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September Round Table in action. September Round Table in action. Featured
14 October 2012 Posted by 

Welcome to the Round Table

THE Greater Western Sydney Regional Roundtable (GWSRR) is an initiative of Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) and Adjunct Professor Jim Taggart OAM. Its purpose is to bring together people of influence in the GWS region to discuss and share insights about our region for public information/education.

The round table format has long been an effective way of shaping direction and priorities among people of influence. GWRRs are held monthly. Each month WSBA will report the outcomes of the GWSRR.

September 2012 GWSRR attendees:

  • Dr Jim Taggart OAM - GWSRR Chairman.
  • George Sahyoun (Managing Director, Karima Group).
  • Michael Walls (Editor, WSBA).
  • Louis Hanna (Partner, Younis and Co).
  • Steve Phillips (General Manager, Jani King).
  • Red Dwyer (owner, Westbiz Services).
  • Craig Hingston (President, Cumberland Business Chamber).
  • Michael Edgar (Group Manager Strategic Planning, Hills Shire Council).
  • Rod Glover (Facilities Manager, Woolworths).
  • Nathan Burbridge (Economic Development Officer, Blacktown City Council).

Region of diversity and opportunity

Introductions, Jim Taggart: Well thank everyone for joining us today. Let’s start with a brief introduction from everyone.

George Sahyoun: I’m the Managing Director of Karima Group. Our group is a hospitality-based group and we have everything from function centres, restaurants, cafes; basically eastern seaboard. We have the Waterview Convention Centre, which is just down here at Sydney Olympic Park. We’ve been a family-based business for about 30 odd years.

Louis Hannah:  I’m a partner at Younis & Co, a full partner accounting firm, and our niche is in Western Sydney. We believe that’s the heartland and where most of our clients come from and their businesses and their families are raised. We have about 30 staff. We have key niches in construction, childcare, warehousing, distribution and security.

Steve Phillips: I’m the General Manager of Jani-King. We’re an international brand in commercial cleaning. It’s a fairly large brand. My interest here in New South Wales is, is fairly recent. I’ve been brought into Sydney to put Jani-King back on the radar, back on the map. We do about $85M a year with 1,000 franchisees and about 4,500 clients. We are currently looking at growth and expansion.

Red Dwyer: I’ve lived and worked in Parramatta for 20 odd years. I’m a journalist with my own business, Westbiz Services. Amongst the things I do, I write for Business Access.

Michael Walls: I’m editor and publisher of the Western Sydney Business Access. Access has been published for almost four years and it started life as Parramatta-centric publication and expanded about 18 months ago to cover all of western Sydney.

Craig Hingston: I’m here in the capacity as President of the Cumberland Business Chamber, foremost. For those who don’t know, CBC has just celebrated its 25th year and we have about 300 members, which range from Coca Cola, TOLL, Visy Recycling down to mum and dad businesses spread out across the LGA’s of Blacktown, Holroyd and Fairfield. So we’ve very active in connecting with business in that area as well as local government.

Michael Edgar: I’m Group Manager of Strategic Planning of the Hills Shire and my broad function is to look after all of the strategic functions of the organisation, but also external as well, so future land use planning, infrastructure rollout as well as our corporate finances, human resources and economic development and marketing.  So it’s quite a broad portfolio.

Rod Glover:  I’ve lived my entire life in the Hills District. My role in Woolworths is head of Corporate Facilities Management so I look after all our corporate support offices nationally, that 6,500 staff and contractors work. My role in Western Sydney is I look after our main support office in Norwest, one at Pennant Hills, one at Yennora and I look after our two main data centres, one at Norwest and our new one at Eastern Creek and to provide a link back into the local community.

Nathan Burbridge: I am the Economic Development Strategist at Blacktown City Council. Blacktown is one of the largest councils in terms of operations, land area and population in NSW. Its population alone is expected to be 500,000 people by 2031. My role is to look at ways to strengthen the local economy of Blacktown and to promote and advocate the benefits Blacktown City offers to potential investors and Government.

Branding and image.

Michael Walls: I think the image is improving for Western Sydney. The feel of the area has changed for the positive and I think Parramatta Council and other councils are doing a great job in reshaping perceptions of this region to a more positive vision. If we compare Western Sydney to the Sydney CBD, there is a gritty feel to Western Sydney, an organic feel. The business culture is different and I think it’s something you have to live here and experience before you make sense of that.

