The once-overlooked suburb of Penrith on Sydney’s outskirts is steamrolling ahead with unprecedented development in the face of a major population growth spurt and its new future as one of Sydney’s most important town centres.
For years it was just the last suburb Sydneysiders would bypass on their way to the Blue Mountains, but with the promise of a major airport a stone’s throw away, construction workers are already in overdrive preparing for the city’s new trajectory.
The suburb has already started to evolve over the years with disillusioned Sydneysiders heading to Penrith in search of better value housing. In Penrith the median house price is $650,000, almost half that of Sydney’s overall median, $1,150,357.
Despite being 60 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD, the main street of Penrith is now booming, according to Penrith Mayor John Thain.
“There’s a restaurant or cafe opening up every second week. You can see the vibrancy and it’s lifting the night economy,” Cr Thain said.
It’s a far cry from its rural beginnings – Penrith has gone from being a farm on Sydney’s outskirts to a hardscrabble of suburbs to a city in its own right.
Residential projects, particularly house and land packages, are not new in Penrith, but more medium-density and high-density mixed-use precincts with apartments are luring new types of buyers to Penrith and changing the town’s fabric.
“It’ll give our young people the opportunity to actually stay in the area they grew up in. But it’ll certainly bring more people in. They want to have lifestyle choice … whether it’s a unit, townhouse or a 400 square block,” he said.
A new $500 million project planned for the banks of the Nepean River will be a litmus test for demand in the region for high-density city-style living. It’s one of the biggest residential projects Penrith has seen and has been touted by those marketing the project as a “visionary new community”.
The East Side Quarter “village” will be a mixed-use development with 850 apartments next to the Penrith Panthers’ Entertainment Precinct.
David Borger, Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber, said Penrith was in the process of getting a major facelift.
There’s a sense of optimism and it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen. Its future is rosier than its past,” Mr Borger said.
“Penrith still has blue skies, wide-open spaces and wonderful nature at its doorsteps and people are attracted to that environment.”
Young people can see the value and affordability of a place like Penrith, Mr Borger said.
“There is a draw for young people to live in more affordable locations as well as local families who are doing well and want to go to a different community and migrant Sydney will be moving westwards as well,” he said.
Despite much lower property prices in Penrith, the suburb isn’t immune to Sydney’s affordability crisis. Almost a quarter of Penrith tenants are in rental stress, according to the latest census data, and there’s a wait of more than a decade for social housing. One community housing provider said that while development is booming, there needs to be consideration of affordable housing options.
Alongside new residential projects, change is also afoot with several infrastructure developments.
Mr Borger said Badgerys Creek airport, which is 20 kilometres away, Sydney Science Park and the Northern Gateway development by BHL are “mega mixed-use projects” that will change the landscape in the region entirely.
And the mayor said Penrith is ready to live up to the hype of all the record investment and population of about one million people in Western Sydney by 2036, up from 740,000 in 2016.
“That’s twice the population of Canberra or three times the population of Newcastle. We’ve got to accommodate that [growth] across eight councils. Western Sydney’s time has come,” he said.
There were less than half a dozen submissions raising traffic concerns around the ESQ development but councillor Thain said a number of parking lots would be built in time to prevent those issues from arising.