'Excellent Treasurer, appalling architect': Stokes rejects Perrottet's bid to bulldoze power station
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'Excellent Treasurer, appalling architect': Stokes rejects Perrottet's bid to bulldoze power station

NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has hosed down fears the old White Bay power station at Rozelle will be demolished, saying he hopes it will be the centrepiece of the precinct's revival.

The assurance follows Treasurer Dominic Perrottet's remarks in Parliament last week describing the century-old disused power station as a "shocking building [that] should be knocked down".

Dr Stokes said of his fellow Liberal frontbencher: "Dominic Perrottet makes an excellent Treasurer but would make an appalling heritage architect."

The White Bay power station was decommissioned in 1984 and has been dormant for 35 years.

The White Bay power station was decommissioned in 1984 and has been dormant for 35 years.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

He said the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment was preparing a strategy for the precinct and he expected this to be on his desk for review in early 2021. "I hope to see the White Bay power station as the centrepiece of those plans," Dr Stokes said.

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The coal-fired power station, decommissioned in 1984, was built between 1912-17 to supply power to the Sydney railway and tramway system before being expanded to supply the Electricity Commission.

White Bay Power Station in the last century.

White Bay Power Station in the last century.Credit:

In 2016 it was considered as the site for a major tech hub, with Google as an anchor tenant, but the plans fell through. One of the sticking points was the lack of public transport to the area at the time.

In 2011 the power station was used as a location setting for some of Baz Luhrmann's film of The Great Gatsby.

The stoush started last week when Transport Minister Andrew Constance held a press conference near the power station to announce the beginning of construction of the Metro West. In response to a question about the power station's future, he said: "That site no one is able to do anything with so ultimately we've got to make some change. It's full of asbestos, it's a highly contaminated site, it really adds no value … but we've got to work through a process."

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Later, in question time, Mr Perrottet said it should be knocked down. Both he and Mr Constance declined to comment further.

However, their comments have already stirred huge public debate. Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne received about 400 comments when he posted about it on Facebook, calling on the state government to deliver its promise of Australia's answer to Silicon Valley rather than "a pile of rubble by the sea".

Cr Byrne, a Labor politician, said the community was angry because it was the latest incident in the state government's "pattern of disrespectful conduct" to the inner west, including "cheating" them out of money in the so-called council slush fund scandal and imposing unfair construction impacts from Westconnex.

Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne said sending a "wrecking ball" through the White Bay power station would be nonsense.

Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne said sending a "wrecking ball" through the White Bay power station would be nonsense.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Cr Byrne said the White Bay power station was "one of Sydney's most valuable heritage assets", successive governments had already spent vast sums of money remediating the site and dozens of architects had proposed adaptive reuse of the power station.

Operations room in the White Bay Power House in the 1920s.

Operations room in the White Bay Power House in the 1920s.Credit:

"This site is an enormous commercial opportunity," he said. "To suggest that somehow the best option is to send in the wrecking crew is just a nonsense."

Cr Byrne said the building should be repurposed and the site opened up to the public with a mix of commercial and cultural use, perhaps combined with opening up the old Glebe Island Bridge to pedestrian access.

He believed Dr Stokes would come up with a good proposal but feared the minister's colleagues might have other priorities that win the day. "I think Rob Stokes is a very good minister and an expert in his field, but I worry that he gets rolled in the cabinet room," he said.

Balmain Resident Raymond O’Keefe outside the White Bay Power Station on the Balmain-Rozelle peninsula.

Balmain Resident Raymond O’Keefe outside the White Bay Power Station on the Balmain-Rozelle peninsula.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Lifelong Balmain resident Raymond O'Keefe, 81, said he wanted the power station to be saved and not be turned into "another monstrosity" like the Crown tower at Barangaroo. "Leave our history alone," Mr O'Keefe said.

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