The National Trust usually deals with the past, but our recent Past & Future Cities Forum instead took participants on a journey of discovery into the future, reimagining what Parramatta could be like if it embraced its heritage character and made use of its past as an asset and a resource for the future,  rather than relying on the current processes based on the erasure of our heritage.

National Trust President Neil Wykes opened the Forum noting that  Trust has long argued for the history of our cities to play a meaningful role in their future; and that although Parramatta and Western Sydney are already host to multiple Visions, Concepts, Strategies and Plans for its future, it has also been the home of some the most contentious heritage battles the state has seen in recent years.

Neil Wykes encouraged the Forum to embrace new approaches, recognising that:

When the Trust conceived this Forum, we very deliberately choose the word ‘Reimagine.’ Parramatta is currently imagining planning and building projects that will set the character for generations to come today. This place making work will not simply be defined by what we create, but it will be defined by what we refuse to destroy.”  

Keynote speaker David Burdon (Conservation Director, National Trust) built on this thought when he challenged the audience of industry planners, urban designers and government representatives on current approaches, stating:

We need to stop considering Parramatta as a blank canvas – if it was a real estate brochure, it’s almost as though Parramatta was being advertised as a knock down and rebuild special.”  

Acknowledging that the the Willow Grove saga illustrated this tendency perfectly,  Burdon showed in his presentation that there is an increasing tendency perhaps to move away from the renovate and more to the detonate.  The Forum noted that this tendency comes at a loss, because our cities are enriched as we add, not detract layers from them.  David finished by imploring to the Forum to understand that:

“It’s only through a process of gradual restoration and not incremental demolition that Parramatta can retain any sense of history, variety, and human scale it deserves. ” (watch the full keynote speech below).

Parramatta Lord Mayor Donna Davis agreed, urging the Forum to rethink their process of designing our future cities, stating:

We need to identify that what is important is not just also about individual little buildings; it’s about streetscapes and landscapes.  What is so important is ensuring we keep the heart of the city and have complimentary development that actually respects what’s here.” 

The Forum recognised that Parramatta is currently imagining, planning and building projects that will set its character for generations to come, and challenged planners, government agencies, Councils, urban designers and architects to reimagine that future, predict different possible futures, and to experience other viewpoints.


Key issues and solutions identified at the Forum by its eminent speakers, panelists and moderators were that:

  • Urban density is important to reduce urban sprawl, but only where this can be accommodated with the overall aim of maintaining and enhancing a varied and interesting urban environment. The growth of Parramatta is inevitable and, in fact, desirable, but the destruction of its character and the loss of public places is not.
  • The growth of Parramatta is inevitable and, in fact, desirable, but the destruction of its character and the loss of public places is not.
  • The preservation not just of heritage buildings, but of the streetscapes, views, parklands, and river environments around them, is the critical and fundamental component in designing livable, character filled cites with vibrant communities.
  • Community and public participation needs to happen upfront, with true opportunity when identifying options, and needs engagement with Parramatta’s diverse communities.  Cities are designed for people, and they must be designed hand-in-hand with the people and communities they are being designed for.
  • Parramatta’s development objectives should strive to protect and enhance the individual heritage values of localities and aim to create and maintain locally distinctive urban villages in new development zones.
  • Planning proposals that spot-rezone sites must consider the cumulative impact they having on the overall cityscape.
  • Significant investment into the protection, restoration and promotion of Parramatta’s heritage places and landscape is a desperate priority for all levels of government if the Parramatta of the Future is to become as loved as Sydney’s Rocks district, and its Parks as renowned as Centennial Park.
  • Key sites that need urgent investment and protection are:
    • The entirety of North Parramatta, not simply the Female Factory
    • Roxy Theatre
    • Harris Park heritage precinct
    • Parramatta Park
    • Parramatta River
    • Prince Alfred Square.


What next for Parramatta’s heritage?

Urbanist, author and panelist, Jane Jose OAM  Jane Jose summed up the day stating:

I love the National Trust saying that this Forum is a blueprint for truly lovable cities; because if Parramatta can define what those values are and how to create a sense of belonging, then it can ask of the developers to do it the way that the community needs it.  Because if a place is lovable, it’s liveable. It it’s good in every way.  It’s sustainable.

The Trust now calls on the NSW Government and Parramatta City Council to take a leadership role to ensure that Parramatta’s heritage places, their settings and City’s unique character is protected, to give the Western suburbs the world class heritage precincts it deserves.

Related content section

Watch the Keynote Presentation

Watch National Trust Director of Conservation David Burdon's keynote on the Future of Parramatta's Past


Forum Program & Speakers

Explore the Forum's topics, keynote speaker and panellists


Forum Communique

Read the official National Trust Communique on the Forum outcomes.


Call to action section

Watch "Reimagining Parramatta"

Highlights from the Forum

View here