Welcome to the first edition of “the Strategic Week”
Welcome to the first edition of a new service on the StrategicMatters blog – the Strategic Week, a short summary of the some of the week’s key developments in governance, planning, infrastructure and transport.
I’ll be concentrating mainly on Sydney but will also look at important activities in the rest of NSW as well as interstate and even overseas, especially when they are relevant to Sydney. My intention is not only to take a weekly snapshot of the main events across these key strategic policy areas but also to provide a sense of how they relate to each other and how they are – or are not – working together.
I’ll provide a quick summary of each event along with relevant links, especially to the original media statements and reports where these are available. I’ll also add commentary (identified as such) from time to time to some of these items and will also continue to research and publish more detailed articles on the blog on a monthly basis.
This first edition is a little longer than I expect future editions will be, especially as a lot has been going on recently and partly as a result I’m delving back a few more days than I expect to do normally to establish some context. I’m also fine-tuning the format, so any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Lucy Turnbull gets the nod as Government set to announce Greater Sydney Commission appointments
Media reports claim that Former Sydney lord mayor Lucy Turnbull will be appointed by the NSW Government to chair the Greater Sydney Commission. Appointments to the commission were due to formally announced on Friday 4 December. Including the chair there will be 13 appointees to the Commission with separate commissioners for environmental, economic and social issues, six district commissioners nominated by Sydney councils and the department heads from Transport, Treasury, and Planning and Environment. Ms Turnbull who is the wife of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was the first woman to be elected as lord mayor in 2003.
Western Sydney Airport EIS “does not meet the mark”
An independent review of the Western Sydney Airport Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) conducted by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff for 11 Western Sydney councils has found that it “lacked certainty” on key issues such as aircraft noise, flight paths, traffic, transport, and the environment, according to the President of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), Cllr Tony Hadchiti.
The review also found that the EIS did not adequately consider the cumulative effect of projects associated with the Western Sydney Airport, as well as the impacts if the airport is built without a rail line. The review also notes that the draft EIS is explicit that the flight paths propose were designed primarily to avoid impacting the existing operations at Kingsford Smith Airport and “have not been designed to minimise environmental (and in particular noise) impacts on communities”, or the impact on smaller airports. The review further notes that “there is no visibility in the draft EIS of how these contours were arrived at, and how they compare to alternatives considered”.
Cllr Hadchiti also noted that the review confirmed “without doubt” that developing an EIS in only eight months for such a complex project “was always going to fall short of providing certainty and allaying community concerns”.
“Classic Ponzi schemes” and rental lockouts – the social costs of Sydney’s high housing prices
A new report by consultancy firm LF Economics, “Parental guidance not recommended” claims that Sydney houses now cost 12 times the annual average income, up from four times in the 1970s. According to media reports the paper also claims that baby boomer parents are at risk of being caught up in a classic “Ponzi scheme” as they over-leverage their children into mortgages they can’t afford, thus leaving their own homes at risk from default and foreclosure.
While economist Saul Eslake disagrees with the Ponzi term he believes there may be a sustained decline in house prices and that recent rises have caused “great harm” by deepening wealth inequality. Some of these costs were laid bare in the release of Australia’s first Rental Affordability Index, prepared by National Shelter, Community Sector Banking and SGS Economics and Planning.
The report revealed that NSW low income families on $500 a week would have to spend 65% of their income to rent a property under current market conditions. Ellen Witte from SGS noted that the Index shows that single income households are the worst off but even for average working households in many cities rents are unaffordable. Sydney is in a particularly critical position with almost no affordable rental income housing for low income earners east of Blacktown.
Back to the Future – NSW Government proposes terraces and villas to deal with housing crisis
NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has announced the government will “explore new actions to improve housing supply, affordability and diversity”, releasing a discussion paper on the fast-tracking of the delivery of medium-density options such as terraces and villas. The Minister noted that Sydney will need over 660,000 extra homes over the next 20 years. The paper prepared by SJB Planning seeks feedback from the community and other stakeholders on the “expansion of complying development to cover medium density housing development”.
