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Sydney Town Hall project | Image: City of Sydney

Sydney’s Grand Delay: Town Hall Square Pushed to the 2030s

While this Sydney Mayor wants to sink a ship off one of Sydney’s most pristine beaches, the City of Sydney Lord Mayor is still trying to start construction on a grand public square opposite Sydney Town Hall. First envisaged in the 1980s, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the now fifty-year-old project has been delayed again, with construction not set to begin until the second half of the 2030s.

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Sydney Town Hall project | Image: City of Sydney

Sydney Town Hall project | Image: City of Sydney

We’re still rubbing our eyes in disbelief about living in the roaring ’20s, and the City of Sydney is already making plans for the ’30s. That’s right, the grand public square, a dream that’s been alive longer than most of our readers, won’t see the light of day until at least the second half of the 2030s. The collective groan can be heard from Circular Quay to Parramatta.

The grand plan to flatten the block between George and Pitt Streets opposite Sydney Town Hall to erect a civic square was first cooked up by former lord mayor Doug Sutherland around 50 years ago. In 2019, current Lord Mayor Clover Moore took a bold swing, promising that the vision would be realised within the next decade. However, two years on, a lease until December 2030 was handed over to Woolworths, essentially putting that timeline on the back burner. This week, Moore conceded that the wrecking ball wouldn’t get a look in until 2035 at the earliest. “These are all city-building projects, and they take time,” she said, showcasing her knack for the art of understatement.

The Council’s chief executive Monica Barone threw in her two cents, suggesting that 2035 is merely a ballpark figure. It could be even later. “We’re not saying that it will happen then (in 2035); we’re saying it will happen after then,” she said. It’s a bit like waiting for the next Grand Theft Auto game, isn’t it?

W Sydney Exterior | Image: W Hotels

The recently built W Sydney at Darling Harbour | Image: W Hotels

The Town Hall Square construction budget is estimated to run over the AUD$200 million mark. The Council has already shelled out tens of millions buying properties on the block – and there’s still more to bag. “It’s probably the biggest project we’ve ever envisaged,” said Barone.

A significant hurdle is Woolworths, which presently holds a prime position on the block (plus a recent renovation that added Big W to the second floor of the building). Prematurely terminating their lease would substantially impact the Council’s income, hence the decision to extend leases until the eleventh hour. It’s hard to fault their financial nous, isn’t it?

However, fear not. If you’re a tenant on the block, you’re safe until at least 1 July 2035. Any leases beyond that date will come with a “demolition” clause, allowing the City to take early possession of the property with a year’s notice. Moreover, the Council has a plan for the extra rental dosh. It will be allocated to a special reserve fund for the future Town Hall Square building costs.

It’s worth mentioning that the Sydney Town Hall isn’t just any old building. It’s one of Australia’s most decorative civic buildings, listed on the State Heritage Register, and a beacon of our rich history. The planned grand public square would only amplify the cultural significance of this area, making it an even bigger draw for locals and tourists alike.

Sydney Harbour Bridge from Barangaroo Reserve


In the wider context, Sydney has been no stranger to ambitious development projects. There’s Barangaroo, a once-disused container terminal now transformed into a bustling waterside precinct. Or the redevelopment of Darling Harbour, which has completely revitalised the area. The Town Hall Square project is another feather in the cap of the city’s urban development landscape.

The City is also planning to chuck AUD$35 million at revitalising the space between Town Hall and St Andrew’s Cathedral and school, dubbed Sydney Square, set for a face-lift by 2027. The Council’s grand 2050 vision for the city would also see Town Hall Square shake hands with two other civic plazas at Central Station and Circular Quay.

Meanwhile, Labor councillor Linda Scott reckons 2035 is “a very long time” and asked if the Council locked in a chinwag with the new Labor state government about whether they might chuck a few bucks towards the project. Moore said she’d given it a red hot go with the previous NSW government to contribute but didn’t get anywhere. “I think the new governments in NSW and Canberra think they have enough on their plate and are not so interested in this particular project,” she said.

So, while we wait (and wait, and wait…) for the grand square to finally emerge, Sydney’s citizens can look forward to a spruced-up Sydney Square in the meantime. Small wins, folks. Small wins. We’ll keep a keen eye on how this saga unfolds, so watch this space for updates. Until then, let’s hope the only wrecking balls we see are in the latest Call of Duty update.