Sydney’s historic Macquarie Street set for facelift

NSW Parliament House could be in for a new cafe. Photo: James Alcock The Hyde Park Barracks could become the site for a new Museum of Sydney campus. Photo: Bob Pearce

The street that is home to Sydney’s oldest and most important public buildings is quietly being prepared for a facelift, documents prematurely released by the state government show.

The state government is asking urban designers to propose a revamp of the area around six of Macquarie Street’s historic buildings to open them to pedestrians and connect the precinct with the CBD to its west and park land to its east.

But Labor argues the plan shows the government is bent on commercialising Sydney’s institutions and affording them a level of attention not enjoyed by a similarly historic precinct in the city’s west.

The Mint, Hyde Park Barracks and the government lands building on the street’s south-eastern corner could become the site for a new Museum of Sydney campus, the document proposes.

An unpublished “high level” proposal by Sydney Living Museums – a consortium of a dozen of the city’s cultural institutions – propose the “state-of-the-art” campus incorporate facilities for schools, retail spaces and an auditorium.

“No decisions have been made in regards to the revitalisation of the Macquarie Street Precinct,” a spokesman for Government Property NSW said. “The NSW government is committed to improving access to public domain areas”.

No indicative budget has been provided for the “Macquarie Street Precinct Revitalisation” and the proposal is not believed to have yet won approval in cabinet.

The document appears to have been placed online in draft form; the government declined to comment in detail about the plans.

Labor contrasts the planning for Macquarie Street with the development around a similar string of historic buildings in Parramatta.

“It’s a tale of two cities,” said Opposition planning spokeswoman Penny Sharpe.

Some Parramatta community groups have been outspoken against large apartment developments near a number of historic buildings in that suburb including an orphanage, gaol and the Female Factory, a workhouse for women convicts which is under consideration for national heritage status.

Developments of up to 4100 and up to 30 storeys are being proposed by the state government’s development corporation, UrbanGrowth.

“The NSW government has to act in the interests of all of Sydney,” Ms Sharpe said.

Designers are also asked to propose means of improving links between Sydney Hospital and Parliament House and the city centre.

They will be asked to investigate new public access to Parliament and commercial space on its ground floor. The government is understood to be considering a new cafe for public patrons.