Strong support for Newcastle revitalisation
UrbanGrowth NSW and Newcastle City Council have released a summary of findings from the Revitalising Newcastle community engagement program which show that people “overwhelmingly support the revitalisation of Newcastle city centre”, with over 75% of those surveyed in favour of the “Harbour Entertainment City and Harbour Play City opportunities”, according to UrbanGrowth NSW director Michael Cassel.
Mr Cassel also indicated that residents were keen to restore the city’s now disused railway station back “into its heritage state or its original state”, though a final use for the building was yet to be determined. According to media reports Newcastle Council has also backed the reduction of proposed building height limits in the city’s east end from 20 storeys to 12. This follows major opposition from local residents to the NSW Government’s original revitalisation plans.
NSW Government pockets $10 billion from Transgrid privatisation
The NSW Premier Mike Baird has announced that the Government has succeeded in leasing the transmission assets of Transgrid to Australian-led consortium NSW Electricity Networks for over $10 billion. The consortium also involves investment entities from Canada, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.
According to media reports, more than $3 billion in debt attached to Transgrid will be paid off, resulting in a net return of about $7 billion. This will be topped up by a payment of around $1 billion from the Commonwealth to the NSW Government under a national partnership agreement to encourage asset sales. The result means that when the remaining assets are leased the total proceeds will exceed the $13 billion estimated from the electricity privatisation.
Victorian councils investigate shared solar power and storage
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is providing $112,400 support for Moreland Energy Foundation Limited (MEFL) to investigate a model for shared solar photovoltaic (PV) generation and energy storage capacity in the Melbourne community of Moreland. MEFL is a not-for-profit organisation established by the Moreland City Council to work with communities, partners and governments to implement sustainable energy projects.
According to ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht, the project will investigate how communities could pool solar energy generation and storage using a “microgrid”. The project will also look at how these microgrids can be integrated into existing power networks, which were mainly designed to facilitate power flowing in one direction, from the grid to the customer, and which can run into defficulties if too much power is fed back at the same time. Mr Frischknecht noted that adopting solar and battery storage at a community level can “decrease installation and maintenance costs by leveraging the purchasing power of multiple residences”.
Similar studies are also being undertaken by Victorian power supplier CitiPower in conjunction with four councils in Melbourne’s inner north. The three-year trial has been funded by the Australian Energy Regulator and involves the installation of battery storage in 20 houses to assess the costs and benefits of installing battery systems and how home-based energy storage will impact the wider network.
Infrastructure cost-benefit analysis “doesn’t add up”
In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Chris Standen, a researcher at the University of Sydney, has criticised the basis of the cost-benefit analysis process used to assess major infrastructure projects, including the WestConnex road project in Sydney. Noting that the process “was devised by highway agencies in the 1960s to justify the massive cost of urban motorways”, he claims that it puts too high a value on hypothetical travel time savings.
Noting that it is “normally assumed travellers would value saving one hour of travel time at $15 to $48, Standen claims that in the case of WestConnex this has been further inflated to $70, resulting in a benefit of $13 billion. However as daily travel times have been stable at around 80 minutes a person for decades it appears that people have used the tollway infrastructure simply to move further away from work and services which is no longer feasible.
Standen recommends that projects should be assessed before approval (which didn’t happen with WestConnex) by an independent body and that much less value should be attributed to “hypothetical time savings”. Instead changes in accessibility to economic and social opportunities should be valued along with improvements to the quality of travel time and the ability to stay connected while travelling.
Transport: Sydney Metro
Some go up and some come down – city skyline to get makeover courtesy of the Sydney Metro
Sydney Metro project director Rodd Staples has indicated in media interviews that 52 properties across Sydney will be acquired for the second stage of the Sydney Metro project. Of these, 19 buildings in the CBD, some up to 22 storeys high and a further 17 buildings in North Sydney and Crows Nest will be demolished to make way for the construction of stations. Despite the disruption, Mr Staples has likened the construction process to “keyhole surgery” compared to the major excavations required to construct the City Circle lines in the 1920s.
