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Engaging with communities during Sydney’s infrastructure boom

In November 2018, IAP2 Australasia hosted a Sydney event: Here comes the boom: engaging with communities during Sydney’s infrastructure boom. Luke Aitken from the NSW Business Chamber shares his contributions from the event.

Why is the Chamber interested in Sydney’s current infrastructure boom?

The Chamber is NSW’s peak business membership body with more than 20,000 members across the state.

We represent the natural economy so while many of our members are large, and work in infrastructure and property the vast majority of our members are small to medium enterprises.

Our interest in Sydney’s current infrastructure boom should however be obvious.

It presents the opportunity to lift not only our cities productivity but also drive new growth, employment and investment across the state.

From a business perspective, how do you think Sydney’s handling the disruption from the current construction in the CBD?

It’s a challenge and while we might want to sugercoat it the city has been finding it difficult.

Delivering so much new infrastructure, as well as massive new investments in residential and commercial buildings was never going to be easy.

It’s a big trust exercise and its understandable people’s patience is starting to fray.

On the positive side, 2019 will see the wrapping to start coming off and activity starts to shift outside the CBD. I think the mood of the city will lift.

Is there anything we can learn from these disruptions?

For me, the current challenges really sheets home the message that with a city as large as Sydney, we can no longer concentrate employment activity in a single CBD.

The three cities strategy of the Greater Sydney Commission and the movement of job opportunities to Sydney’s west needs to continue.

Even with the record investment in infrastructure happening, we can no longer support a daily employment exodus of 300,000 from western Sydney to the CBD.

We will always be chasing our tails if we don’t encourage more economic and employment activity closer to where people are living.

How do you maintain the balance between communicating the end benefit of major infrastructure versus needing to engage openly with impacted stakeholders during construction?

Depends on the stakeholder you’re dealing with.

When you’re a small business owner locked into a five-year retail lease, with a rent based on previous levels of foot traffic, you’re not going to be wanting to hear about the end benefits of a project when construction is driving customers away and your focus is on keeping your head above water.

For those in the communications game, we’re often put in an impossible position with stakeholders. While you can’t put contingencies to cover every scenario, more work needs to be done to lock in what you’re going to be doing to support businesses and residents during the construction phase of public infrastructure on both a worst case and delayed timeframe basis.

Strengthening contracts to allow for liquidated damages and specific penalties for failures to deliver on project timeframes would be a big help in terms of working effectively with impacted stakeholders.

Finally what’s more exciting: a tunnel boring machine, a driverless train, a pink bus, a light rail vehicle or a new casino at Barangaroo?

With Sydney almost bought to a halt last year with a proposed rail strike, driverless trains are pretty exciting.

However in and of themselves none of these things make our city better.

How they work together in delivering a more productive and place to live, work and play is what’s really exciting and gets me engaged and interested.