Following a change of mayor and general manager in 1998, the development of what was then known as the Civic Place Project embraced an inclusive community consultation process. Architects Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp were engaged to design the new facility, conducting a series of consultations with cultural groups and community organisations to ensure the design met their needs. The Civic Place Master Plan was placed on public exhibition between April and September 2003, backed by an extensive series of information sessions with various community groups. Public support for the project was confirmed by a referendum at the 2003 council elections, which resulted in a 58.72 per cent yes vote, 36.13 per cent no and 5.15 per cent informal. 11
Forest Coaches buses stand in Orchard Road prior to picking up passengers in The Interchange in this 1995 scene.
Joan Antarakis photo.
The Mandarin Centre in August 2013.
RF McKillop photo.
The shift to residential apartments was also based on declining demand for commercial office space in Chatswood as firms shifted their operations to new business parks in north-west Sydney. This brought about a Chatswood City Centre strategy review from August 1996. A public forum on held on 25 June 1997 resulted in a more conciliatory approach by council to achieve a shared view of “where we want to go” in terms of developing the CBD as a key regional centre, while also ensuring it adequately served key local functions. Concerns highlighted by the community were the need to restrict the CBD to its existing boundaries, while at the same time to encourage more outdoor cafés, music bars and drop-in centres for youth. Increased traffic congestion highlighted the need to restrict access by private cars and increase the use of public transport. 7
Chatswood Transport Interchange (CTI)
The arrival of the first tram at Chatswood railway station on 24 July 1908.
Postcard, Willoughby Museum collection.
Government transport infrastructure investment, with the heavy rail line and the North West Metro, supports the Chatswood CBD’s status as a Strategic Centre in the North District Plan and lends itself to new residential development. Yet Willoughby Council continues to dig their heels in with no residential development in the B3 Business zone permeating their draft planning proposal for the CBD.
The report finds that many of the Chatswood CBD sites cannot be feasibly developed as commercial developments – but is hopeful that demand for office space will drive rents up and resolve this impasse. The fact is that this did not occur and COVID-19 has set back office demand in locations like Chatswood even further.
Chatswood has gone from being the new CBD location of choice for new office towers in the early 1990s to a tumbleweed ghost town full of graffiti-covered hoardings today.
While the retail precinct has boomed – investment in new office jobs has simply ceased. Chatswood is no longer the “CBD of choice”.
The last commercial development to take place in the CBD core of Chatswood was the Zenith Building in the mid-1990s. According to a March 2019 BIS Oxford Economics report prepared for the Council, the importance of Chatswood as a commercial centre has plummeted. As a percentage of Sydney’s total office floorspace, Chatswood has dropped from a total of 3.2% in 1996 to only 2.1% in 2016 and has continued to drop since.