Jim Taggart: Well Michael, let me ask you then, when you talk about Western Sydney, where are you talking about?

Michael Walls: I define western Sydney as basically the WSBA footprint of Parramatta, Hills, Blacktown, Holroyd, Penrith, Liverpool, Blacktown and Olympic Park. I think the Macarthur region is western Sydney but it is not as closely linked to regional outcomes in transport and the like as the other regions.

Michael Edgar: From the Hills perspective, there’s an organisation of councils called WSROC and I don’t know what our new council will do with WSROC but the former council, early in its days, took the decision to withdraw from WSROC and why?  WSROC once was 12, 14 councils and that was once a fairly small entity. But with the population growth and the business growth of what you would call Western Sydney, and even if you do start from sort of Campbelltown to us and the Hills Shire, it’s now too big.  And it’s so divergent it became difficult to come to a sensible consensus that represented

Steve Phillips: So you are saying that the area ius too large to be classified as one area?

Michael Edgar: In my view it is. I mean it’s easy to say geographically it’s Western Sydney but it really isn’t. And then what does that mean? And you’re right, the image was sort of, if I can use the term, “All bogans out here,” really. But it’s not. I think each local government area, in their own way, has tried … I mean I don’t know how we’d ever get another Hyde Park, to create great public assets and culture facilities for our people to enjoy, is key to changing that image. I’ll be proud the day I can have visitors come and stay in my house and instead of taking them up the Blue Mountains for a day out, there’s really good places around the Hills, Blacktown we can go and visit and you think, “Yeah, that’s a really good experience.” Wonderland, for example, was great while it was there.  I look forward to the new theme park because we need things for people to do.

Jim Taggart: And it shifts tourism away from the CBD and the main attractions now.  There’s enough out here to do, as long as there’s somewhere to go.

Michael Edgar: Correct.

Red Dwyer: There’s 14 councils in Western Sydney, however you define Western Sydney. And each council’s got its own view, just like you’ve got your view. But if we could generalise and conceive of Western Sydney, whether it’s Greater Western Sydney or not. If Western Sydney was a product, what does it offer? Say I come from the USA, I’ve got a few bob in my pocket, and I say, “Okay, Western Sydney, what is it?”

Michael Walls: If you look at the Gold Coast, it has definition as a region so it is easy to brand. Then you have areas like the Central Coast which again has its own culture and is known for particular attractions, beaches and waterways. I just don’t know if this thinking about branding applies to Western Sydney.

Red Dwyer: Western Sydney, to my mind, is a growth area. That’s what I’m selling – the opportunity for growth. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. It’s growing day by day and the more people that come out here, they want more jobs and they want to be serviced. That’s what I’d be buying if I bought Western Sydney. I’d say, “Okay, it’s a growth area, it’s got potential.”

George Sahyoun: There’s a very clear line between Inner West, which has got a very clear, defined image and the Greater West. Greater West is everything other than the Inner West and it’s the great unwashed. Within those respective territories there are very clear divisions. Hills has nothing to do with Auburn which has nothing to do with Campbelltown which, in theory, has nothing to do with Penrith. So to group all the respective regions under this Greater Western Sydney is just an all-other category. In terms of the position in Greater West, there are two positions out there, I believe. One is the typical stereotype of Western Sydney, which is the shootings and the God knows whatever else and an Eastern Suburbs person won’t go past Concord Road. And that’s real and it’s been real since I’ve worked at Milsons Point for multinationals all the way until today where they still have a fear of going past a certain point. And then there’s the Greater West economic machine that’s happening at the moment. And that’s really where scale, opportunity, substance and business entrepreneurs want to come out there and tap into the areas, because there is no growth in the Inner West area but there is enormous growth out here. Church Street (Parramatta), is a classic example, if you’re in hospitality. It’s the number one hospitality precinct in Sydney, possibly, so you really want to go out here and set up business. We set up Waterview Convention Centre in Sydney Olympic Park, which was the geographic centre of Sydney and our business base is geared towards Western Sydney because there are a million function centres on the water that cater for the CBD marketplace. Huge amount of growth, we’re getting phenomenal growth when everyone else is struggling at the moment.