Meanwhile the NSW Government has announced that a new tender process will be opened for Central Barangaroo to incorporate the addition of the additional metro station. Craig van der Laan, CEO of the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, said the location of the Metro station will “shift the epicentre of the precinct to Central Barangaroo“. The former Prime Minister Paul Keating warned that the increase in development – from 120,000 to 150,000 square metres – “could be squeezing the lemon too hard.”
Sydney Metro – winners, losers and mystery flyers
Despite the recent announcements regarding the second stage of the Sydney Metro including the conversion of the Bankstown line and the possibility of a direct extension to Liverpool, the NSW Government still has not released any more detail regarding the future of the existing rail line beyond Bankstown to Cabramatta and Lidcombe. A Fairfax Media report claims that many residents in the area are unaware that they will be losing a direct connection once the Bankstown line is integrated into the metro.
The government is also yet to decide whether the only station to be provided on the line between Central and Sydenham will be constructed at the University of Sydney or Waterloo. A flyer has been reportedly appearing in mailboxes around Waterloo and Alexandria urging residents to lobby for the Waterloo option which is supported by the government’s development agency Urban Growth NSW. Both the flyer and the website to which it is linked are anonymous which led to speculation that UrbanGrowth was involved, though this was denied. However the author was later identified as a local resident who wanted to “seize a historic transport opportunity – getting the metro line routed through Waterloo”.
Sydney Metro sets the scene for Sydenham to Bankstown corridor renewal
The NSW Government is working with Bankstown City, Canterbury City and Marrickville Councils and local communities to examine opportunities for “more homes, jobs, better public spaces, shops and cafes” within walking distance of the eleven train stations between Sydenham and Bankstown. A draft strategy has been released which includes detailed land use and infrastructure analysis for each of the station precincts and outlines the “future vision and character for each area, the number of new homes and jobs that could be delivered, and the improvements to community facilities, public spaces, the transport network and other infrastructure needed to support growth.” The submissions deadline is 31 January 2016.
Transport: Light Rail
Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail proposal modified to reduce park impact
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment has exhibited a proposal to modify the already-approved CBD and South East Light Rail line. The modifications include proposals to relocate and redesign Randwick Terminus from High Cross Park to the eastern end of High Street and reconfigure the UNSW High Street stop design from one island platform to two separate platforms on either side of the light rail tracks. The modifications are designed to improve safety at both stops and to reduce the impact on High Cross Park.
Did the NSW Roads Minister spill the beans on Western Sydney light rail route?
NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay has appeared to indicate that the State Government’s preferred option for Western Sydney’s first light route will be from Parramatta to Sydney Olympic Park. The Minister was speaking at an unrelated function to announce the construction of a westbound off-ramp from the M4 Motorway at Hill Road to support the redevelopment of the Lidcombe industrial area, which would also potentially be served by the Olympic Park light rail route. Later the Minister issued a statement saying that no final decision had been made.
The Lidcombe development involves a new Carter Street precinct which will transform “a rundown industrial area into a new community”. There will be about 5,500 homes as well as space for corporate offices and light industry that could provide up to 5,500 jobs, a planned new primary school and a new foreshore reserve at Haslams Creek.
Interstate tram fleets boosted
The Victoria state government has announced a new order will be placed with manufacturer Bombardier for 20 trams, increasing its E-Class fleet to 70 vehicles. The government said the $274 million agreement will “provide certainty” for 500 jobs for the next three years at Bombardier’s Dandenong factory, which is currently completing the intial order for 50 E-Class trams. The 33m long E-Class trams have a maximum capacity of 210 passengers.
