(Private Member's Statement, 11 October 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Oxford Street is a major community, arts, retail, food and beverage, entertainment, LGBTI, pedestrian and cyclist hub, linking the energetic and creative villages of Darlinghurst, Surry Hills and Paddington.
However, as with many high street shopping precincts across the country and in Europe and North America, retail is being impacted by shopping malls at Bondi Junction and the CBD, and the rise in online shopping.
Retail and food and beverage also suffer from traffic arrangements which encourage fast moving, noisy and polluting traffic.
Peak period clearways speed up traffic, making the street unpleasant for pedestrians at times when they should be encouraged to linger and shop, or visit a café. The loss of car parking prevents people stopping their vehicle to use businesses and removes a buffer from traffic that protects amenity and pedestrian safety.
The noise and pollution makes footpath dining unpleasant and unviable for restaurants and cafés, and excludes other options for activation.
Adding to these woes, the lockout laws that began in early 2014 have caused a downturn in Oxford Street’s entertainment precinct, impacting on LGBTI and live music and performance venues and on restaurants where people would dine before going out. The recently closed Oxford Street late night newsagency reported significant losses due to the lockouts.
With both the day and night economies suffering, vacant tenancies have become a common sight across the street.
Notwithstanding these problems, the City of Sydney, Woollahra Municipal Council, local businesses and residents have been working together to reactivate this important heritage street.
Woollahra council’s Oxford Street taskforce and Activate Oxford Street have developed creative projects like the art markets and shopfront window displays. Local festivals like William Street and Fiveways Fusion add a new edge. The City of Sydney’s co-working and creative spaces have brought new people who support local businesses and bring new life to the street.
The City’s fabulous Paddington Reservoir Gardens have created a new village space and its GLBT artwork and Art and About are helping renew public perception. Both councils are “greening” the space where possible: a fine example being the Three Saints Square greenery. These help to improve people’s experience of the street.
Energetic and passionate leaders at Paddington and Darlinghurst Business Partnerships are using council grants and good ideas to focus on small precincts, adding value to existing businesses. I’m backing them and their efforts, and I love shopping at their unique businesses.
The Darlinghurst Business Partnership, Potts Point Partnership and Surry Hills Creative Precinct have developed an ‘East Sydney Destination Marketing Strategy’, which includes Oxford Street and I have asked Destination NSW to meet with them to learn about the tourism potential of the proposal. There are enormous opportunities to tap into the growing segment of the tourism market that seeks specialist experiences to increase tourist stays and spend.
Property owners must work with councils and business operators to take a curated approach to filling empty shops and I will soon meet with the City of Sydney and owners to begin collaborating tenancies.
The City of Sydney, Woollahra council, businesses, property owners and local residents all agree that removal of the clearway is essential to any fix for Oxford Street. In response to our concerns the 3pm start for the clearway for westbound traffic was moved to 4pm without significant traffic or transport impacts. But the clearway must be removed altogether.
The Paddington Society and BIKEast established a proposal to redesign Oxford Street Paddington that would involve a 40 kilometre speed limit, footpath widening, wide pedestrian medians with right turn lanes where needed, relocated traffic lights and shared bus, car, bicycle and parking lanes. It was prepared by a team of professionals in urban design, traffic management and place making yet was rejected by the government.
Planning that aims only to move traffic at the expense of community, business, amenity and the urban environment has dominated for too long – WestConnex is a significantly destructive example. Traffic and transport should work with councils, residents and businesses to ensure roads-planning is not destructive and helps make healthy and sustainable communities.
Planned expansions to the light rail network provide opportunities to extend services along Oxford Street and link the city to the eastern suburbs, reduce bus congestion, return kerbside parking, improve pedestrian and shopping amenity, and encourage outdoor dining.
I hope that the government will amend the liquor laws to exempt live music and performance venues, small bars of 120 patrons or less and well managed venues on Oxford Street from the 1.30am lockout.
My electorate office has been based on Oxford Street since I was elected, previously in Paddington and just recently in Darlinghurst and I can attest improvements from new creative businesses, pop ups and cafés.
I will continue to work with Woollahra council, the City of Sydney, the state government, local businesses and the community to restore Oxford Street to its past glory and make the most of its future potential.