Jim Taggart: We talk about Western Sydney, are we really talking about the same thing? I’m really interested when people talk about that. If Barry O’Farrell was in this room, he has a title that says he is the Minister for Western Sydney. Are we talking about the same thing? So when, when I hear that, am I talking to the same person? The thing that is coming out in my mind is that it’s complex, it’s challenging, there is change but I think we have a different perspective of what we see Western Sydney. That’s essentially what I think I’m hearing.

Louis Hanna: Historically, if you went back to the 70s and 80s, Western Sydney was very working class. But there has been a paradigm shift, I mean, since the 90s to where it is now where there’s a lot of business coming in, a lot of people that, you know, had all these properties and sort of land banking and the value of property has gone up. And it’s made a lot more people millionaires and put a lot more money back into the economy.  And I think that is driving the growth. So the way I see it is, it’s like a, sort of, a young guy finishing year 12 and he’s got the whole world in front of him. And that’s what Western Sydney is. It’s ready to explode but we don’t exactly know where it’s going to go.

Jim Taggart: Given all that; can the region be branded?

Steve Phillips: I think if you’re looking at something that’s so diverse, as far as cultures, as far as socioeconomics, as far as councils I don’t think you can take Greater Western Sydney or Western Sydney and put a brand on it, because it’s a whole lot of brands joining borders, isn’t it? So if the question is: how do people within Western Sydney view Western Sydney and how do people outside of Western Sydney – be in New South Wales, Australia – look at it, there’s two different things there. But if you’re trying to put a brand image over something that’s so diverse – geographically, population – where you’ve got, you know lower down on the southwest as far as socioeconomic you’ve got economic growth development out towards Parramatta, Penrith etcetera, I don’t think you’ll be able to do that. I think it’s too complex.

Rod Glover: And I think if I was in a hotel in America right now and someone said, “Where do you come from?” I’d probably say Sydney, you know? So I think 100% of us would because it’s the known, it’s the known brand.

Craig Hingston: It’s interesting, because some of my observations when I talk to our chamber members, they actually disagree with a lot of this and they would call the boundary line Old Windsor Road, tracking down to Parramatta, and then basically draw a line south. So people in Fairfield, Holroyd and Blacktown would say that the Hills is not the west. I have clients in the Hills area and a lot of friends in the Hills area - and, let’s face it, there’s elitism and they would say the Hills is not the west of Sydney. The Hills is the Hills and we’re our own brand. And the people in the Hills regard Old Windsor Road as that boundary line because it’s also the LGA peg in the ground. And you’ve got this side and you’ve got that side.

Michael Edgar: I’ve had 26 years in local government – 11 and a half at Blacktown, seven of them at the Hills – and I can tell you, that having spent considerable time in both those councils, we’re not the same. We’re in the same business but we do it slightly differently which reflects the diversity of our current communities but importantly earlier communities. George Sahyoun: Our natural CBD would be Parramatta, and in fact, you know, our cultural orientation is to Parramatta. I mean that a logical business hub and a lot of roads lead to Parramatta. But that’s one of the problems because I don’t think Parramatta steps up as the capital of the Greater West because it’s too much built around the so called government infrastructure that’s been put in as opposed to business per se. It doesn’t act like the capital of the Greater West. And the reality of it doesn’t provide the services, infrastructure and the attraction for business to be out in this context. So by definition, the lead area is one of the problems in defining what we do and what we because, you know, you can have government for all love and money putting the, the Police Commission out here and you can put the justice precinct and it’s all false growth through government intervention. But strip away that government level and, as a business entity, it’s a totally different. It’s very weak business structure.

Virtual offices.

Jim Taggart: I’d like now to get the table’s view some interesting research I recently read about the spatial distribution of the impact on the commercial sectors as a result of technology where they’re not putting up major buildings. People are working from home.

Michael Edgar: Now the only thing that I fear from that is the social benefits of your health and wellbeing of turning up to a workplace could well be lost.

Jim Taggart: Have you seen Macquarie Bank. If you haven’t seen it, go and see if you can find out. Macquarie Bank has got four storeys, offices, where no one has an office.

Michal Edgar: Yeah, Westpac’s like that too.

Jim Taggart: You just have a desk and it’s just got Wi-Fi and you take your laptop and I might be sitting next to you today. My son works at BT’s and he’ll sit here and then he could have the managing director sitting next to him.

