Sydney’s expanding cruise ship industry

Posted: February 5, 2013 in Urban planning

Decades ago, Sydney was a working harbour, but this began to end when Port Botany was opened in 1979, which has led to massive amounts of urban renewal in and around the city center. On the border of the CBD, Darling Harbour was converted into an entertainment, convention, and cultural center, while Barangaroo is seeing office towers being constructed that will soon be followed by a hotel/casino. The neighbouring suburbs of Pyrmont and Ultimo, which were industrial areas until the 1970s based on their proximity to a working port, no longer had reason for being and became filled with up-market apartments , a casino, and a cluster of media businesses. Across the Anzac Bridge is White Bay and Glebe Island, which will soon be converted into an exhibition and entertainment center that will host events while the Convention Center in Darling Harbour is renovated. The result is that huge sections of inner Sydney have been converted from industrial to commercial use, with a large amount of cultural and entertainment areas.

Click on image for higher resolution (Source: Google Maps)

Click on image for higher resolution (Source: Google Maps)

Meanwhile, Sydney continues to see more and more cruise ships arriving into Sydney Harbour, with 36 ships set to arrive this February, and cruise ship traffic will only increase. Originally these cruise ships could dock only at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay, but recently a temporary terminal was setup at Barangaroo.

However, the long term plan is to build a new passenger terminal at White Bay and close down the Barangaroo teminal as part of the site’s redevelopment. This new location has its problems, primarily a lack of good transport and its distance from the CBD, two things that the Barangaroo site has. A new terminal at White Bay should include a ferry wharf at the very least, and potentially a higher capacity transport link such as light rail in order to deal with the high volumes of people moving to and from both the passenger terminal and convention center. Yet the government has made to commitment to either.

One disadvantage of both sites is the height limitation of having to pass under the Harbour Bridge, which would prevent 2 large cruise ships from berthing in Sydney simultaneously. This height restriction led the federal government to allow limited use of the Australian Navy’s Garden Island facility for passenger cruise ships to dock. This location has both a ferry wharf and train station nearby, but is also close enough to the CBD  to reach it on foot. However, the Navy will not be moving, so this location will provide only limited relief, albeit at the most critical of times.

Sydney’s past as an industrial port means it actually has many options for catering to the growth of the cruise ship business, but this also poses the risk that those in charge may make the wrong call, by choosing a poor location and then not providing the essential infrastructure for it to work. Sydney’s future as an international city depends on getting decisions like these right, and at the moment there’s a question mark over how the government will implement the White Bay passenger terminal.


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