The recent announcement by the State Government of the release of 7,700-hectares of land south of Campbelltown at Menangle Park, Mount Gilead and Wilton Junction with up to 35,000 new homes is surprisingly short on detail. A five-page preliminary land release strategy has been released along with a land use and infrastructure analysis, but neither provides much information about any government planning for employment, education, health, transport or other infrastructure for the three identified centres. The overall process is described as an “investigation” which suggests that much of this detail is yet to be worked out.
The limited information that has been provided raises a lot more questions than answers, while hinting at the challenges involved. One example is proved by the table and map showing distances and travel times by car from Wilton in the south of the Greater Macarthur Land Release Investigation Area (GMLRIA) to other major centres which are reproduced below.
These underscore the distances involved and the consequent need to develop employment opportunities in a region which several commentators have noted has struggled to create jobs. Wollongong to the south east is actually closer than Parramatta or even Liverpool. Other centres like Sydney’s CBD and Macquarie Park are even more distant at 85 kilometres and a rather optimistic assessment of 60-90 minutes travel time.
The strategy is comparatively silent on this issue. What information there is available is largely summed up in the map released as part of the land release investigation. This identifies the location of employment lands and sketches some transport options; rather disturbingly, there is more detail on road plans than public transport ones. While proximity of both the Hume Highway and the main south rail line has obviously influenced the choice of these sites, there appears to be little in the way of plans to build on the latter, apart from a suggested bus priority corridor and a proposal to extend electrification of the rail line from Macarthur station only as far as the most northern centre, Menangle Park.
The provision of public transport infrastructure in the North West and South West Growth Centres involved the expenditure of billions of dollars on building metro and heavy rail lines. The North West is an object lesson in how expensive it is to retrofit dedicated transport corridors; while this was avoided in the construction of the south west rail link as far as Leppington, the piecemeal multi-front development of this growth centre and the failure to identify and resource a corridor beforehand means that the extension of this link will impact on recently-established communities around Oran Park and Harrington Park.
I will return to other aspects of the GMLRIA announcement in later posts, but let’s stay with public transport for the moment. First it’s important to provide good transport infrastructure despite the (as yet undeveloped) plans to maximise local employment. Even if these are successful, local traffic to and between employment nodes in the three planned centres and Campbelltown will put considerable pressure on the Hume Highway and the local road network, while a significant proportion of the workforce will still need to travel further afield.
The decision to investigate a release area in close proximity to the existing rail line is a good start in responding to these issues. While this means that the sort of telephone-number dollars that are being expended in the northwest to retrofit the metro can be avoided, it does not let the government off the hook in terms of upgrading and expanding this asset well before development starts – and this must involve a lot more than the current proposed partial electrification of the rail line. Here are some suggestions:
- Extend electrification of the rail line at least as far as Maldon (near the proposed major centre at Wilton) and preferably to Picton. This is a no-brainer – irrespective of any plans to regard Milton Junction as a self-contained city, integration into the suburban rail network is essential to provide reliable links to other centres.
- Use part of the uncompleted Maldon to Dombarton rail freight corridor to provide an electrified rail link between Maldon and the proposed major centre at Wilton. This section is only around two kilometres and could be integrated with the freight line if this is ever built, but in the interim a rail link to the largest proposed centre in the release area seems to be another no-brainer.
- Consider upgrading and further electrification of the main rail line to Goulburn. The rail line could provide a spine for the modest development of other centres in this corridor which could link to and leverage the opportunities provided by the GMLRIA and in particular the infrastructure and services that would be associated with the major centre at Wilton.
- Plan a set of dedicated bus corridors in both the Menangle Park/Mount Gilead and the Wilton release areas. At this stage only one such corridor has been identified, to link Mount Gilead to Menangle.
- Ensure that any plans to extend the south west rail line southwards involve a link to the GMLRIA. While the route is yet to be finalised, the information released to date suggests that it will be extended only as far as Narellan. Extending it further would provide direct access from the investigation area to proposed employment areas near the planned airport site.
The extension of the south west rail line to the main south line to connect to the GMLRIA would provide a significant addition to Sydney’s orbital public transport corridors. I’ll consider the increasing importance of these in my next post.