Rod Glover: We’re going down this path called activity based working, so you don’t allocate a desk. I mean, you look at the cost of the desk per annum - and our business, it’s quite expensive for what you’re paying for data centres and A-grade building - $14,700 per desk per annum. If you can split that in half, you’re saving a stack of cash and then it’s stopping you from having to hold other leases.

Michael Walls: How is that $14,000 made up? Rod Glover: That’s everything from rent, power, utilities, consumables, print, courier, everything that goes into managing a site and a business, other than wages and those sort of things.

Housing and affordability.

Louis Hanna: Affordability of housing, which obviously relates back to the government releasing land, for the ability of families to come in and maintain a certain lifestyle and have that disposable income to actually spend in other businesses in the area like, you know, going out to cafes and all that discretionary income. If they don’t have it then they can’t spend it so it’s going to affect business.

Michael Edgar: I was lucky enough to be in Cairns on an economic development conference last week and it was just amazing to see that similar story replicated right, right across the councils on the eastern seaboard from northern Queensland to Tasmania; same problem. They have towns there where under normal growth forecasts, they’ve now got the populations through mining that they expected in 2070 so their towns are trying to survive on housing, housing supply, infrastructure supply for a 2070 population in 2011. And that’s no different in Western Sydney. And their fragmentation makes it very hard to afford the support of infrastructure and our housing supply has been dismal. And that’s why we’ve got an affordability issue, because we just haven’t kept up with demand.

George Sahyoun: I think it’s a demand/supply issue as opposed to affordability because the reality of it there’s nothing in the pipeline at the moment. There won’t be anything in the pipeline for quite a number of years because developers aren’t developing, councils aren’t releasing things, state governments aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing. The reality of it is we force prices up because there aren’t that many options. We deal in both the sale process and the rental market and it’s been falsely driven by this demand/supply issue and it’s keeping rentals up high and it’s keeping prices up high because there aren’t any new places coming out – I’m generalising, obviously. In general, the reality of it is, until the big parcels in Northwest get going, southwest – we’re never going to release this. And it’s not a short-term phenomenon; it’s been around for about five years now. It’s probably got another five-year life by the time any kind of real development happens.

Rod Glover: But for a city of our size, of five million people, the level of density which we live in, in comparison to other parts of the world, is incredibly low. And it’s the expectation and the market’s desire to live in those individual blocks of land and the way we live that’s equally part of it. So there has to be a cultural shift in terms of what the future supply is, because if we keep going down the path of the level of densities and the provision we provide for, we’re going to need even more and more infrastructure.

George Sahyoun: The reality of it is, you sit in Parramatta, it’s a unit town. We can’t get a house to sell for love nor money, but it’s all on the fringe but in … I’m talking Parramatta proper. You know, the great Australian dream, the quarter acre, all the other bits and pieces, that’s been demolished over the years. I live around the corner from something of three and 400 metres. .It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life. But it doesn’t mean that the market doesn’t think that’s good because they’re buying the things and they’re living in them. But that’s our interpretation because we come from this era where, you know, you literally have this massive backyard and play cricket out the back now you can go in the park.

Mike Walls: But that’s the culture of Australia, isn’t it?

George Sahyoun: Well now in Parramatta, parks are at a premium and you see every afternoon, every weekend, they’re playing cricket out there instead of their backyard. They’re playing footy, God knows, they’re cycling; there’s cycle tracks . . . so there’s a fundamental cultural shift, but that’s bigger than this discussion.

Craig Hingston: The cultural shift is going to be placed upon people. I’ve seen like the LEPs of Hornsby, Fairfield and Holroyd and over the next, say 10 years, the high density development along the train line, it’s a given because of course that’s the only way they’ll meet their quota from State Government. So it’s about the issue and the quota.

