‘No pipe dream’: Bold plan for Sydney Harbour

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There’s a push to transform Sydney Harbour under a dream vision unveiled by city officials.

    Sydney Harbour could transform into a swimmer’s paradise under a bold civic vision.

    The City of Sydney has commissioned an architect to look at ways to bring a swimmable harbour to life.

    Lord Mayor Clover Moore said Sydney’s population was set to dramatically increase over the next 30 years and the city would be hotter.

    More people would be clambering for recreational space, so turning the Harbour into a safe place where people could swim, exercise or relax was the next logical step, she said.

    “Greater Sydney Harbour is one of the world’s greatest harbours and is a state, national and global asset,” Ms Moore said.

    “Being able to swim safely in the Harbour is a wonderful symbol of a healthy water ecosystem.

    “If we can clean up the Harbour, we will unleash enormous potential for community recreation and wellbeing.”

    The Harbour stretches from its upper tidal limits on the Parramatta River downstream to the ocean entrance between North and South Head.

    Its catchments are the home of 3.07 million people — projected to grow to 4.35 million by 2041.

    The Harbour has been a world tourist magnet and source of great ecological diversity, but it’s continually threatened by the potential impacts of population growth and development.

    It’s also susceptible to the impacts of climate change, including high rainfall intensity and resulting catchment run-off.

    The Harbour’s waters have also been home to industry and pollution. Most sediment contaminants entered the Harbour before 1970 when industry practices were poorly policed.

    The idea of a swimmable harbour rests on improving water quality, something Ms Moore warned required a “whole of government approach”.

    The city has been focusing on water recycling and stormwater management, a key factor in improving the Harbour’s water quality.

    Ms Moore said the city would also continue to play its part to improve water quality through its stormwater management initiatives and co-operation with Sydney Water.

    The council commissioned Andrew Burges Architects in 2019 to look at options for bringing a swimmable harbour to life.

    Ms Moore said swimming opportunities were taken into account when the city built Pirrama Park, so adding a swimming pool would only require minimal infrastructure along the existing harbour edge.

    Water access was also included in harbourside renewal projects, such as at the Glebe foreshore, Pirrama Park in Pyrmont and Beare Park in Elizabeth Bay.

    “Swimming opportunities could be easily realised when the water is clean and safe,” Ms Moore said.

    “Some parts of our Harbour are highly polluted and cleaning up these waterways so they can be used for recreation and to improve biodiversity will require co-operation across all levels of government.

    “Swimming in the Harbour is no pipe dream. Cities around the world are turning to their natural harbour assets rather than building more infrastructure,” she said.

    Ms Moore pointed to Copenhagen, which spent 15 years transforming its harbour from a highly polluted waterway to a swimmer’s paradise where wildlife is thriving.

    “Once a polluted industrial port, Copenhagen city now invites people to swim in its waterways and enjoy a clean and thriving aquatic environment,” she said.

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