The region’s landscape is swiftly changing with booming communities, big ticket infrastructure projects and the transformative Western Sydney Airport.
And at the core of all that is an alliance of local councils that are pushing aside any suggestions that they are clambering over each other to secure a larger slice of the investment pie.
With the Greater Sydney Commission heading the charge to transform Sydney into a thriving metropolis of three cities – Sydney, Parramatta and Western Sydney – is a battle brewing amongst neighbouring councils vying for a slice of the funding pie to finance their incessant local infrastructure needs?
Not so, according to David Borger, Western Sydney director of the NSW Business Chamber.
He said any suggestion that Parramatta was competing with Penrith which was competing with Blacktown and so on was “just silly”.
“We’re not competing with each other. Our focus should be on working together. When one city thrives, that helps the others,” he said.
Not as adamant is Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller.
She said last year’s signing of the Western Sydney City Deal – a federal government undertaking to support Western Sydney councils secure jobs, roads and rail projects – saw some people emerge with an “I want” attitude.
“But from that there has been a lot of discussion and I think Campbelltown, Penrith and ourselves are at a place of maturity and are saying ‘how can we get what’s good for our region’.
“We’re bigger than that. If there are going to be opportunities for funding, we have to follow a mature approach. If we’re busy fighting over bones, we will miss the big picture.”
The Hills Shire Council's strategic planning group manager Michael Edgar agrees: “It does come down to a competition and that’s unfortunate because one area shouldn’t win out over the other.
“We all have a role to play and we all have real needs for government investment in our areas. It should be a matter of the state government agencies investing money in the right areas to make sure Greater Western Sydney functions properly.
“We need Blacktown and Penrith to succeed and they need us to succeed.”
That Parramatta’s role is key to the future growth of the rest of Sydney is justified, says Parramatta Council administrator Amanda Chadwick.
“Parramatta is a key employment, transport, medical and residential hub,” she said.
“More than $10 billion will be invested in economic and social infrastructure, and private commercial and residential development, and Parramatta will be the engine room for Australia’s most significant economic growth region.
“This was confirmed when the State Government recognised Parramatta as Sydney’s dual CBD in its metropolitan strategy, ‘A Plan for Growing Sydney’ in late 2014, and reinforced in 2016 when the Greater Sydney Commission identified greater Parramatta and the thriving economic corridor from Westmead to Olympic Park as being at the heart of Sydney’s Central City.”
But can the cities succeed independent of Parramatta?
Ms Chadwick says the growth of Parramatta – through high quality local jobs and lifestyle improvements – would have flow on benefits for the entire region.
“We all need Parramatta to succeed but are they more important than anywhere else? I don’t think so,” Mr Edgar said.
Parramatta has long served as an employment hub for residents across the west, Mr Borger said.
“Parramatta is expecting 15,000 commercial office jobs in the next three years. That’s a wave we’ve never seen before,” he said.
“But the challenge remains for people getting to Parramatta from the south west. The length of the commute is the real killer.”
And to that end, Penrith mayor John Thain says a north-south rail link – connecting Campbelltown to St Marys – will prove to be the real game changer for Western Sydney, describing it as “the single largest piece of missing infrastructure” in the region – bigger than the promised Western Sydney Airport.
That’s because unlike the airport, the rail link would “truly connect our community to opportunity,” he said.
So what benefit would an airport bring?
“Very little,” says Blacktown mayor Stephen Bali. “Too many people say it’s a game changer but we can’t ignore the health implications and the noise impacts, especially at night.”
“Anywhere in the world you’ll find airports are major generators of activity,” says The Hills’ Mr Edgar.
“Saying Badgerys Creek airport doesn’t have economic benefits for Western Sydney, or Sydney as a whole, is naïve.
“I don’t see there being terribly much harm for The Hills but if there is, I do think the benefits will outweigh that.”
For councillor Waller, the airport which will be wholly situated in her local government area of Liverpool, is an opportunity to lobby for better infrastructure.
“We are having to play a pivotal role to ensure we’re making the right noises to get the best deal to future proof Liverpool,” she said.
Campbelltown is set to benefit from an improved road system as a result of the airport, mayor Brticevic said.
“Council wants local jobs for local people and is committed to ensuring we are creating smart employment opportunities for local residents so they don’t have to travel,” he said.
Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone wouldn’t comment. Instead a spokesman said in a statement: “Western Sydney Airport can be a catalyst for better transport links…and has the potential to generate jobs for Fairfield residents.”
Key values: Parramatta occupies an important strategic location at the geographic centre of greater Sydney and anchors one of fastest growing regions in Australia, administrator Amanda Chadwick says. “It has a key role to play in supporting the continued growth and prosperity of this region and greater Sydney as a whole.”
What does the future hold: Parramatta is set to undergo a transformation as a result of unprecedented economic growth which will see the city’s economy grow by $7 billion to $30 billion; commercial floor space will expand by more than one-third on current levels; its workforce will increase to an estimated 186,000; and an additional 41,000 people will call Parramatta home.
How will Western Sydney Airport change Parramatta? Ms Chadwick says the airport will unlock the economic potential of Western Sydney and supercharge jobs growth in Parramatta. “Such a connection would not only have huge economic benefits for Parramatta, but would be a major factor in ensuring the success of the airport itself.”
Key values: Known as “the sporting city”, Blacktown is already a home base for the Western Sydney Wanderers and is working on developing a centre of training excellence at its International Sportspark. The council is also strongly lobbying for a multi-faculty university campus in the CBD.
What does the future hold: With 10,000 new residents making Blacktown their home every year, mayor Stephen Bali said the challenge is to meet locals’ education and health needs. “We’re not sitting on our laurels, we’re actually doing things. In the next five years, we would have started building a university campus if not already started taking in students.”
Can Blacktown take over the mantle of “capital of Western Sydney”?: “In the end we’re a collaboration of cities and we have to be proud of our achievements otherwise you end up in competition with each other.”
Key values: Mayor John Thain describes his city as the “regional leader” of Western Sydney, saying Penrith is in the heart of the “new West”, close to Parramatta in the east and the proposed Western Sydney Airport in the south.
What does the future hold: “We will be closer to having an international airport” which Cr Thain said would deliver investment opportunities in Penrith from housing to retail.
Can Penrith take over the mantle of “capital of Western Sydney”?: “The reality is Parramatta is heavily urbanised and does not serve outer Western Sydney, especially not Macarthur. Both cities can succeed alongside one another.”
Key values: Campbelltown has a strong health focus with its medical precinct home to Campbelltown Hospital, the Macarthur Clinical School and Western Sydney University School of Medicine.
What does the future hold: The city is expected to boom from its current 160,000 residents to 270,000 by 2036 which creates a need for diverse housing. With the impending revitalisation of the CBD, Cr Brticevic says Campbelltown will be transformed into “a self-sustaining urban centre”.
Can Campbellttown take over the mantle of “capital of Western Sydney”?: Its mix of natural environment, infrastructure, education and sporting assets, Cr Brticevic says his city “clearly qualifies for the title but it’s not about Campbelltown taking over the mantle…there’s room for a fourth major city in Sydney alongside Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool.”
Key values: Home to 140 different nationalities, Liverpool is Western Sydney’s cultural hub. “We have a very strong cultural community that is very harmonious; I think that is our strength,” says mayor Wendy Waller.
What does the future hold: About 8000 people are moving to the burgeoning city each year, making accommodation a key focus for the council. “In the next five years we’re going to have 15,000 students wandering around our CBD,” Cr Waller said of plans by two universities (Western Sydney and Wollongong) to open in the city centre. “They are going to need somewhere to live, eat and play. That will change the CBD economy, drive innovation and strengthen our identity.”
Can Liverpool take over the mantle of “capital of Western Sydney”?: “We’re very much a city in our own right but we also co-ordinate with Penrith and Campbelltown and other cities because it’s important that we work together. It’s not about a take-over, it’s more a parallel relationship.”
Key values: Most of the Hills Shire is rural intermixed with areas of high scenic quality, bio diversity, and resource land (like sandmining), says strategic planning group manager Michael Edgar. “Our urban area is very much aspirational and family orientated because we have great schools and sporting opportunities as well as thriving retail and business centres. That combination is attractive to residents.”
What does the future hold: The Sydney Metro North West and light rail projects are “massive game changers” for the shire, Mr Edgar said. “We’re a car-centric community because the only transport options we have had has been road. A train every four minutes changes the way we move in our shire.” The population is also expected to rise by 10,000 people in the next five years. “Growth and housing are our next challenges.”