The NSW state government has approved a new cruise ship terminal at White Bay with working planned to begin within weeks. Critics of the project say categorically the rush to begin is aimed to be a vote-puller, slipped in neatly before the state election next month.
The Cruise Ship sector is growing annually, and Sydney is a hot destination.
NSW Planning Minister, Tony Kelly, approved the Balmain development despite objections from the cruise ship industry, City of Sydney and Leichhardt councils and the National Trust, all of whom argued that the terminal should stay at Barangaroo.
But Mr Kelly said the decision was part of the government's commitment to 'maintain Sydney as a working harbour' and it would open up to public access the shore at White Bay, which was formerly used as a port.
'The approval includes a condition that public access to the foreshore must be maintained during the daytime on non-ship days and to the greatest extent possible during functions and events,' Mr Kelly said.
The new terminal would cater for up to 170 ships a year, with construction anticipated to commence in February.
A new road will be built to connect the site to James Craig Road. The Leichhardt mayor, Jamie Parker, said this would ruin the site.
'This new road cuts across and sterilises the whole of the harbour; they are sterilising future use by building this road,' Cr Parker said.
Leichhardt and City of Sydney Councils have complained the decision has been made before the government has finalised its community consultation on the bays precinct - four bays, including White Bay, that will all be redeveloped after commercial shipping moved to Botany Bay.
With a price tag of $57 million, the project is about $20 million more than was originally budgeted when cabinet agreed two years ago to vacate Barangaroo because all three developers bidding to develop the site wanted the terminal moved.
'I'm absolutely baffled why they would spend more than $50 million of taxpayers' money on a project the users don't want to use,' Cr Parker said.
The biggest operator of cruise ships, Carnival Cruises, said Barangaroo was the best location as it allowed passengers access to the city without the need for a fleet of buses that would add to congestion on Victoria Road every time a ship docked.
'The move away from Barangaroo was always a political, government decision. We flagged from the beginning we wanted to stay at Barangaroo,' said Carnival's chief executive, Ann Sherry.