From factories to frappes: sad job loss sites help urban renewal

Remember how clothing manufacturer Bonds created a collective national black mood in 2009 by announcing it would shut down its Australian factories?

Across NSW, some 600 people lost their jobs. Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd expressed “extreme disappointment” at the decision and said it was “bad news for the economy”.

It now looks as though this unwanted decision may have at least one benefit – helping meet Sydney’s insatiable demand for housing.

The company’s sprawling eight hectare former spinning mill site at Pendle Hill is now likely to be re-developed, with plans released to build up to 1,800 dwellings. The site is located close to rail transport and retail services. (See the pre-gateway proposal here)

Manufacturing at the Pendle Hill Bonds site in 1974
Manufacturing at the Pendle Hill Bonds site in 1974

There were also similarly negative headlines when Alcoa announced last week that it was shutting its aluminium mill and recycling plant at Yennora, in Sydney’s south-west, resulting in the loss of 180 jobs this year.  However, again, this site is also very close to rail transport and you can’t imagine it will be staying vacant for long.

The fact remains that, for city planning, the sad loss of manufacturing jobs is actually playing an important role in helping the ongoing renewal and growth of Sydney and surrounding areas.

There are many other examples which can be cited.

For instance, in 2012, fuel refining stopped at Shell’s 86 hectare Rosehill site, leading to the loss of 300 jobs. However, in February this year, Parramatta City Council staff said the site’s change to an importing and storage depot would create surplus land for redevelopment and potentially lead to the renewal of large areas of Camellia and Rosehill. (See the council report here – large file size)

It’s a similar story at the former Darrell Lea chocolate factory site at Rocky Point Rd, Kogarah, where chocolate production stopped following the company’s collapse in 2012. The three hectare site is now being proposed to be rezoned to allow a residential estate for 350-450 homes and 400 jobs in commercial and warehousing space.

And only last week we saw the demolition of the 200m high chimney stack at the former Port Kembla copper smelter site, where 290 people lost their jobs in 2003 when the plant shut down. The stack demolition is likely to allow the site’s regeneration as an industrial estate and is touted as potentially helping lead the revival of the Illawarra region as a technology hub.

“As the smoke clears, the Illawarra is left with a brownfield site that swells with promise and optimism,” one University of Wollongong environmental research student blogged.

No-one likes, or wants, to see manufacturing workers lose their jobs. However, history tells us these sites have the potential to play a valuable urban renewal role for housing or jobs.

1 Comment

  1. Mark,

    A real economy has permanent jobs, which these sites represented.

    Property development is a series of short term jobs, which cannot go on forever without real jobs in an economy. Development is the servant of the real economy, not a key driver. It provides space in which the real economy occurs.

    The loss of these sites for employment uses, and their transition to residential means that there is less opportunity for employment uses in central locations where it is needed. This results in more big sheds on the periphery, which in reality don’t have that many jobs in them.

    There is too much pressure from the property development industry for residential, which makes them all their profit. Only specialist developers are interested in employment lands, and they are few. Token mixed use on the ground floor is not real employment uses.

    Sydney as a whole lacks a real economic development/employment strategy that seeks to diversify and build the whole economy of Sydney, as well as ensure that there are goods produced locally that will enable Sydney to avoid excessive imports, or a sudden cut-off of imports should some regional conflict (say China/Vietnam in the S. China sea) close off trade routes for a time.

    All these sites need to be assessed, strategically, so that any important ones can be quarantined for a housing/balance for that sub-region/local government area. Once we have redeveloped employment lands, they cannot be returned, and future jobs may go elsewhere, such as overseas. North Ryde is already seeing Big-Pharma moving regional HQs to Singapore, with Sydney losing out.

    Newcastle is a very long way from recovery Andrew, and a very long way from a genuine creative economy, such as the many European countries have, for example.

    Sydney needs to be far more proactive towards real jobs, real employment, real industries.

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