CSIRO has signalled a massive change of approach in consolidating Sydney sites by making an announcement – in partnership with the New South Wales State Government – to develop a proposal to relocate employees to new, purpose-built facility at the new Western Sydney Aerotropolis from 2026.
The radical change in direction comes amid a recent report the Australian National Audit Office which strongly criticised CSIRO’s ten-year property plan.
Existing consolidation plan
CSIRO’s existing Sydney property strategy – which proposed the closure of North Ryde and the sale of the Marsfield site, with new building work at Lindfield and Newcastle to accommodate staff relocations – looks set to be scrapped in favour of the Aerotropolis plan.
The original proposal – estimated to cost in the vicinity of $115 million – had progressed from the planning stage through to parliamentary scrutiny and approval of the capital to refurbish the Lindfield site.
The future of Lindfield – home to the National Measurement Institute and purpose built for measurement functions in a location selected for geological properties – remains unclear.
Located near the planned site of Sydney’s second airport in Badgery’s Creek, the Aerotropolis is envisaged by the NSW Government as ‘a new focal point for Australian innovation, research and productivity.’
According to CSIRO, the proposed move would deliver ‘a bespoke carbon-neutral CSIRO facility of up to 18,000 m2 would be built, featuring collaborative workshops and modern, flexible laboratories to support the delivery of cutting-edge science and technology.’
‘The CSIRO facility would be central to the Aerotropolis Advanced Manufacturing and Research Precinct, which will bring together research institutes and commercial organisations across advanced manufacturing, quantum technologies, aerospace, defence and agribusiness.’
Details of the cost of the proposal to CSIRO and the funding contribution from the NSW Government have yet to be released.
CSIRO have indicated there are no plans to relocate Data 61 staff currently based at Australian Technology Park (ATP) in Eveleigh as part of the Aerotropolis proposal.
However, CSIRO has signalled intent to shift Data 61 staff currently located in at the Kensington laboratory at the University of New South Wales to the ATP site.
The decision to shutter Kensington has been without meaningful consultation, prompting concerns from affected employees that the relocation process will affect the ability to produce quality research.
Meanwhile the Australian National Audit Office has slammed CSIRO’s property management plan in a scathing report.
‘The CSIRO did not design and implement its 2012 property investment strategy in a way that is delivering the intended benefits. The 2019 Property Strategy was not sufficiently informed by lessons learned and does not include any performance targets,’ the report states.
‘CSIRO’s approach to measuring its property footprint and operating costs is not effective. The evidence indicates that the CSIRO will not achieve the aim of reducing its property footprint by 26 per cent and eliminate the forecast annual increase in operating costs compared with 2012–13 levels.’
‘There have been significant delays with the delivery of the planned divestments (with some divestments having been cancelled). The planned divestments were key to CSIRO reducing its property footprint as well as to provide funds for the capital investment required for its proposed property consolidations, both of which were expected to facilitate a greater proportion of the CSIRO’s resources to be spent on scientific and industrial research.’
The report also criticised CSIRO’s measurement of the organisation’s property footprint and operating costs. While the auditors found that CSIRO had developed a ‘partly effective’ framework and arrangements to develop the strategy, ‘CSIRO’s reporting to its Board on progress with the implementation of the strategy has not been appropriate.
‘The reporting has not been regular, has not contained information requested by the Board and has not reported on delivering the aims of the 2012 Property Strategy including the realisation of costs and benefits.’
The report contains five recommendations:
CSIRO has accepted all five ANAO recommendations and through a spokesperson stated that the organisation “has implemented or is implementing actions consistent with the ANAO’s recommendations.”