One of Sydney’s most iconic landmarks is in danger of being destroyed by a “disgraceful” redevelopment in what could be yet another mammoth architectural error for the city.

While Sydney has given the world one of its most iconic structures in the Opera House, in recent years it’s also built some harbourside horrors such as the much mocked “Toaster” apartment building located just metres from the famous performing arts venue.

An architect has said that unless the New South Wales Government goes back to the drawing board on its $200 million renewal of Circular Quay, often referred to as the “gateway to Sydney,” the city could find itself lumped with “Toaster 2.0”.

The opposition has questioned why $30 million of public money has been spent on the project over the past five years yet just about the only thing to show for it is a “couple of press releases”.

The project is now not expected to be shovel-ready until 2023 when the initial plans had suggested building work would be happening right now.

Transport for NSW, which is spearheading the project, said the redevelopment has been conducted “equitably and transparently” and “public benefit and urban design is at the heart” of the renewal. New apartments will be a no-no.

In 2015, the Coalition state government – then led by Premier Mike Baird – announced the transport hub of would be upgraded with the $200 million cost paid for by the sale of a number of large hotels. Yet it was only last month that the public were asked for their view of how the area should change.

Around 50 million people visit Circular Quay each year with projections that could rise to more than 80 million in the next two decades.

However, the current ferry wharves are ageing while overground rail lines and the Cahill Expressway soar overhead, blocking the view from the city to the water.


“At the moment it’s a jumbled mess, a place you move though as quickly as possible rather than a destination,” Clinton Cole, Managing Director of architecture firm CplusC told

Earlier this year, he asked his team to come up with a vision for a revamp of Circular Quay that would maintain the current road and rail structures given the Government had indicated it would cost too much to demolish them.

“The original intent was to send the proposal to the Planning Minister to show what a small company could do.”

CplusC’s design, called Sydney Cove, included new ferry wharves topped off with roof gardens directly accessible from the platforms of the railway station. The expressway would be slowed down with greenery, cycle paths and harbour lookouts added; eventually it could be turned it into a pathway similar to New York’s famed High Line. Public spaces, cafes and farmers markets along with transport access would be at street level.

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But Mr Cole said he was shocked when he learned that the Government had “behind closed doors” short-listed two large developers – Plenary Group and Capella Capital – to battle it out for the site before the public had even had a say on the proposals.

“The consortiums get to choose their architect which means they are subcontracting the creative outcome making the design the lowest priority at what is arguably the most important public space in the state, if not the country.”

Mr Cole said the reverse should have happened. The public should have been consulted, an architectural brief developed based on that feedback, a design contest held and only then should developers have become involved.

“They’ve done it completely the wrong way around. The Government is paying lip service to the public but have already wrapped up initial discussions and are now awaiting designs from two short-listed bidders leaving little room for any meaningful community input”.

“You can only think the worst given the system in place. Compare the Opera House and the Toaster – one is an icon known throughout the world and one is an eyesore,” he said.

“Circular Quay will end up being Toaster 2.0; it’s a disgrace.”


The massive Barangaroo development near Darling Harbour has also had its fair share of controversy over the scale of some of the towers, including a new casino.

In 2018, the NSW Government came perilously close to allowing the demolition of the iconic 1960s Sirius public housing block before a developer stepped in who committed to saving the building.

Last month, Labour transport spokesman Chris Minns said the Government had failed to deliver on the Circular Quay revamp.

“As usual there has been a lot of talk, a lot of consultants and very little activity,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald .

“They’ve spent five years and over $30 million and all they have to show for it are a couple of media releases.”

Mr Cole acknowledged his company, which has 11 staff and mostly works on residential builds, would be taking a lot on with Circular Quay. However he pointed out that Danish architect Jorn Utzon was a relative unknown when he won the competition to design the Opera House with his plan beating out 233 other designs, many from household names in the field of architecture.

“We’re nimble and agile and always pushing the boundaries whereas large firms can be indoctrinated and conservative and are too used to being told what to do.”

Mr Cole said he had a message for the NSW Government.

“Make this project a subject of a public competition. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you can’t take a project with this level of cultural significance and give it to a consortium of multibillionaires whose primary objective is to make money for shareholders.”

A spokesman for Transport for NSW (TfNSW) said the competitive public tender process for the project was “conducted equitably and transparently”.

He said the tender commenced in 2018 following an industry briefing attended by over 300 people.

“Two consortia have been short-listed by the NSW Government to progress to the next stage of the procurement process. The procurement process is ongoing. TfNSW will update the community on the project as soon as it has more to say.

“To make sure public benefit and urban design is at the heart of the project, the Government has imposed strict conditions (which) include no residential development; the development’s height to be generally restricted to the top of the Cahill Expressway and the development will coexist with the existing transport infrastructure.”


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