Government 'renting' Sydney Harbour to exclusive homes

There are a whopping 78 private pools around Sydney's harbour, compared to just 20 that are public.

Calls for more swimming space around Sydney Harbour are mounting, after it emerged there are a whopping 78 private pools 'rented' along the water's edge — accessible only by residents living in exclusive properties — compared to just 20 public baths.

While in the state, marine structures including jetties and pontoons are considered Crown land, meaning they can be used by anyone, in Sydney Harbour different rules apply. Residents are in fact allowed to reserve slices of the ocean for exclusive use by occupants of the adjoining land.

Almost 80 private pools dot Sydney's iconic harbour

Though no official list of these private pools exists, real estate records show they can be found in the ritzy suburbs of Mosman, Elizabeth Bay, Darling Point, Seaforth, Vaucluse and Hunters Hill, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

A private pool in Sydney Harbour at Potts Point.
There are 78 private harbour pools around Sydney, compared with just 20 public baths. Source: Google Maps

These homes have swimming enclosures that range from large netted structures to smaller, sometimes historic sandstone structures.

Minister calls for change

The inconsistency between public and private swimming spaces around the harbour has prompted NSW Planning and Public Spaces Minister Paul Scully to call for the disparity to be addressed.

"We should be looking to address the current inequitable access to recreational water activities throughout Sydney and NSW – both on the basis of geography and exclusivity," he told the Herald.

According to Transport for NSW, "adjoining landowners to domestic swimming enclosures can use their pool exclusively" though owners must pay an annual fee for the space".

The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal's (IPART) records show that rents range from $7000 per year in the harbour's eastern suburbs, to $2000 on the western side. These fees are calculated on a per square metre basis.

A Mosman peninsula on Sydney Harbour
A NSW minister has called for the disparity "in equity" to be addressed. Source: Google Earth via SMH

Over the years there have been various plans to increase the amount of public harbour pools, with a 2021 proposal putting forward the idea of baths at Elizabeth Bay, Pyrmont, Glebe and Rozelle — which had the backing of then cities minister Rob Stokes — though poor water quality stood in the way.

A netted swimming area has since opened in nearby Barangaroo and another in Concord along the Parramatta River, with talks now being had to install a "simple" public pool at Elizabeth Bay's Beare Park.

Late last year, a new "beach" at Penrith, some 63km from nearest ocean, opened to residents of Western Sydney.

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