Chatswood has gone from being the new CBD location of choice for new office towers in the early 1990s to a tumbleweed ghost town full of graffiti-covered hoardings today.
While the retail precinct has boomed – investment in new office jobs has simply ceased. Chatswood is no longer the “CBD of choice”.
The State Government has done everything possible to support growth and vitality in Chatswood. Chatswood is ideally placed to connect with North Sydney, the City CBD, Mascot, North Ryde, Castle Hill, and the Norwest Business Park. The multi-billion-dollar public investment in the North West Metro station stops at Chatswood. The North Shore heavy rail line runs through Chatswood. The philosophy that drove the Metro investment was informed by the 30-minute city concept. Create residential development close to jobs and public transport – but it seems that no-one told Willoughby Council.
Despite this, and the formal written urgings of the NSW Department of Planning (DPIE) to develop the CBD core of Chatswood as a mixed-use development area, particularly on the Eastern side of the North Shore rail line, Willoughby Council has insisted that all Chatswood CDB core development must be 100% commercial and retail.
Willoughby Council’s controversial policy position for Chatswood was given support by the Greater Sydney Commission, which changed the definition of “strategic centre” to allow Councils to exclude high density residential development in land zoned B3 (commercial core) in March 2018. Willoughby Council has done just that – and in so doing, has killed off development and investment in Chatswood.
The last commercial development to take place in the CBD core of Chatswood was the Zenith Building in the mid-1990s. According to a BIS Oxford Economics report prepared in March 2019 for Willoughby Council, the importance of Chatswood as a commercial centre has plummeted. As a percentage of Sydney’s total office floorspace, Chatswood has dropped from a total of 3.2% in 1996 to only 2.1% in 2016, and has continued to drop since.
The report finds that many of the Chatswood CBD sites cannot be feasibly developed as commercial developments – but is hopeful that demand for office space will drive rents up and resolve this impasse. The fact is that this did not occur and COVID-19 has set back office demand in locations like Chatswood even further.
Ironically – the only successful high-rise development in Chatswood was following a re-zoning of the Council owned carpark which was sold (by Council) for a record price and then developed by Meriton as a mixed use B4 zoned residential and serviced apartment tower. Council was prepared to be flexible with its own rules when it came to their own site.
The Department of Planning is now publishing data on the performance of each Council on housing approvals and the picture in Willoughby is bleak. In the 12 months to the end of December 2020, this so-called CBD location approved zero new (high rise) apartments. This compares with 388 approvals for high rise apartments in Penrith, 619 in Ryde, 966 in Parramatta, 636 in Liverpool and even the Inner West Council approval of 892 last year.
Urban Taskforce will be calling out laggard Councils and holding them accountable for performance against their respective Greater Sydney Commission-established 5 year housing targets (each Greater Sydney Council was given a housing target to achieve between 2021 and 2026 as part of the assurance review of each LGA’s Local Strategic Planning Statement). Sadly, Chatswood has seen zero office space development and poor residential development. It has been left to whither on its vine.
Chatswood was once seen as the next city of Sydney. Today it has become the CBD that time forgot.
It’s time to revitalise Chatswood. It’s time for decision makers to listen to the Department of Planning and support mixed use development and create a vibrant town centre which supports restaurants, cafes and urban life.
The CBD desperately needs a facelift but the commercials dictate that this means at least some residential development to support the commercial towers where people work.
By Tom Forest, CEO, Urban Taskforce