Sydney’s White Bay Power Station is a piece of industrial history. Located in suburban Rozelle, the plant was built in the early 20th century and operated for almost 70 years.
It closed in 1983 and the site is currently embroiled in local politics over how to develop it. In June, the government rejected 13 different proposals from private entities and seized the land.
“This will not be an exercise where government hands over large areas of public land and gives away control, without ensuring good outcomes for the community,” Planning Minister Rob Stokes said at the time.
The plant itself, situated just outside Sydney at Victoria Road and Roberts Street in Rozelle, was first built a century ago for the local tram and rail system. By the 1980s, it became the oldest power-producing plant in the Sydney area.
The White Bay Power Station underwent two development projects in the 1920s and 1940s to ensure it met the needs of the region.
The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) bought the site in 2000 for around 4 million Australian dollars and, in 2004, the New South Wales (NSW) Heritage Council approved a plan to conserve the power station.
The site doesn’t see many tourists – it’s generally off-limits to all but those granted rare licensed tours – but it has received attention from Hollywood. Films like “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Great Gatsby” used the vacant power station, as have productions of many Australian television programs.
As the target of development talks in the last year, the White Bay complex has seen interest from Australian developer Lendlease as well as Google. But now that the site will go back to the government, any new construction is expected to take into consideration the community’s interests.
“We put it out to the market, the market didn’t comply,” said John Brogden, chair of UrbanGrowth NSW, a government agency that oversees the power station. “No one complied, full stop. Therefore the government needs to step back in, in order to provide its own vision.”
That vision involves being a center for cutting-edge technology businesses, but some wonder if that is a good idea.
“[I]t may be that’s not the right and best use for it if the private sector has not been able to stack this up economically,” said Chris Johnson, chief executive of Urban Taskforce.
Regardless of what happens to the power station in the long term, it remains a historical site of a bygone era as long as it stands.
The facility includes the Turbine Hall Building with the administrative offices, a laboratory, and workshop, and coal handling system.
The White Bay Power Station finally ran out of juice on Christmas Day 1983. Crews spent the next decades cleaning up the site, decontaminating it and removing the old machinery still sitting around.
While it hasn’t been used in decades, the White Bay complex is ready for its next phase. Hopefully, the local planning authorities can put the site to good use and respect its heritage.
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