Brand new houses in North West Sydney (Photos: Caroline Layt)

Development and nature strive for balance in ever-changing landscape

Over the last ten years there’s been a hive of human activity, as Sydney’s north-west has been transformed from idyllic rural land into residential and commercial suburbs.  

Previously, much of the land on the then-outskirt suburbs of Sydney – including Rouse Hill, Schofields and Riverstone – was home to farmlands and large tracts of untouched bushland. 

The remnants of a termite-ridden tree at a semi-rural location in Oakville

According to Australia’s Bureau of Statistics, our nation’s population increased by 3.1 per cent over the 10 year period from 2000-10 with its estimated population at 22.3 million in 2010, up from 19.2 million in the year 2000. In 2018, we hit 25 million.

That’s nearly six million extra people over an 18 year period.

The NSW Government’s North West Growth Area implementation plan encompasses three local councils in the Hawkesbury,  the Hills District and Blacktown City councils.  It states Sydney’s north west is becoming an increasingly popular place to live with Blacktown City Council mayor Stephen Bali saying the state government has given a directive of increasing population growth in the Sydney basin.

He expects the Blacktown City area alone to expand to 520,000 residents by 2036.

Councillor Bali said,  “The local government’s responsibility is to see how we can manage it within the financial constraints we have.”

Over the next 10 years, the North West Growth Area’s vision is to see 33,000 houses come to fruition. Once fully developed the area will be home to around 250,000 people.

Its implementation plan is to support growth across the three local council areas and to ensure its residents have access to jobs, local infrastructure and services to meet their day-to-day needs.  

Stephanie Lum, who’s a Strategic Planner for a local council in Sydney, said local councils all over Sydney are following the NSW Government’s Department of Planning’s edict to build housing and infrastructure to satisfy Sydney’s growing population needs.

“At the moment all councils are required to develop a new local environmental plan, which is basically the local legislation for that council area.

“All local councils are in the process of developing that new policy and doing a number of studies to support those changes,” she said.

Worley Parsons’ Senior Environmental Planner, Claire Jones said the local North West Growth Area plan has to respect heritage sites at historic Richmond, Windsor and Riverstone, including both Indigenous and European history, when it develops its new policies.

The train to Richmond about to depart at the heritage listed Riverstone train station

She said historic railway stations are to be protected.

“One such station is Riverstone Station, which is listed on the NSW Heritage Register, so that kind of railway station group has the original platform, the station master’s residence, but also in the vicinity of that station is the former Riverstone Meat Works site.

“The Meat Works was originally established in 1878, a lot of the old buildings were demolished in the 1960s to the 1980s, but the Riverstone Meat Works still has significance to the local community.

The heritage listed butcher shop beyond the train line at Riverstone

Jones pointed out that it’s not only the stations themselves that need to be protected. “There were associated buildings constructed, such as the former butcher shop on Garfield Road, the former manager’s residence and a group of cottages, so those three sites have been identified as statutory heritage items and the idea is to conserve and retain those heritage items in context of the redevelopment of Riverstone through the Riverstone Conservation Management plan,” she said.

Other suburbs, which have less significant historical sites, including The Ponds, Rouse Hill and Vineyard have been impacted by ongoing building and development programs.

Oakville was outside the current state government and regional planning to redevelop Oakville within the timeframe leading up to 2036, so it will remain relatively untouched during this period.