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Industrial wasteland of Camellia set to become new neighbourhood

Camellia as it is now. It is set to be the site of the next big urban renewal project. Photo: Brendan Esposito This industrialised area has been re-imagined as Sydney’s new waterside neighbourhood. Photo: Brendan Esposito

It was Shell’s decision to switch off its oil refinery in 2012 that largely prompted the re-imagining of Camellia. Photo: Brendan Esposito

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With its abandoned railroads, towering smoke stacks and whiff of chemicals, it is hard to imagine Camellia ever being called home.

But the dusty and dry site about 1.5 kilometres east of Parramatta is set to be transformed from industrial wasteland into urban idyll.

The NSW government is finalising a plan intended to convert the neglected 321-hectare zone into a new neighbourhood.

Parramatta’s Liberal state MP Geoff Lee said that within the next two decades Camellia could be home to more than 20,000 high-rise apartments and 10,000 workers.

“The vision is turn an industrial wasteland into waterfront living,” Mr Lee said. Why Camellia? 

The precinct, which includes parts of Clyde and Rosehill, has long been locked up by heavy industry such as oil refining, manufacturing and freight distribution.

But it occupies a swath of prime real estate at the geographical centre of Sydney.

Camellia is on the banks of the Parramatta River, a stone’s throw from the booming Parramatta CBD and backs onto the M4 Motorway and James Ruse Drive.

Nobody lives in the area and there are only about 3000 workers, half of whom are tied to six businesses.

WestLine Partnership chairman Chris Brown, who is lobbying to build a light rail through the precinct, said Camellia was “ground zero” for major development.

“The benefit of having this land tied up in such ugly industrial use for so long is that it is now available for remediation,” Mr Brown said.

“We can put people where factories used to be and give value to this absolutely core site.”

Camellia’s metamorphosis would also support the expected growth of Parramatta as it becomes Sydney’s second CBD.

“It is a goldmine,” Parramatta lord mayor Scott Lloyd said.

“People don’t know it’s there. You sort of have to pull out your phone to show them where Camellia is at the moment.” Why now?

It was Shell’s decision to switch off its oil refinery in 2012 that largely prompted the re-imagining of Camellia.

Shell was one of the main tenants of the precinct and its transition to a fuel import terminal meant it required significantly less space.

This has raised the prospect of a large mass of land being released to the market for development and the chance to revitalise the entire area.

A spokeswoman for Viva Energy, which now owns the terminal, confirmed operations would be consolidated into a smaller space but said future use of the surplus land had not been determined.

As well as state and local government pushing for Camellia’s renewal, there is also the increasingly vocal WestLine Partnership.

The lobby group, which has property groups and developers like GPT, Goodman and Dexus as members, says the private sector could fund a light rail track from Parramatta, through Camellia and on to Sydney Olympic Park.

The route is one of four being considered by the state government.

A Deloitte report commissioned by the group found that densification of the precinct would​ allow for 57,000 residents and create more than 46,000 locally based jobs.

“The [lobby group members] are not philanthropists, they want to pay their part,” Mr Brown said. “This not an act of charity … Camellia will be the epicentre of major development.” Won’t this be hard?

After years of industrial use and poor management practices, the extent of contamination at Camellia is unknown.

James Hardie’s asbestos factory, where Bernie Banton worked, operated in the precinct from 1916 to 1993.

A Parramatta Council discussion paper said substantial toxic filling of the area, including asbestos and chrome ore processing waste, was believed to have occurred but was largely undocumented.

But supporters of developing the area point to Rhodes and Newington as signs of successful remediation projects.

Clean-up technologies are improving, some businesses have already committed to fixing their sites and the level of remediation needed would depend on how the land was used.

The other major concern is access: there are only two main entry and exit roads into the area, public transport is poor and there are no direct links to the neighbouring suburb of Silverwater.

And even if the land is rezoned from industrial to residential, the businesses currently in Camellia might not want to pack their bags.

The council paper found that the majority of owners wanted to remain. This could limit widespread change in Camellia and also create conflict between different land uses. So, what could it eventually look like?

A Department of Planning and Environment spokeswoman would only say that the plan for Camellia would be exhibited in the “near future” and locals would be invited to give feedback.

But under Parramatta Council’s vision, the residential and new business areas would be clustered along the banks of the Parramatta River.

The “Grand Avenue” that is currently a grim and barren road into Camellia would be transformed into a “distinctive entry boulevard”.

The river front would be activated with a walkway, open space and domain improvements.

As the fuel import terminal is still supplying 40 per cent of the state’s energy and requires specific pipes and tanks, the opposite side of Camellia could be transformed into an “innovation precinct” associated with alternative transport fuels refining, advanced bio-fuels and research.

Traditional heavy industries would transition into clean technology businesses.

Clr Lloyd said there was the potential to build one, or even multiple, town centres.

“At the of the day we going to have a wonderful new precinct that will have thousands of residents and thousands of jobs right on the footstep of Parramatta,” he said.

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