In Queensland the GoldlinQ consortium which is responsible for the Gold Coast light rail line has exercised an option to order four additional Flexity trams. The 43.5m trams can carry up to 309 passengers and will be required for the stage 2 extension to Helensvale. Unlike the Victorian Bombardier order, the Gold Coast trams will be manufactured in Bautzen in Germany and in Vienna.
Gold Coast consults on light rail southern extension while Canberra proposed route criticised
Following the approval of the stage 2 northern extension of the Gold Coast light rail to Helensvale rail station, the Gold Coast City Council has announced that public consultations will be held on extending the line to the southern Gold Coast. The consultation brochure outlines a number of ideas or route options for the proposed extension. Council is also lobbying the Federal Government for funding towards the project.
The proposed Canberra light rail route along Northbourne Avenue between Gungahlin and Civic, has been criticised by Griffith University transport expert Matthew Burke as being a “much more political decision” than those selected in Sydney and the Gold Coast. He said that the route lacked major destinations making it a “poor choice” for a first-stage route and needed to be changed or quickly extended to avoid failure.
$1.1b cost blowout for NSW intercity trains downplayed by Government
The NSW Auditor General has reported that the procurement cost for the intercity train fleet replacement program has been revised upwards from $2.8 billion to $3.9 billion. The report notes that the revised budget was approved by the expenditure review committee and includes “potential foreign exchange fluctuations, a new maintenance facility and related infrastructure costs.”
Media reports claimed however that the cost of the project to buy 520 carriages (or 65 eight-car trains) to service the Blue Mountains, Illawarra, Newcastle and Central Coast lines had blown out at least partly because the “off-the-shelf” trains the government initially planned to acquire are too long and narrow to provide services on the suburban network and will have to be modified, particularly for use in underground stations.
Camden residents win government commitment to underground rail line
Responding to pressure from the Camden community, NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has announced that any extension of the South West Rail link further south will be run underground at Oran Park and Harrington park to reduce the impact on local residents.
The Minister noted that while construction might not start “for some years, even decades”, the government had decided on the basis of consultations that the “final recommended corridor will include an underground alignment between Oran Park and north of Narellan”.
National overview shows “rail on track” according to Minister, while opposition tells government to do more
The launch of Trainline 3 at AusRail 2015 demonstrates that rail is “on track for Australia’s economic and social future, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss. Trainline 3 is a “collaborative compendium” between the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) which provides an overview of the Australian freight and passenger railway industry.
The Minister also indicated that the Australian Government “is committed to investing in rail projects that deliver economic benefits to Australia including freight rail, inland rail, the intermodal sector and passenger rail.” Meanwhile Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Tourism Anthony Albanese also addressed Ausrail, urging the rail industry to “demand more” from the federal government. “I call on the government to not just ride on rail, but to fund rail,” he said. “There’s been more than a 20% decline in spending on infrastructure [during the Coalition’s current term]”.
Melbourne and Auckland CBD rail project updates
While Sydney plans the second stage of its metro project that will involve a second Harbour rail crossing and a new line under the city centre, two “neighbouring” cities are pressing ahead with major rail projects which also involve tunnelling under their CBDs.
In Melbourne the first package of works for Melbourne Metro has been announced, with “Early Works” set to commence in 2017 to prepare key sites for the start of major construction in 2018. This will involve moving and protecting utilities such as gas, sewer, water and stormwater pipes and telecommunications cables as well as the relocation of some tram tracks and other road features. Melbourne Metro will provide a new line under the CBD from Sunbury to Cranbourne-Packenham, with five new underground stations to be constructed in the CBD.
Auckland Transport is undertaking market sounding, asking construction-consulting industries for input into the development of its procurement strategy for the City Rail Link (CRL) main works. The line will extend Auckland’s passenger rail system in a loop past its current city terminus at Britomart under the CBD to connect back to the existing regional rail line at Mt Eden. Britomart will become a through station with new stations near Aotea Square and Karangahape Road, and a redeveloped station at Mount Eden. The CRL has been divided into 10 distinct packages.