Michael Edgar: We want to be careful about the quota because we all have quotas and targets and thank God we do because it’s a good problem to have, but, but what I would say to you, is just look at our history. The previous State Government said, “We’re going to grow with 60% of our housing stock into existing suburbs and 40% in Greenfield,” and we’ve not hit it. This new government’s come and said, “We want to try and get a 50/50  mix.”  Trouble is we have got enough land zoned in The Hills - and I’m sure Nathan has at Blacktown - for 36,000 homes, for 47,000 jobs but it isn’t serviced so you can’t get it. You can’t, it’s zoned, it’s ready to go but there’s no services so the developers aren’t coming. And, to be honest, it’s probably not affordable to just keep sprawling the way we are. But the real opportunity is in terms of our densities; we’ve got to get more dense but we’ve got to put the densities where there are services and amenities that make that living quality. You hear the word densities and people immediately think second-rate living conditions. They can’t be, you know?  You know you go to Singapore, you go to New York and think the closest we get to New York density is in Potts Point. So nowhere else in Australia do we get anywhere near that, yet they’re happy people. By any measure, New Yorkers are a happy people. They’re prosperous people. So it doesn’t have to be second-rate living.

Business Parks and transport.

Nathan Burbridge: In terms of business parks, the Norwest Business Park is an important employment destination for Western Sydney. It’s an important source of employment, including those living in Blacktown. The challenge in Western Sydney is to have long-term plans that allow for even greater diversity of employment across the region, particularly around centres like Blacktown. The other challenge is to ensure it is done in conjunction with the planning of corridors for future public transport infrastructure. Fundamental to the future of Western Sydney is the construction and extension of the NWRL. It is great that it is going to start but much more needs to be done. And another linchpin to all of this is then tapping into what you’re saying, Jim, and that is to make sure the NWRL connection continues. If it does, it will bring into place areas within our jurisdiction, notably Marsden Park, which itself will become a mini Norwest, along with the housing.

Jim Taggart: Are you saying Marsden Park could become the next Norwest?

Nathan Burbridge: Maybe not to the same scale but certainly with the variety and mix of activity. Marsden Park will have its share of business park type activity, high knowledge jobs, and modern retail facilities, and industry. Blacktown is well positioned for the future now the State Government is prepared to dedicate a public transport corridor connecting from Norwest through to Marsden Park. The question is what is after that? Where’s it going to go next? Our Council believes the planning of a corridor should continue through to the Western Rail Line, then on a southern alignment through to our industrial precincts at Eastern Creek and Huntingwood, including the future Western Sydney Employment Lands Investigations Area (WSELIA). The planning of this corridor would then create the possibility of the SWRL and the NRWL connecting. As part of the vision for Western Sydney, we need to be planning for many more corridors now, both heavy rail as well as other modes, whether it be light rail or rapid bus. The corridor for the NWRL/SWRL is one of many. The success of Western Sydney will depend on inter-regional public transport connections that can provide access and therefore opportunities for the enormous labour force within this region.

Michael Edgar: Nathan’s right, you know, we’re planning Box Hill out there at the moment for around about 10,000 homes and we are trying to get them to say, “Look, Boundary Road looks a heck of a lot more like the link to the F3 Freeway from the M7. For heaven’s sake, reserve the corridor now. Let’s not build anything in that corridor that we can’t pull apart or is very expensive to pull apart down the track. You know, let’s do it now.”  And you know what?  We cannot get government to the table on it. All we want is a corridor. “Don’t build it, don’t commit to it, don’t tell us you’re spending a cent on it, just tell us to put a corridor in there.” Now is the time to be doing the work with the M8 that goes from Campbelltown through to, effectively Windsor, and then onto the F3 somehow. It just should be reserved and known and then we can plan around it. Each council in each region can then plan around this stuff and make it work.

Nathan Burbridge: It comes back to the discussion we had earlier about the need for Western Sydney to have a clear, understood vision? We have a broad overarching metropolitan Plan for Sydney, but I can’t break it down spatially as to what Western Sydney is suppose to look like. I do believe though that once we get a sense of the future transport network for Western Sydney, along with each Council’s land use planning framework, things will start to take shape much more clearly and the vision and therefore brand of Western Sydney can be promoted. Sydney’s challenge is Western Sydney’s opportunity.

Jim Taggart: I think we’ll wrap it up. Thanks to every think we’ll wrap it up. Thanks to everyone for attending and for your insights.

End of September 2012 GWSRR; Stay tuned to the next WSBA for the October GWSRR. Don’t hesitate to email us with your comments and feedback: info@wsba.com.au


Michael Walls
0407 783 413

Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) covers the business and community issues of the Greater Western Sydney region of Australia. WSBA is the popular media source for connecting with the pulse of the region and tapping into it's vast opportunities and networks.