THE man responsible for the rebirth of Darling Harbour in the 1980s has described its proposed revamp as "the work of Philistines".
Laurie Brereton, the former ALP public works minister, who spearheaded the precinct's transformation from a railway yard into a tourist and leisure zone, said he hoped the $2.5 billion remake of Darling Harbour announced on Tuesday would be a vast improvement on the initial drawings.
Government unveils Darling Harbour plan
The NSW government presents its preferred plan to transform the Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbour. Vision: NSW government.
Proposed in 1984, Darling Harbour was a grand, controversial project plagued by cost blowouts. It now attracts 25 million people a year. At the time, the project earned Mr Brereton the moniker Minister for Public Jerks for his roughshod style of administration, and he was dumped from the portfolio before Darling Harbour was completed.
The government on Tuesday announced it would raze the site to create Australia's largest convention and exhibition space, a 900-room hotel and new residential precinct. Construction giant Lend Lease won the rights to develop the site.
"I trust that the end result will be substantially different from the pictorial illustrations, which look to me like the work of Philistines," Mr Brereton said, expressing reservations about the plan's "scale, scope and bulk".
He said Darling Harbour's lack of rail connection, and the fact it was bound by the western distributor, posed challenges for the precinct, but it remained "a splendid amenity for Sydney".
"[The government wanted to] look at taking Sydney in a western direction and build a core of facilities and amenities for public use … It has served Sydney very well and hopefully it will continue to," he said.
A former NSW government architect and now emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Sydney, Peter Webber, described the process surrounding the latest proposal as "covert" and "deeply flawed".
The government should have prepared a separate master plan for the precinct, taking public opinion into account, rather than wrapping the master plan into the tender process, Professor Webber said. "I think it's a back to front process. Instead of allowing feedback as the proposal was developed we are presented with almost a fait accompli," he said.
Artists' impressions released this week indicated the buildings would be "international style architecture" that failed to reflect their Sydney waterfront location, Professor Webber said.
"In the end they could be elegant and beautiful buildings [but] at the moment they appear very schematic".
An Infrastructure NSW spokewoman said early involvement of the bidders led to ''a better urban design outcome and a plan that is commercially feasible''.
She said the Lend Lease consortium had created ''signature buildings in an iconic location'', describing the designs as ''world class''.
''The master plan, released yesterday, will be subject to consultation and engagement as part of the formal planning process,'' she said, adding the proponents were required to consider issues that had been raised by stakeholders during consultation.
The public had been alerted to community information sessions by two advertisements in May - one in a local paper, and one in the Chinese language press - and Infrastructure NSW held about 30 industry events.
Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said the proposal would help maintain Sydney's position as a top conference destination, and provided much-needed hotel rooms and housing.
The city, which expected to receive a detailed briefing on the proposal early next year, would work with the community, state government and developers to make sure the redevelopment featured ''well-connected, high-quality designs'', she said.