A 200-year-old heritage pub is slated for demolition to make way for the new Parramatta light rail that critics say is going the wrong way anyway.
The classic Royal Oak has sat on the corner of Parramatta’s Church and Ross Streets since 1813. Behind the pub are stables that are even older, also heritage-listed, as well as an archaeological site.
Parramatta holds many heritage structures, which it treasures and protects from the onslaught of development the region is experiencing as western Sydney’s growth capital.
But the NSW Government, as part of the Parramatta Light Rail (PLR), has determined to demolish the Royal Oak as it lies in the path of the proposed route down Church Street. Justification is on the basis the project is of state significance, negating any heritage considerations.
Stage 1 of the PLR will see 12 kilometres of two-way track link Westmead to Parramatta and Carlingford. (see map below)
The route sees the trams pass though the centre of the CBD, stopping at Parramatta rail station, and just two stops further along at Prince Alfred Square it services patrons to the new Western Sydney Stadium.
The new $300 million Western Sydney Stadium is scheduled for completion in the next two years, set to hold 30,000 spectators, particularly Parramatta Eels and Western Sydney Wanderers fans.
The Stadium will be on the eastern side of Parramatta Park – up to 700 metres from the Prince Alfred Square light rail stop. Alternatively, those leaving the Stadium could head through the shopping and entertainment precinct an extra 400-metres to the rail station.
Critics have questioned why the route of the PLR does not run closer to the Stadium, removing the need for thousands of revellers to be flooding the streets, but Transport NSW issued a statement saying it was satisfied the location of the Alfred Square stop would “efficiently handle crowds for major events”.
Parramatta Council has expressed concern for the situation, pledging to balance the improved transport infrastructure with submissions of the people of Parramatta.
“Following consultations to hear the communities’ responses to the exhibited route, Council will be making a submission to the State Government on the detailed elements of the project, including the route, stop locations, integration with other forms of transport, and design elements, during the public exhibition of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS),” said administrator Amanda Chadwick.
Adding insult to bureaucracy, the Walsh family – custodians of one of Australia’s oldest pubs – have seen little more than an eviction notice for the business they have lived and breathed for the past decade.
“We didn’t hear anything from Council,” Rebecca Walsh told PubTIC. “Someone walked in from Transport NSW and gave us a pamphlet – a folder of plans, showing the buildings they have to purchase as they need the space.”
Robbie Walsh bought the heritage-listed Royal Oak in 2007, working side by side with his two daughters and son Ben, who would one day take over the business.
The operation survived the demolition of the old Parramatta stadium, which had traditionally drawn thousands of pre- and post-game fans and patrons.
The family has worked hard to reinvent the business, at times living upstairs, lifting the standard and success in the foodservice and other aspects of the kind of old locals’ pub where people have habitually come for years, and everyone is known by name.
“We’re like a small family,” explains Rebecca. “We were affected with the Stadium closing, but the Hotel’s been doing really well and we were looking forward to the new one opening – especially the Wanderer’s home games. It was going to be great.”
The Walshs say more than a dozen businesses immediately around them will be devastated by the PLR route, with some already moving to mitigate the inevitable negative impact on trade. They have been told they’ll need to leave by October next year.
A Change petition has sprung up to save the iconic pub, hoping to further Parramatta Council’s efforts to advocate for a reconsideration of the PLR route – both to better serve the new Stadium and save a landmark pub.