Why west may be best for Strathfield

Which city do you think Strathfield has more in common with: Sydney or Parramatta? It’s an important question as the municipality considers its economic future – the more so as the development of Parramatta Road as a major corridor between East and West gains pace.

Up to now, most have maintained we are closer to Sydney’s CBD.  But as Parramatta – the geographic centre of Sydney’s burgeoning population – powers ahead, moves are afoot to shift our business thinking.

Strathfield has been a member of the Greater Western Business Enterprise Centre (BEC) for many years. Based in Parramatta and Blacktown, it delivers small business help to Baulkham Hills, Fairfield, Auburn and Holroyd.

Rubbing shoulders with businesses in these local government areas certainly has the potential to build a business network for a move west. But, according to CEO David Baumgarten, Strathfield businesses have yet to seize the opportunities because they see themselves as Inner West.

“Today, geography means you have to think globally,” Mr Baumgarten maintains. “You have to look at different tribes and there is opportunity in the Greater Western Tribe.”

Some, however,  think we should take the move west to an even more tangible level by joining WSROC – the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, with its population of 1.6 million, an economy worth $79 billion and potentially the site of Sydney’s second airport.

Strathfield’s Mayor, Cr Daniel Bott, is one of those keen to examine the advantages of developing closer links to Western Sydney.

He put up a mayoral minute this month urging council to look at membership.  His colleagues agreed to look at WSROC, along with other regional organisations in the area.

“The west is growing quickly and we can choose to be part of it,” Cr Bott says. “It is the biggest economic driver and alignment with Western Sydney has great potential benefit.

“Strathfield is the hub of the Inner West. Parramatta is growing and we are right in the middle of two of the biggest growth areas.”

Others point out our rail links and the Enfield Intermodal Logistics Centre (ILC) already make Strathfield a key player in connecting Sydney and Parramatta with transport, logistics and more. After all, Strathfield is 14km from Sydney’s business district and 13km east of Parramatta.  The Hume Highway, Centenary Drive, Parramatta Road and the M4 motorway all pass through the municipality.  Soon construction work will begin on the $11 billion WestConnex that will join the dots and give us a smoother run between the two cities. Strathfield is the third-most interconnected railway station in the state.

Strathfield Council is well aware of the economic potency of our location.  The economic commentary on its website states: “Due to its strategic location, excellent transport infrastructure ... many businesses have chosen Strathfield as a base for their distribution networks.  The logistics sector is a key driver of the local economy, and will likely be a major source of future economic growth.”

Those businesses include some of the biggest names in transport, from Australia Post to TNT, Landbridge and Transfleet.

The opening of the Enfield ILC later this year – a huge area of warehousing capable of handling 300,000 containers a year – will again put us at the centre of the State’s logistics future. The terminal, operated by Hutchison Logistics, one of the world’s biggest container transport operators, will help NSW increase rail’s share of container traffic by 28 per cent by 2020, with a dedicated freight line to Port Botany, intra-state rail connections and access to Sydney’s major arterial roads.

While the business case is clear, joining WSROC would be a much more defining statement about where Strathfield sees its future – particularly at a time when the Independent Review Panel into Local Government is claiming Strathfield should be merged with Ashfield, Burwood, Canada Bay, Marrickville and Leichhardt.

Some would argue that that these local government areas are adversaries rather than allies in the fight for investment and jobs, and won’t help Strathfield’s business community grow.

Premier Barry O’Farrell has taken personal charge of the development of the west. The Premier’s website says:  “Western Sydney is one of Australia’s largest and most diverse economies with an annual Gross Regional Product (GRP) of about $95.6 billion for 2010-11. This is nearly one-third of the Sydney Metropolitan GRP. Western Sydney remains one of Australia’s fastest-growing regional economies.”

Perhaps more importantly, Strathfield’s smarts and service offerings are just what Western Sydney needs. The area is a manufacturing centre.  Strathfield is a service facilitator.

Again, the Premier’s website points up the opportunity: “Fifteen of the region’s 17 industry sectors each generate more than $1 billion a year. Manufacturing alone contributed 16 per cent – approximately $13.4 billion – of total Western Sydney industry value-added in 2010-11.

“There were an estimated 161,260 actively trading businesses in Western Sydney at June 2011, accounting for more than a third of the businesses in the Sydney Metropolitan Region.”

The economic arguments are strong, even if  the social and political arguments are perhaps a little more difficult to perceive.

WSROC presently consists of 10 local government areas:  our neighbours in Auburn and Bankstown, and some much further away: Blacktown City, Blue Mountains City, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Holroyd, Liverpool and, of course, Parramatta and Penrith.

While we have much in common with some – our multicultural society and our strong links to education – we have less in common with others.

But few would quarrel with the Regional Action Plan for Western Sydney, which involves strengthening the economic powerhouse through jobs creation and better access to research and education and improving transport.

As a start, David Baumgarten recommends that Strathfield businesses go to the Greater Western Sydney BEC’s monthly networking functions in Blacktown – a way to start building bridges to further opportunities.


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