will completely change the fabric of the area.”
Since the proposed sale, the NSW Government has suggested the White Bay Power Station site could be Sydney’s answer to Silicon Valley.
The government said that the technology space would accommodate Sydney’s growing tech industry by providing a precinct for existing companies and budding entrepreneurs to collaborate.
The Bays Precinct website said that the government was committed to “initiate an international expression of interest process, as well as targeted trade and investment missions”.
The start-up hub is proposed to attract “partnerships and investments with universities, business, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and research organisations”.
However, the plans have drawn criticism from tech industry stakeholders and local council.
Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne questioned whether a start-up precinct would work without adequate public transport.
“Without a mass public transport system, it won’t be our own Silicon Valley, it will be Chatswood by the Sea,” Clr Byrne said.
He said that the culmination of 16,000 residential units in the suburb, coupled with the plans for the new technology precinct, meant that public transport must be prioritised.
He said that reopening the Glebe Island Bridge to pedestrians and cyclists would make the site a ten minute walk from the CBD.
Kyri Theos, Asia Pacific Director of Freelance, one of Australia’s most successful start-ups with ASX listing, also criticised the proposal.
He told City Hub that the government’s approach to artificially cultivating a start-up and technology hub was against the more organic development of start-up communities around the world.
“Where start-ups cluster and where they want to be based is usually a reflection of good public transport service, hip cafes, nightlife and low rents,” Mr Theos said.
“Whether White Bay is where we should be trying to develop a cluster is a good question,” he said.
“That could have been an option for investment, and a lot of the White Bay thing was about grabbing headlines, rather than a carefully thought out plan.”
He said that if Australians were serious about being a ‘start-up nation’, government and people had to start thinking about start-ups as part of the mainstream, not just as peculiar to capital cities.
“Start-up events, incubators, co-working spaces and the ecosystem serve not only to bring more entrepreneurs together, or build business, it shows people what is possible, it shows that it is a real option, and helps to overcome that fear, and positions launching a start-up as a okay career option.”
It is expected that construction on the White Bay site will start in 2018.
Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson called for a second metro to the site for faster access between the hub and the CBD.
“Public transport connections from Glebe Island to the centre of Sydney city will be important to resolve,” Mr Johnson said.
“If the Bays site is developed fully, a light rail connection may not be adequate to get quick access to the city, and a future metro that duplicated the Western heavy rail line could connect with a Glebe Island station as well as improving the Sydney Olympic site’s connectivity.”