With the pedestrian bridge nearing completion across the Nepean River, the delivery of the Western Sydney City Deal and increased investment in our region with the development of Western Sydney Airport there’s been quite some progress since the Penrith City Gazette first published my opinion piece.
First published in the Penrith City Gazette, October 2016
It was the year 2000 and Penrith was ablaze with excitement, not only about the world’s largest sporting event the Olympic Games coming to town, but the possibilities that lay beyond the two-week spectacular. As someone directly involved in the Games, it seemed at times over the years the promise of tourism growth from our Olympic experience was possibly beyond reach.
Now, 16 years on there is another buzz in the air, and at last it feels like all is aligned and things are happening. It is promising that Penrith sits tightly in the planning goals of the Greater Sydney Commission and there’s a vision for the city to be a centre for tourism and gateway to the Blue Mountains. Progress is being made by Penrith City Council in promoting Penrith as the adventure capital of Sydney and working with the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury to establish a regional tourism organisation.
Connectedness between Penrith, the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury is going to be important in establishing long-term economic growth and tourism potential. Each area has its own strengths and there are many ways to cross-promote and support each other’s growth. As long as the three LGA’s can effectively link and collaborate whilst still being unique, future tourism for the region is very exciting.
The increased investment by all levels of government into the Nepean River shows Penrith is a city getting ready for the future. Each day as I drive across the bridge into the CBD and see construction taking place, I am reminded by the walkers and runners precariously negotiating the narrow path how much we need better pedestrian access, but also how important it is to open the connection between Emu Plains and Penrith, allowing everyone to enjoy our beautiful river.
It’s fantastic to have strategies for and investment in increased tourism and economic growth, but just as important is ensuring the people who live and work in Penrith are excited about the future, because it is easy to only see things as they are now. This includes the never-ending frustration that the lack of long-stay parking causes every single person who works in the CBD or commutes by train from stations like Emu Plains. How could we possibly take on more cars?
The work Penrith CBD Corporation is doing to prepare the city centre is a good example of encouraging the community to back the potential. The goal to “unlock the opportunities” is about preparing businesses for growth and encouraging investment, whether in CBD businesses, re-developments or new developments.
From a cultural perspective, activities like the upcoming Real Festival on the Nepean River is also important in making sure people feel connected to the change that is happening, to celebrate all the wonderful things about Penrith and share in the vision for the future, like the plans to open the area around Tench Reserve to cafes and bars that will make the river an appealing stop-over for locals and visitors.
How has this focus on tourism and growth come about? The promise of great economic opportunity from the new airport is of course a driver but there’s something else. The Penrith Whitewater Stadium as an Olympic legacy laid the foundations for Penrith to dream of an exciting future, for it to be a visitor destination not just a place that you pass by on your way to the Blue Mountains. It has allowed Penrith to now be branded as the adventure capital, and we already have a range of commercial adventure-style activities on offer to visitors.
In order to truly make Penrith the adventure capital, we also need to be a city that encourages activity amongst the community, as well as visitors. Council is encouraging people to get out and about more including cycling in and around Penrith, but we also need to ensure people can ride or walk safely between transport connections and our important recreation facilities.
For the small business operator, local resident or visitor to the city, Penrith is on an exciting path. One of the keys to the success of the outcome will be bringing the community along not only for the ride, but giving everyone a role in steering the future.