Data-mapping Western Sydney

The Western Sydney Agrifood Mapping and Analytics project will contribute to the evidence base for specialised food industry clusters in the region.

Greater Western Sydney, an area encompassing 898,163 ha, or 8,982 km2, has an estimated resident population of more than 2.55 million, or 2.84 people per hectare. The region’s original inhabitants, the Bidjigal, Cabrogal, Darkinjung, Dharawal, Dharug, Gundungura, Gweagal and Tharawal Aboriginal people, were displaced by European settlement from 1788, when the first farms were established here. The area grew steadily over the 1800s, with land used primarily for logging, sheep, cattle and crop farming, and market gardening. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, improved access by rail and road had driven the establishment of many industries ‘out west’.

Today, the region has substantial residential, rural, industrial, commercial, institutional and military areas as well as national parks, waterways and parklands. Various highways and motorways, numerous public transport links, several ferries and three existing airports, at Bankstown, Camden and Katoomba, connect it with Sydney and beyond.

The new Nancy-Bird Walton (Western Sydney International) Airport and surrounding Western Sydney Aerotropolis will be a game-changer for the region. The area is destined to become a thriving economic hub, delivering around 200,000 new high-skill jobs across aerospace and defence, manufacturing, healthcare, freight and logistics, agribusiness, education and research to the heart of the Western Sydney region.

According to the Western City & Aerotropolis Authority (WCAA), the Authority will ‘leverage the opportunities presented by the new airport to deliver NSW produce and value-added food to global markets’, creating ‘a 36-hour farm-to-plate food supply chain’ and delivering ‘a world-class Integrated Intensive Production Hub and a state-of-the-art Integrated Logistics Hub’.

Aerial view of Parramatta CBD, in Western Sydney. Credit: NSW Government

Developing an agribusiness plan for the Aerotropolis

The Western Sydney Mapping and Analytics project, the first stage of which commenced on 1 June 2020, entails developing a detailed database of the local food-supply industry – growers, food factories, retailers, service providers – in the area surrounding the planned new airport.

With supp0rt from Liverpool City Council, a team of experts in data analytics, spatial mapping and urban planning at University of New South Wales’ state-of-the-art City Analytics Lab and City Futures Research Institute will collect data from an array of sources, then use it to produce multi-layered spatial maps and industry growth scenarios for the region.

The database and interactive maps will provide the evidence base and tools required to help key industry, government and community stakeholders develop shared goals for a smart, sustainable advanced food-industry development.

The project will consider key boundary conditions, such as energy, water, transport and statutory planning constraints, in building scenarios for optimal locations for future industry investment in advanced food manufacturing.

UNSW’s City Analytics Lab has the skilled personnel and cutting-edge equipment required to produce sophisticated, detailed, data-driven maps. Credit: UNSW

Why is this important?

A central aim of the Future Food Systems CRC is to assist the agrifood industry in building efficient whole-of-value-chain production systems – farms working with processors to produce value-added goods that maximise both profitability and environmental sustainability.

Every region in Australia has unique strengths and limitations. The CRC’s data-driven approach is making it easier for regional stakeholders to identify and build on the most promising specialisations for their specific ‘industry clusters’ and the synergies that can be achieved among complementary firms – for example, renewable energy and water services co-located with food factories and indoor cropping facilities or, still more specialised: firms manufacturing goods for the health and nutrition markets, co-located with firms specialised in growing specific medicinal plants as inputs.

“As the gateway city to Western Sydney International Airport and the neighbouring Western Sydney Aerotropolis, Liverpool is a city of opportunity,” says Liverpool Mayor Wendy Waller. “There is fantastic potential to advance the region’s agricultural, manufacturing and transport and logistics sectors and create new jobs.

“Visualisation and modelling tools created by the CRC will help us navigate any industry disruptions and share with stakeholders an evidence-based picture of what is possible to attract further investment and enhance urban design outcomes.”

Dr Simone Zarpelon Leao, project leader, sees the strengths and skills of the City Analytics Lab as well suited to the task.

“The UNSW City Analytics team works with governments around Australia to help solve complex planning challenges,” she says. “This project is an exciting opportunity to apply our skills and toolkit to the needs of the agrifood and advanced manufacturing sector.”

According to CEO David Eyre, CRC research milestones include developing practical tools for helping Australia apply the industry-cluster principles advocated by the Commonwealth growth centre for food and agribusiness, Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL).

“The agrifood sector needs to make a technological leap forward. Establishing a favourable operating environment is critical to attracting the major investment required,” Eyre says.

“The Western Sydney Agrifood Mapping and Analytics project aims to help government work with local industry stakeholders to build a shared growth plan and assemble the hard data needed to attract investment.”

Michael Porter, giving the keynote speech at the Porter Prize in 2016. Credit: Arthsastra, via YouTube

What are industry clusters?

The industry cluster development model was pioneered by Michael E Porter, who wrote extensively on factors influencing the ‘competitive advantage of nations’, arguing that a key to national and regional wealth and advantage is the productivity of firms collectively, and the environment that supports them.

Porter’s concept of ‘clusters’ – groups of interconnected businesses, suppliers, related industries and R&D institutions that arise in particular regions or localities – has become a way for companies and governments to assess the relative competitive advantages of locations and set public policy. The concept of industry clusters is especially relevant when the objectives extend beyond productivity and wealth to environmental and social sustainability.

Plane on the runway: the new Western Sydney Airport, due for completion by 2026, will be a game-changer for the region. Credit: Western City Aerotropolis Authority

What is the state of play with the Aerotropolis?

The Western Sydney Planning Partnership (Planning Partnership), keen to ensure the Aerotropolis is ‘a great place to live, work and invest for generations to come’, has released the Western Sydney Aerotropolis Plan; Western Sydney Aerotropolis Discussion Paper on the proposed State Environmental Planning Policy; and Draft Western Sydney Aerotropolis Development Control Plan Phase for public viewing. View these documents.

The documents were developed by the Planning Partnership, NSW Government and local councils, following feedback received through the exhibition of the Stage 1 Land Use and Infrastructure Implementation Plan (Stage 1 Plan) for the Western Sydney Aerotropolis. Planning and environmental approvals were provided for the Environmental Impact Statement and the Airport Plan, both finalised in 2016. The regulator of the Airport project is the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.

For further information about the new airport and Aerotropolis, check out the following: