Taking the train downtown – how four Australasian cities are embracing CBD rail

First, an apology. A number of technical and other issues made it very difficult to post to this blog when I was travelling overseas and some of these issues have also complicated the resumption of regular The Strategic Week posts now that I have returned. I am also investigating alternative options for the TSW format but until a decision is made on whether or how to resume TSW I will post some articles on individual topics, including this look at Australasian CBD heavy rail projects.

INTRODUCTION

In a remarkable show of synchronicity, planned substantial investments in three Australian cities, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney along with New Zealand’s capital Auckland will create major new heavy rail corridors into their downtown areas over the next decade. All these projects are set to commence construction in the next 12 to 18 months (work on Auckland’s City Rail Link has in fact started) and are scheduled for completion by the mid-2020s. Each project will dramatically increase rail capacity which means that thousands of commuters, inner-city residents and other CBD users all stand to benefit.

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The Strategic Week (no. 18) – postponed

The Strategic Week will be postponed for a short period because of travel commitments. It will reappear as soon as possible, though for the next few editions it is likely to be in a shorter format. I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

Alex Gooding

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The Strategic Week (no. 17, Friday 15 April 2016) – the week in governance, planning, infrastructure and transport

Top of the Week

Lagging jobs growth in Western Sydney could result in transport chaos for the whole of Sydney

By 2036 Sydney’s economy “will be strangled by the daily congestion and expense involved in moving people to their places of work” if nothing is done to address employment generation and the location of jobs in Western Sydney according to a report released by Western Sydney University’s Centre of Western Sydney.

The report claims that employment generation is lagging well behind the region’s high population growth, which means that the region’s jobs intensity “is poor for an urban region of this size in an advanced global city”. To compound the issue jobs in the region are increasingly dispersed making the region’s workers heavily car-dependent.

“… if journey-to-work patterns continue to mimic 2011 behaviours and jobs intensity holds at 0.84 then the number of people who live in Greater Western Sydney but work outside the region will grow from 318,086 in 2016 to 416,264 by 2036,” the report claims.

“This will increase congestion in every mode of transport, put enormous pressure on economic productivity across the GMR, and generate unsustainable fiscal stress on state and local government balance sheets in the struggle to provide, maintain and fund adequate transport infrastructure and services.”

To make matters worse the report claims that the region is failing to maintain even a 0.84 jobs intensity ratio. If region’s employment performance is not improved then “the daily worker outflow from GWS will be 492,521, which is a little short of half a million journeys in the AM peak, and another half a million in the PM peak.”

While the report supports efforts to increase jobs intensity it finds little evidence that the 0.94 ratio implicit in several government projections of jobs growth is possible, noting that this would require “an annual net jobs generation rate for Western Sydney 137% higher than the rate achieved over the last ten years.” This discrepancy is further demonstrated in the graph of historical and projected annual employment change for each Western Sydney local government area.

Employment change per year: historical v. projected (source: NIEIR, id., Centre for Western Sydney)

Employment change per year: historical v. projected (source: NIEIR, id., Centre for Western Sydney)

The paper also examines a number of other factors that have contributed to the growing employment and congestion crisis. It concludes that “two inter-connected policy objectives need to have exceptional status:

  • “Raise Western Sydney’s jobs intensity so that distances travelled are dramatically reduced.
  • “Engineer a city where the location of dwellings and jobs produces a transport problem that can be solved”

The report concludes with a dire warning of the consequences of a business-as-usual approach but also sounds a note of hope:

“Grind-to-a-halt congestion on roads, trains and buses, and debilitated state government fiscal health will follow. The scary thing is that this scenario is likely.

“The good thing is that we have time to create something better.”

Federal government confirms innovative infrastructure funding interest but no commitment to high speed rail – for now

The federal government has confirmed it is considering  innovative funding arrangements such as value capture to “deliver essential infrastructure and increase investment in high quality projects” but has stepped back from committing to high speed rail (HSR) – at least for now.

media statement by Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor has indicated that the government was interested in approaches to “tap into increased land value from major transport infrastructure” and  looking for opportunities to “apply these principles” as it engaged with state and territory governments.

“As the Prime Minister outlined last week, in relation to Victoria, smart investment in road and rail will help us transition from the mining construction boom to a more diverse economy,” Mr Taylor said.

However the Assistant Minister was at pains to make it clear that the government was not making any specific commitment to high speed rail at least for the time being – and that any such funding would be dependent on the implementation of some form of value capture.

“In reference to media speculation surrounding a high speed rail connection from Melbourne to Brisbane, there is no commitment from the Federal Government to fund this project as it stands. The only way that major projects can be progressed is through transforming the ways proposals are planned, financed and delivered,” Mr Taylor said

“To invest more, the Commonwealth needs to start capturing some of the value our public infrastructure investments create and this requires all stakeholders to consider urban renewal and development opportunities at the onset, rather than just the transport objectives.”

Mr Taylor also hinted that a number of urban infrastructure projects were being assessed and that the government would also consider a parliamentary report on HSR before making any decision.

“There are a number of projects which may have the potential to be partly funded through value capture, such as Melbourne Metro and Brisbane Cross River Rail. This will be the priority for the Turnbull Government,” he said.

“There is a parliamentary committee looking at high speed rail, chaired by John Alexander, and the government looks forward to receiving its report in due course.”

Governance

Planned dismissal of Geelong council reduced to 18 months by Vic parliament

Negotiations between the Victorian government and the Greens in the upper house are likely to reduce the period of the dismissal of the Greater Geelong City Council from four years to 18 months.

On 12 April the Victorian Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins introduced a bill which would have dismissed the council until 2020 following a  three month investigation into its governance, administration and culture.

The Commission of Inquiry concluded that the council was “substantially dysfunctional, [its] governance and performance are well below standard and there has been a failure to provide good government to Geelong”.

It also found that the council was “riven with conflict [and] unable to provide a long term vision for the city”, its leadership was dysfunctional and divided and that there was a “deep-seated culture of bullying within the Council and its administration”.

Government also intended to legislate for a directly elected Deputy Mayor and the removal of single councillor wards as recommended by the Commission.

“The issues contained in the Commission of Inquiry’s report are of such a serious nature that the Government has no choice but to dismiss Geelong Council,” the Minister said.

The proposal and in particular the length of time the council would be under administration received strong criticism, however – and not just from the incumbent mayor and council.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) expressed disappointment at the proposal. Its President Cr Bill McArthur conceded the findings relating to bullying were “damning” but questioned whether these and the other findings represented grounds for dismissal.

“As a matter of principle the dismantling of a democratically elected government until 2020 will never be the preferred solution,” Cr McArthur said, also expressing concerns about some of the government’s other proposals.

“We are also concerned that the government wants to rush through changes to provide for a directly elected deputy mayor without an appropriate review of Geelong’s current mayoral and electoral structure,” he said.

While the government has succeeded in getting legislation through both houses of parliament to sack the council it had to agree to a compromise which will see fresh elections held in 2017 instead of 2020, with the opposition, Greens and the about-to-be-dismissed mayor describing the 2020 date as “undemocratic.”

More Tas councils sign up to reform MoUs, as new statewide code of conduct panel appointed

The Tasmanian Minister for Planning and Local Government Peter Gutwein has announced the signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the nine Cradle Coast Councils to investigate local government reform, the third such agreement to be signed.

Mr Gutwein said the signing of the MOU would begin a “new era of cooperation by councils” across the North West while Cradle Coast Authority Chief Representative Mayor Daryl Quilliam said the MOU was a “big step in the right direction” to helping the councils operate more efficiently in the future

The study will review the current delivery of local government services in the Cradle Coast region and identify opportunities for the nine councils “to work more collaboratively through enhanced shared services or strategic resource sharing arrangements”. It will also examine the current status of resource sharing in the region and whether a “broader and more effective model” can be developed and implemented

The MoU follows similar agreements involving the Greater Hobart Councils and South East Councils. 16 councils across the State are now participating in feasibility studies. and the Minister indicated he expected to sign a MOU with Northern councils in the near future

In a separate announcement Mr Gutwein said that the state’s new conduct framework for local government and local councillors has come into force, claiming the amendments to the Local Government Act 1993 would introduce “a streamlined, practical and enforceable local government code of conduct framework”.

“Anyone can now lodge a code of conduct complaint against a councillor within six months of the alleged contravention and have it heard under the new framework,” the minister said.

A new Local Government Code of Conduct Panel has also been appointed with membership drawn from across the State. Each complaint will be investigated by three members of the Panel. In addition a new Model Code of Conduct will prescribe “a clear standard of behaviour that all Tasmanian councillors are required to meet when performing their role”. Councillors can be fined, or even sacked if they receive “a suspension sanction for three code of conduct breaches”.

Strategic Planning and Policy

Planning reforms pass SA parliament while ACT planning processes streamlined

The South Australian Premier John Rau has announced that new laws reforming the state’s planning system which passed through parliament will reform the state’s planning system and “unlock investment potential that will create jobs”.

The premier conceded that two key aspects of the legislation were amended by the Legislative Council. The first was the formation of an “Environmental and Food Protection Area” (see TSW15). The second was the appointment of an elected council member on Development Assessment Panels.

The premier said that “two new Infrastructure Schemes” will also form part of the legislation, together with “an entirely new planning system oriented to deliver certainty and clearer and faster planning assessment pathways”. Another reform will be “a new planning system, oriented to provide any developer with an early ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to their proposed development, and not an infinite and costly ‘maybe'”.

Despite wanting elected representatives removed entirely from the Development Assessment Panels, the Property Council of Australia welcomed the legislation.

“Parliament eventually declared that there will be up to one elected representative sitting on DAPs, which means an overall reduction in the number of elected officials as part of the assessment process,” SA Executive Director Daniel Gannon said.

“This means Parliament accepted the argument that we had to change the current lethargic local government-based planning system, which must be seen as a victory for commonsense.

“The property sector is now 100% focused on the Government fully funding the proposed e-planning system so that it can be truly modernized,” he said.

The ACT has also adopted “important planning reforms which achieve planning efficiencies and allow development applications to be considered concurrently with Territory Plan variations and environmental impact studies”, the Minister for Planning and Land Management, Mick Gentleman announced.

“… the community will now be able to see and comment on a draft territory plan variation and the proposed DA at the one time. This significantly increases the transparency of the process and project proposal,” Mr Gentleman said.

“The advantage for the community of a concurrent process is that it consolidates all the relevant consultation for a development proposal into one package, allowing people to view the entire project holistically rather than having to consider each process in isolation of the other, often in an extended timeline.

“The new concurrent process encourages developers to undertake the necessary groundwork prior to lodging a DA, offer proposals that are not environmentally damaging, and to consult adequately with the community about a project” he said.

Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services

Development Projects and Plans

Riverbank carpark to become Powerhouse Museum’s new Parramatta home

The  NSW Premier Mike Baird and Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts Troy Grant have confirmed widespread speculation that the former David Jones carpark on banks of the Parramatta River is the preferred location for Parramatta’s new Powerhouse Museum when it is moved from Ultimo.

“Locating the Powerhouse at Parramatta will ensure Western Sydney has a new, world-class cultural institution that will be a major drawcard for local and international visitors,” Mr Baird said.

“The site on the banks of the Parramatta River is the ideal location for the new Powerhouse Museum, which will serve as an anchor for a new arts and cultural precinct.”

Mr Grant said the site will deliver a “vibrant, exciting community hub by the beautiful Parramatta River”.

“The new museum will showcase more of the Powerhouse’s exhibits – the size of the collection on display is set to increase by at least 40 per cent”, he said.

New Director of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Dolla Merrillees said Powerhouse Parramatta will change the way people think about museums.

“People travel across the world to visit great museums and we look forward to profiling one of the world’s great collections and delivering a dynamic experience for our visitors,” she said.

Although the decision has attracted strong opposition from several community groups in Ultimo and Parramatta (see TSW15), it has also been welcomed by representatives from other Western Sydney institutions, including Western Sydney University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover.

“Western Sydney University applauds the decision to transfer the Powerhouse Museum to a landmark site in the heart of the Parramatta CBD. This will be a truly world-class facility that will draw visitors from across Sydney, and indeed, from around the world,” Professor Glover said.

He said the Museum’s close proximity to the University’s own high-rise CBD campus which is currently under construction in Parramatta would also offer exciting opportunities for collaboration.

“The new purpose-built Museum will help drive the creation of more high-tech jobs for our knowledge economy,” he said.

NSW Planning Minister to consider Hunter planning commission in response to criticism of draft regional plan

According to media reports NSW Planning Minister has responded to criticism of the draft Regional Hunter Plan by stating he will consider establishing a regional Hunter body similar to the Greater Sydney Commission.

The Department of Planning received over 200 responses to the draft plan, including criticism from the Property Council that the plan did not “lock in timelines on enabling infrastructure or make any singular body responsible for delivering on the plan’s goals”, the report claimed.

The report said that the Minister had indicated that he would “certainly” look at establishing such a body.

“We can see how the Greater Sydney Commission is working and can certainly apply the lessons from that to get the best possible fit for the Hunter,” Mr Stokes said.

He said the need for “clear governance coordination” in the Hunter had been heard by the government, which was also “alive to the criticism” regarding the lack of certainty over infrastructure provision.

NSW Premier sidelines minister over Sydney football stadium refurb

The NSW Premier Mike Baird has moved to end the battle between the state’s Sports Minister Stuart Ayres and the major football codes by scrapping plans to demolish and rebuild the Allianz Stadium, which will be refurbished instead.

The Premier also confirmed that work to convert the ANZ Stadium at Olympic Park into a 70,000-seat rectangular arena will begin within the next three years. The stadium refurbishments will be managed by Infrastructure NSW, while construction of a new Parramatta Stadium has already been approved and will begin later this year.

“We have secured a great win for the people of NSW through content agreements with the sporting codes,” Mr Baird said.

“It means the country’s premium sports content and major events will be showcased in Australia’s global city for decades to come, as a result of our investment in world-class venues.”

Although the announcement of the decision was made jointly by the Premier and the Minister, it effectively sidelined plans by Mr Ayres to pull down Allianz Stadium at Moore Park and replace it with a new arena next to the Sydney Cricket Ground.

This plan was strongly opposed by the three football clubs based at the stadium which would have been left without a home for three years and ultimately by the Premier because it would have encroached on nearby green space in Centennial and Moore Parks.

Albanese calls for secondary CBDs in Melbourne

The Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and for Cities Anthony Albanese, who is also federal MP for Grayndler, has claimed that “Melbourne’s enviable status as a wonderful place to live is under serious threat from traffic congestion” and has called for the development of “second and third central business districts”, starting with Box Hill.

In an opinion piece for the Herald Sun Mr Albanese notes the city’s population is predicted to reach more than seven million by 2050. Therefore the time had come to “think hard about ways to prevent the traffic congestion that is seriously undermining our quality of life, not to mention our economic productivity”, he said.

One approach Mr Albanese identified was facilitating the construction of secondary CBDs, starting with Box Hill which is already “undergoing a serious property boom, with 20 buildings of more than 20 storeys on the drawing board”, the promise of “thousands of new residents” and more employment.

Mr Albanese claimed however that despite the fact that Box Hill has two rail lines, a tram route and 22 bus routes its current transport infrastructure is inadequate, citing the poor layout of the current shopping centre as an example.

“The train station is in the basement of the main shopping centre, while the bus station is on the roof. People wanting to move from one to another have to follow a maze of escalators, when the facilities should be integrated,” he said.

Noting that local community groups, universities and businesses had called for a new transit centre at Box Hill to “cement the community’s status as Melbourne’s second CBD”, Mr Albanese urged the federal government to support the proposal. He also expressed concern about the drift in jobs to the CBD as employment in service industries replaces manufacturing.

“We need better roads and public transport, better city planning, and greater housing densities along established public transport corridors,” he said.

Just as importantly, we need to ignite jobs growth in the suburbs — closer to where average Australians live. One way to do that is the development of second and third CBDs,” Mr Albanese concluded.

Approval for UTAS arts hub in Hobart consolidates uni’s CBD presence

The application by the University of Tasmania (UTAS) to develop a $90 million Academy for Creative Industries and Performing Arts has received unanimous approval from the city council, according to a report in The Mercury

The Academy will be located on the corner of Collins and Campbell streets. The university claims it will attract between 3000 and 8000 new students and generate more than $660 million in direct and indirect economic benefits over the next seven years. It will also help consolidate the university’s presence in the city, with a number of other CBD-based projects either planned by UTAS or under construction.

“We are delighted to have secured the community’s support — through the unanimous council decision — for our vision for this project,” UTAS acting vice-chancellor Mike Calford said.

“The cultural and performing arts precinct embodies the power of partnership — the result of alignment between the university, the government and Theatre Royal.

“It is the next important step in our goal to be a university deeply embedded in its community and, along with other projects such as the NRAS Melville St student apartments, will dramatically lift the life and dynamism of our city heart.”

Light Rail/Tram/BRT

More doubts cast on ACT light rail financial modelling…

A number of transport experts have joined the Grattan Institute in questioning the business case (see TSW16) for Canberra’s light rail project and in particular the extent to which wider economic benefits and land use impacts have factored in the analysis.

The Canberra Times reported that Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies director Professor David Hensher claimed that the reliance on those factors which took the benefit to cost ratio up from 0.5 to 1.2 were questionable.

“There’s then a huge amount of land use benefits being justified, I’ve never seen them that high before, and I doubt if [they] are going to make up such a big difference,” Prof. Hensher said.

In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald Professor Jenny Stewart, a Visiting Fellow in the School of Business, University of NSW, Canberra, acknowledged that the argument for the light rail “is not primarily to be understood in financial, or even transport terms” but instead, as ACT Minister for Capital Metro Simon Corbell claims, in the context that it is about “building the city”.

Prof. Stewart however questioned the underlying rationale of the association between light rail and density.

“The main problem with this argument is that it is difficult to distinguish which way the causal arrows flow. Is the tram needed because of the planned densification, or is the densification needed because of the tram? If the former (and this is surely the only logical possibility) then we are really talking about planning, rather than tramming [sic]”, she said.

Outlining Canberra’s history of low-density development and the way in which the city continues to evolve, she claimed that “…once we start thinking about the evolution of the city, the case for a fixed-line form of transport such as a tram becomes difficult to sustain. Even if we focus on the Gungahlin to City route alone, it is difficult to see the project meeting its passenger targets.”

… while Newcastle light rail proposal criticised…

The NSW government’s plans for light rail in Newcastle (see TSW16) have attracted further criticism from across the political spectrum after the release of the Review of Environmental Factors and options for the line’s expansion. According to the Newcastle Herald former Liberal candidate for the seat of Newcastle Karen Howard has “broken rank” with her party and called on the government to scrap plans for segregated light rail lines in Hunter Street in favour of a “mixed running” system.

“In my opinion, mixed running is the best option to ensure public amenity is maintained, car parking on Hunter Street is maintained and we have a city where people can move around as seamlessly as possible on foot, cycling, via the tram or via motor vehicles,” Ms Howard said.

Greens NSW MP and Transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi has gone a lot further in criticising the light rail plans, claiming they have “revealed the futility of scrapping the heavy rail [line] and the government’s lack of vision for Newcastle.”

“The REF really backs up what we’ve known all along: that the short stretch of light rail is a colossal waste of money that just offers a poor substitute for the previous heavy rail service,” Dr Faruqi said.

She also claimed that the “predicted patronage of 300 to 430 passengers per hour for this new ‘world class’ service is both vague and disappointing” when compared to the combined patronage of the former heavy rail service and the current Hunter St buses.

While Dr Faruqi conceded that “a properly planned and delivered light rail network can be useful” but expressed concerns that the proposed extensions would just connect areas already serviced by heavy rail.

“If the light rail network doesn’t venture out into under-served residential areas to benefit ordinary commuters, then what’s the point, really?” she said.

… but claims that the Gold Coast light rail has started property boom

While the viability of planned light rail lines in Canberra and Newcastle has been criticised (see previous items) the Gold Coast Bulletin claims that the success of the Gold Coast Light Rail line has led to a property boom.

The paper quotes local property developers who claim that property along the line’s first stage had increased by up to $80,000 since it opened in 2014 and that prospective buyers should look at real estate along the route of the second stage where work is about to commence.

Real Estate Institute of Queensland Gold Coast Zone chair John Newlands claimed that “mid-range properties” on the northern corridor would be in high demand when the extension is finished.

“The light rail is connecting suburbs and any property around it will be worth a lot more,” he said.

“It is important to factor in a range of facts when looking to buy and that includes future infrastructure.”

Albanese commits to Adelaide tram system and Gawler line electrification

The Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and for Cities Anthony Albanese, has committed to working with the South Australian government to ensure that “key public transport projects including the Gawler line electrification and the AdeLINK tram network become a reality”, should Labor win the next federal election.

According to Mr Albanese the Coalition federal government “… cancelled every dollar of public transport funding for South Australia including $76 million federal funding from the Gawler line electrification project and $31.5 million for the Tonsley Park Public Transport Project.”

He contrasted this with the record of the previous Labor government which had “almost tripled annual infrastructure spending from $109 to $272 per South Australian, including the construction of South Australia’s first electrified rail line to Seaford, which created 2000 jobs and is now used each weekday by over 15,000 people”.

Metro

NSW government calls for expressions of interest on metro project while 150 properties to be acquired …

The NSW Government has announced the start of the tender process to build the metro tunnels under Sydney Harbour and through the CBD for Stage 2 of Sydney Metro at an industry briefing for 250 Australian and international companies.

“We’ve now taken the next step and opened expressions of interest for tunnelling, asking industry to partner with us in delivering this city-shaping project,” NSW Transport Minister Mr Constance said.

He said that the first of five tunnel boring machines will be in the ground before the end of 2018 to provide new twin railway tunnels from Chatswood to Sydenham. Services on the second stage of the project are planned to commence in 2024, five years after stage one.

Metro under Sydney Harbour (artist impression - source: Transport for NSW)

Metro under Sydney Harbour (artist impression – source: Transport for NSW)

“We finished tunnelling on Sydney Metro Northwest in January this year, with services on track to start in the first half of 2019 with a new metro train every four minutes in the peak,” he said

According to an ABC report the Minister also revealed that 150 properties will be acquired as part of the project but he declined to provide any details.

“There are always going to be some sensitivities for business and for home owners and apartment owners,” Mr Constance said.

“That’s why we get a professional team in place to be able to go and do that work.”

… but Bankstown line metro conversion will close the line for months

In announcing the commencement of tendering for state 2 of the Sydney Metro project (see previous item), NSW Transport Minister Mr Constance has also confirmed that the Bankstown line will be closed for over six months while it is converted and integrated into the new metro line.

The Minister said the government would try to minimise the length of time the 13.5-kilometre stretch of track would closed but according to the report he conceded that it would “pose a challenge”.

“It is going to be a disruptive time – I won’t sugar-coat that,” Mr Constance said.

“There will be a period of time where that rail line will be decommissioned and as a result we are going to have to manage the commuter needs through that period.”

The report notes that 25,000 people travel on the Bankstown Line during the morning peak between 6am and 9.30am. This compares to 8,000 on the line between Epping and Chatswood which will also have to be closed for six months in late 2018 for a similar conversion.

The Bankstown Line conversion will be a bigger challenge however because the existing infrastructure is much older and also because station platforms will have to be straightened to accommodate the driverless metro system which relies on platform doors.

The Minister conceded that as a result the conversion was likely to take longer than six months and would result in major changes for commuters.

“We are working through that … but at the end of the day those commuters are going to get a brand new metro service,” Mr Constance said.

The government is yet to release either a final business case or a review of environmental factors for the second stage. Greens NSW MP and Transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi said that the closure was “shocking” given the government’s “continual failure to provide evidence” for the project.

“To this point, the government has never given any detailed evidence of why shutting down and privatising the Bankstown line is the way to fix the train network, rather than actually expanding it to new areas or putting higher frequency trains on other lines”, she said.

“No business case or EIS has been forthcoming, but the government is going full steam ahead to flog our train lines off to a private operator.”

Urban Heavy Rail

Brisbane’s Cross River Rail sparks funding debate

The announcement of the preferred route and a strategy for the delivery of Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project (see TSW16) has sparked a parliamentary debate regarding the project’s funding.

According to media reports the business case is not due until later this year but in the interim the government has not ruled in or out any specific funding models.

The options under consideration include value capture which Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure, Jackie Trad recently studied on a trade mission. According to the report the LNP opposition has questioned the applicability of the model to the Cross River Rail project, despite the enthusiasm of the Prime Minister for the model and the LNP’s support for private sector engagement.

“The LNP does support public-private partnerships,” shadow Transport Minister Scott Emerson said.

“Let’s not forget we are not London, we are not Hong Kong.

“We have to make sure it works for a city like Brisbane, or for a state like Queensland.

“We support public-private partnerships, but you have to make sure it functions, it works, and it stacks up. What, clearly, we see from the government is it making something new up each day.”

While the government has not committed to the use of the value capture model, Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe noted the PM’s support for it and the potential that would be provided for the “redevelopment and resurgence and renewal of significant precincts” in the city.

“That provides plenty of opportunity for private investment and plenty of opportunities for development that supports the activation of those precincts of our city,” Mr Hinchcliffe said.

Auckland rail patronage hits 16m annually

Auckland Council has announced that on the 2nd anniversary of the electrification of the Auckland rail network in April 2014, the system’s new trains have travelled four million kilometres and that annual passenger numbers have reached 16 million.

Auckland Transport chair Dr Lester Levy said that with annual growth in passenger numbers of 20 per cent, “Aucklanders have clearly taken to the new trains”.

“The growth in numbers using the trains has exceeded all expectations, we now have a rail system which has advanced and progressed and is set to get better,” he said

“Using the trains is now part of everyday life for thousands of us.”

Numbers are expected to grow with service levels on the Western Line increasing to six trains per hour during the peak period to cope with demand. In the longer term the network will also receive a major boost with the construction of the City Rail Link but according to Dr Levy the improvements are already having a financial spin-off.

“The CRL and the upgrades of suburban stations are already having an impact, with major capital development starting to occur along the rail corridor which will result in new businesses, homes and jobs,” he said.

—————–

Due to overseas travel commitments the next few editions of TSW will appear in truncated form and will include some opinion pieces.

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The Strategic Week (no. 16, Friday 8 April 2016) – the week in governance, planning, infrastructure and transport

Top of the Week

Grattan research claims on poor transport infrastructure investment draw support …

report from the Grattan Institute claims that when it comes to government infrastructure expenditure “too much money has been spent on the wrong projects in the wrong places” with spending directed to states and electorates “where federal elections are one and lost”.

The report, authored by Marion Terrill, the Institute’s Transport Program Director, has drawn support from a number of sources. It provides an overview of transport infrastructure expenditure and how it relates to changing demand. In addition it explores the evidence of “poor spending decisions” through a number of case studies.

The report notes that in the case of some major projects the return on investment has been “staggeringly low”, in one case yielding a return as little as eight cents in the dollar for a highway upgrade.

“One difficulty is that there is little to prevent politicians committing to projects on the basis of weak or undisclosed business cases – and particularly during election campaigns,” Ms Terrill said in a media release accompanying the report.

“There isn’t enough publicly available information on potential projects, so the public can’t hold politicians to account or be confident that funds are spent wisely.”

This has occurred despite the creation of Infrastructure Australia (IA), with Terrill noting the failure of such oversight mechanisms.

“Since 2012 over half of Commonwealth infrastructure spending has gone to projects where Infrastructure Australia has not published an evaluation. States have spent billions more with little transparency,” Terrill said.

“A better approach would be for an independent body to assess all infrastructure proposals rigorously on a like-for-like basis. The assessment of the net benefits should then be tabled in the parliament, and only then should governments be able to go ahead and commit public money.”

The report goes one step further, urging that when only projects with clear community benefits are being built the next step should be to “aim to build all such projects”.

In an opinion piece on Fairfax media Ms Terrill noted the effect on Sydney, claiming that while the federal government had “spent up big” in rural NSW the city had “suffered”.

“Although 23 per cent of the nation’s economy activity is based in Sydney, only 5 per cent of Commonwealth transport investment over the past decade was in Australia’s biggest city, while 27 per cent was elsewhere in NSW,” Ms Terrill said.

Responses

In an editorial The Age also provided a local perspective.

“Alarmingly for Victorians and other Australians, the bulk of new money has gone to just two states: NSW and Queensland. The apparent reason? Queensland and NSW have more marginal electorates than elsewhere,” the editorial said.

Engineers Australia welcomed the report with Stephen Durkin the organisation’s CEO claiming that “a longer-term, nationwide, systems-approach to thinking about what the country needs will benefit the community” and that the report “adds to the momentum” for a more coordinated approach to infrastructure investment.

“Smart infrastructure spending takes account of what we already have, rather than solely focusing on new projects. Smarter thinking also draws on the experience of over 60,000 engineers employed in infrastructure delivery in this country, Mr Durkin said.

“Shifting to a longer-term mindset, adopting service standards and channelling smart information about usage will support better directed infrastructure decisions, and spending.”

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) also supported the report’s findings and in particular the concerns expressed over the increasing competition for limited space on city transport networks a trend which is exacerbated by the location of most container ports in capital cities.

“The sentiment within the report supports ALGA’s view that more targeted investment is needed to lift the productivity of our freight routes. This includes boosting productivity by addressing first and last mile issues. ALGA’s report 2015 National State of the Assets: Roads and Community Infrastructure Report launched last November highlights the opportunities for local government involvement in an integrated national approach to lift national productivity,” the ALGA response concludes.

… while federal minister seeks “right economic policy objectives” for infrastructure investment

Paul Fletcher, the federal Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government has delivered a speech in which he attempted to answer the question of “what the economic policy objective for infrastructure should be”.

Although the speech did not respond directly to the findings of the Grattan Institute report on infrastructure issues (see previous item), the speech addressed some of the issues raised.

“My argument today is that the economic policy lens through which we think about infrastructure needs to change,” Mr Fletcher said.

“I first want to argue that too often we think about infrastructure primarily as an instrument of macroeconomic, Keynesian demand stimulation policy. In my view it is just as important to think about infrastructure in microeconomic terms – as a tool to stimulate productivity, efficiency and competitiveness.”

Mr Fletcher stressed that he wasn’t suggesting that there was “no macroeconomic rationale for infrastructure investment.”

“Rather, I am arguing that demand stimulation alone is not a sufficient rationale for infrastructure spending; we need a greater focus on the microeconomic rationale”, he said

The minister defended the federal government’s record in supporting infrastructure investment.

“In the past 15 years, the Commonwealth’s road related expenditure has increased by 113 per cent. This compares to an increase of 52 per cent by the states and territories, and a 12 per cent increase by local government,” he said, also reiterating the Prime Minister’s comments that the government wanted to take a more proactive role in infrastructure investment decisions.

“We want to work cooperatively with state and territory governments – but we also intend to take an active policy role rather than simply passively handing over money,” Mr Fletcher said.

The minister also called for greater involvement of the private sector in infrastructure provision, claiming that finding the right balance between the use of markets and government planning processes as the “key to good policy making”.  He was more cautious however on the introduction of value capture particularly in relation to road pricing.

“In our response to the Harper Review last year, the Federal Government indicated that we supported road pricing but as a long-term reform option. This is because we will need to be satisfied that there is a reasonable degree of community acceptance and understanding of any reform in this area. In turn, this will require a demonstration that the benefits from a broader use of direct road user charging would exceed the costs,” he said.

“We have never had better access to data; information technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated and better connected; and we are seeing an appetite for change amongst governments and the private sector in the way our infrastructure projects are managed,” the minister concluded.

Governance

Urban Management 1: Metropolitan governance missing ingredient in Aust cities

Richard Tomlinson, Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Melbourne has argued that metropolitan governance is the “missing link” in Australia’s reform agenda, especially when compared to other Western countries. which have “experimented” with metropolitan governance.

“In contrast, Australia’s state governments are responsible for metropolitan governance. The state responsibility exists in a context of increasing intergovernmental centralisation that favours the federal government, as well as finance and treasury in federal and state governments’, Prof. Tomlinson said.

He notes that while both “Labor and the Coalition, at all levels of government, have embraced public sector reform”, these governments are still ultimately responsible for service delivery because “institutional restructuring has not been accompanied by intergovernmental decentralisation”.

“In effect, while Australia has embraced neoliberal institutional restructuring and state governments pursue global competitiveness as the foundation for urban policies, decentralisation is not on the agenda. While metropolitan governance is discussed, metropolitan government seldom is,” Prof. Tomlinson said.

He also noted comments by urban economist and planner Marcus Spiller that “…state governance of Australia’s urban regions is leading to ineffectual metropolitan planning and infrastructure investment. The result is less productive and more socially divided cities.”

“Transport and planning ministerial silos also compromise effective state leadership in the development of urban regions. Big-budget transport ministries show scant regard for planning ministries,” Prof. Tomlinson said

Prof. Tomlinson also claimed that  this “ineffectual planning and investment and compromised productivity also reflect Australia’s extreme vertical fiscal imbalance,” with the planning agendas of state governments largely influenced by federal priorities.

“Dysfunctional infrastructure planning and funding, ineffectual metropolitan governance and endless blame-shifting poorly serve the creation of competitive and fair cities,” Prof. Tomlinson said.

“Effective metropolitan governance requires intergovernmental decentralisation. Metro-scale planning, infrastructure investment and services, and partnerships with the private sector and civil society are best led by a representative and accountable metropolitan government.”

Urban Management 2: City Deals critiqued but SEQ ready to be a pilot

Another take on metropolitan management (see previous item) is provided in an opinion piece by Paul Burton, Professor of Urban Management and Planning and Director, Urban Research Program, Griffith University. This critiques the UK “City Deals” model which was praised recently by the Assistant Minister for cities and digital transformation, Angus Taylor

“In a nutshell, this model encourages city councils or groupings of councils to work together more effectively in identifying local economic development opportunities. They then strike a deal with the central government to secure the funding necessary to realise these opportunities,” Prof. Burton said.

He also offers an Australian perspective on the UK National Audit Office (NAO) progress review of the first wave of English City Deals. He claims that the policy “look remarkably similar to measures promoted over the last 40 years”.

He notes that we already know that “the problems are inter-related and the all levels of government need to work productively together and with other sectors, departmental silos within government get in the way of strategic planning; and scarce public resources need to be invested wisely.”

“And we know that to overcome these problems we need a much greater degree of policy stability and long-term, bipartisan commitment. What we do not need is to jump on yet another urban policy bandwagon from overseas – one that is already being tinkered with in its country of origin,” Prof. Burton concludes.

These concerns do not appear to be shared by the Council of Mayors South East Queensland whose Chair Cr Graham Quirk released a statement claiming the SEQ region is “the obvious choice of partner for the Federal Government in the nation’s first ‘City Deal'” and is “well placed to lead the nation in successfully demonstrating the benefits” of this approach.

“The Council of Mayors (SEQ) has been investigating the ‘City Deals’ funding model, and its application in Australia, for more than two years. The ‘City Deals’ work that has already been done in SEQ is far more advanced than any other region in the nation,” said Cr Quirk.

Cr Quirk noted that the Federal Government’s commitment to the ‘City Deals’ funding model came days after Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad announced a funded partnership between the Council of Mayors (SEQ), Property Council of Australia and the Queensland Government to investigate how the ‘City Deals’ approach could be applied in SEQ.

NSW council mergers update 1: First NSW merged councillors, now GMs told to reapply for their jobs

General managers of NSW councils identified as merger prospects have joined their mayors and councillors in being asked by the state government to apply for positions on the interim merged councils, according to Government News.

Deputy Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) Simon Draper has written to the GMs asking them to indicate by 13 April if they were interested in applying for a 12-month interim role on the new councils.

This is despite the fact that general managers are employed by their council and not the state government. In addition the letter did not contain any detail about the new positions such as salaries or performance criteria.

The letter requested a CV and covering letter from interested GMs and asked them to respond to two questions regarding their approaches in leading “significant organisational change” and the outcomes achieved and about the “key ingredients” to required to deliver “successful service continuity and improvement at a time of change.”

Government News said Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades was “totally appalled” by the state government’s gambit.

“They (general managers) don’t work for the government. They were not employed by the government, they were not employed by the minister,” Mr Rhoades said. “They have contracts. They are employed by councils.”

Concerns were also raised regarding the costs to councils if some general managers are made redundant.

“Mr Rhoades said: “You can bet your bottom dollar that the tab will be picked up by ratepayers, not the government, even though they’re the ones making the decisions. The government is dictating who will and who won’t work in local government.”

Local Government Professional CEO Annalisa Haskell said the organisation had written to the Department requesting an extension to the 13 days general managers had been given to apply, noting this time was “a lot shorter than [the] councillors received.

NSW council mergers update 2: More councils take legal route to oppose merger proposals amid increased confusion over delegate reports

A number of NSW councils are increasing their opposition to the proposed NSW mergers through a range of legal challenges, following Woollahra Council’s action claiming that the government is using the wrong provision of the legislation (see TSW14).

Ku-ring-gai Council has commenced proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court over the state government’s continued refusal to release the full KPMG report which it used to justify the mergers.

“Along with other councils, Ku-ring-gai Council had sought the release of the full KPMG report. However Ku-ring-gai’s request has been twice refused by the government,” a council statement said.

“The Council is now seeking orders in the Supreme Court to force the government to release the report in full. Proceedings in the court began on 5 April and are continuing.”

Fairfax media also claims that North Sydney, Mosman, Hunters Hill and Strathfield councils have also undertaken or are considering legal action.

Government News reported that Mosman Council is challenging the government’s initial proposal to merge it with Manly Council, arguing that the Local Government Act only allows mergers between councils that share continuous borders.

Unlike the other challenges however, this one is being pursued on a basis that is unlikely to be available to most if not all the other councils opposed to mergers – the two councils do not share a land border. The Spit Bridge lies between the two local government areas and according to the report is considered part of Sydney Harbour. It is also unclear whether this has contributed to the government’s decision to put forward an alternative merger proposal.

In addition there is increasing confusion over when the reports from the delegates appointed to consider each merger proposal will be made public, according to the same Government News report. It claims that Mosman Councillor Tom Sherlock said that council had been given “conflicting advice” from the two delegates writing reports on the two merger proposals it was named in, with one saying his report would be published as soon as it is written while the other stated the report would “only be published after the Minister had made his decision”

NSW council mergers update 3: Other councils contemplate alternative merger options, though with strings attached.

While most affected councils have maintained their strong opposition to the NSW council mergers (see previous items), a small number are formally declaring their support for counter proposals sometimes specifically to avoid the division of councils called for under the state government’s plans.

One example is a proposal put forward by Queanbeyan and Palerang councils to merge in response to the government’s plan to split Palerang in a two-way merger, with one part of the LGA to be merged with Goulburn and Mulwaree and the other section to be joined to Queanbeyan.

The alternative proposal which was forwarded to the NSW council boundary review by Palerang council would avoid this split. Council General Manager Peter Bascomb noted in a letter accompanying the submission that while a stand-alone option was preferred, the merger of the whole council was a “Plan B” which was “far superior to the partitioning proposals currently under review.”

Now Queanbeyan Council has formally resolved to support the alternative proposal. However there are some conditions attached – and if the government doesn’t agree to the terms, in particular the provision of a $30 million grant, council will support the government’s original proposals.

“The resolution we have landed on would provide both the Queanbeyan and Palerang ratepayers with a good result. We have provided conditional support to the full merger proposal, based on the new entity receiving a $30m grant to go towards merger costs and reducing the backlog and investing in new infrastructure”, the Mayor Cr Tim Overall  said, noting that the NSW Government had already offered $15m each in support of its proposed mergers.

Council mergers and reforms: councillor roles – and their perceptions of them – must change to reflect new strategic focus

A recent article by Roberta Ryan, Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Governance (IPPG) and Su Fei Tan also from IPPG (formerly the UTS Centre for Local Government) questions whether councillors fully understand the reshaped role they have as councils are reformed and merged across Australia.

The article notes that over the past three decades the number of councils has decreased from 826 to 565, primarily with a focus on the administrative, financial and technical capacities of councils. As a result of these changes the CEO/General Managers of councils have greater responsibility for management while councillors are responsible for strategy and policy making.

The problem is that many councillors have failed to understand these changes. The authors conducted a national survey of councillors which indicated that they “… felt they should have more influence over administrative policy and procedures. The difficulty is that legislation says this is the responsibility of the CEO or general manager.”

The authors do not offer any views on the virtues or otherwise of council amalgamations or other reforms. However they note that the trend to fewer and larger councils has emphasised the “strategic, long-term decision-making role” of councillors.

“These changes were intended to shift a previously widespread perception of local councils as simply managers of local services and local infrastructure to one where their role, as democratically representative bodies, gained in significance,” the article says.

The problem however is that not all councillors accept or understand these changes.

“The preliminary results of our study show that what councillors think is their role may not be the same as the intent of local government reform. Larger local governments also means councillors must represent more people,” the authors state, warning that unless councillors are helped to focus more on community representation rather than day-to-day administration, “local democracy’s effectiveness could be imperilled”.

Strategic Planning and Policy

Another perspective on Sydney and Melbourne growth…

SGS Economics and Planning has provided another perspective on the recent ABS annual update on Australia’s population statistics (see TSW15 for a summary of the population analysis by .id), analysing and comparing the geographic spread of population in Sydney and Melbourne.

The analysis shows that Greater Sydney has grown by 700,000 residents over the past ten years while Greater Melbourne increased by 830,000.

“The fact Melbourne’s economy has been robust enough to support over 830,000 new residents over the past ten years is a real positive,” Terry Rawnsley, SGS National Leader – Economic and Social Analysis said,.

He expressed concerns however that Melbourne’s reliance on high density growth in the inner city and low density growth at the fringe “doesn’t produce good economic or social outcomes.”

“The challenge facing Melbourne in the future will be housing more people in its middle suburbs,” he said.

He noted that Sydney’s growth was much more evenly spread, with residents attracted to “key areas with existing infrastructure”.

“However, the amount of land in those locations is limited and hence the price of housing has been pushed higher and higher,” Mr Rawnsley warned.

… as another conference looks at Western Sydney development

Hot on the heels of the Western Sydney “Out There” conference held last month (see TSW11), the second annual “Developing Greater Western Sydney” conference to be held in Parramatta in early June will concentrate on the region’s economic development and investment.

According to the conference flyer, the conference “will bring together key figures from federal, state and local government as well as leading representatives from the private sector to explore strategies to attract investments and achieve sustainable economic development across Greater Western Sydney”.

High housing costs cause strains for the hospitaliy sector as well as workers

Research conducted by the City Futures research Centre at the University of NSW indicates that Australian CBD-based tourism and hospitality industries are struggling to find, employ and retain lower-paid staff due to the difficulties these workers face in finding accommodation.

Two of the researchers, Ryan Van den Nouwelant and Laura Crommelin, have described the key findings of the research which also looks at some of the broader issues around housing affordability, CBD economic productivity and lower-income workers. They note that hospitality employs about one in five lower-paid CBD workers and is also heavily dependent on them, with around two-thirds of the hospitality workforce falling into this category.

Van den Nouwelant and Crommelin note that “these lower-paid workers are making a lot more housing compromises to work in the CBD” than those living elsewhere. They are more likely to rent, to live in share houses and smaller properties and also face longer commutes.

“All else being equal, these compromises are going to discourage the lower-paid workers from working in the CBD,” the authors state.

They also note that other CBD industries don’t seem to be as affected as their lower-paid staff are largely limited to entry-level positions. Other industry sectors with large numbers of low-paid positions such as manufacturing tend to be distributed more evenly. The authors did however identify some mitigating factors for the hospitality industry, such as CBDs being the focus for public transport networks and the amenities which the city can offer to these workers.

Van den Nouwelant and Crommelin say the research found that because of the number of agencies involved “governments are not well positioned to respond”.

“It’s important to recognise that high housing costs aren’t just making life difficult for lower-income households, but can have broader economic impacts too. There is also a concern that this represents a thin end of the wedge – as housing affordability around the CBD deteriorates further, there’s every possibility it will leave other CBD industries seeing their lower-income labour market thinning out,” they state.

In response the research paper identifies three key policy requirements, including a “continued focus on facilitating and delivering low-cost and affordable housing options wherever possible”, “an ongoing commitment to public transport policy that fully acknowledges the needs of [low income] workers and “a holistic and integrated policy response at the metropolitan scale, involving collaboration between state and local government entities.”

Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services

Development Projects and Plans

Parramatta to gain stadium but lose pool…

Fairfax media has revealed that the planned $300 million stadium to be constructed on the site of the current stadium will also result in the demolition of Parramatta city centre’s only swimming pool, with no definite plans for a replacement.

The pool was refurbished less than 10 years ago for a cost of $8 million. In a statement in response Parramatta Council said it “welcomes” the provision of the new stadium to service “not just Parramatta but the entire Western Sydney region”, but is “disappointed” that the pool may be lost.

“The pool is a very popular community asset with an average of 160,000 visitations per year”, the statement notes.

“The closure will also impact 13 permanent staff and 40 casual staff employed at the centre.”

The statement also says that council regards swimming and recreation facilities “as an extremely important part of the services” it provides to the community.

“We will work with the State Government to determine options for the creation of new swimming and recreation facilities to serve this growing city,” the council states.

The situation is complicated council notes, because it does not own the land occupied by the pool which is leased from Parramatta Park Trust. The Fairfax report notes that demolition of the pool was expected to start in November but NSW Sports Minister Stuart Ayres had indicated a “transition plan” would be implemented so that it could remain open for at least one more summer.

According to the report Mr Ayres said that the government was working with the council to identify the “future aquatic needs” of the community but he did not elaborate on plans for an indoor recreation and community facility to be incorporated into the development or on whether compensation would be paid to council.

… while North Parramatta revamp gains royal interest

In one of the moire unusual twists to the long-running saga of proposals to redevelop parts of the North Parramatta heritage precinct, a media report claims that the Prince of Wales has taken a personal interest in the project.

It appears according to the article that NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes approached the Prince’s Foundation for Building Communities in 2015. Discussions continued when the Prince visited Australia last November.

The project would involve construction of 3,000 apartments in buildings up to 24 storeys high to be built in the historic precinct. The proceeds of property sales would fund the “adaptive re-use” of the heritage buildings.

The Fairfax report claims that the NSW government and the foundation are now “on the cusp of entering into an agreement” that would see the agency provide expert advice on designs and community consultation processes, with a likely focus on North Parramatta. They are also planning to hold a symposium in Sydney to discuss heritage-led renewal in urban areas.

The redevelopment plans have met with strong resistance from concerned local resident and heritage groups.

“Historically communities have resisted growth because they’ve seen, in some cases, it take away from the existing design and character of their neighbourhoods,” Mr Stokes said.

“I know that design can actually make things better and we need to be able to prove that and we’re looking at North Parramatta as a case study.”

Light Rail/Tram/BRT

NSW Government releases Newcastle light rail detail and expansion options

The NSW government has released a range of documents outlining the proposed 2.7km light rail line for Newcastle as well as potential options for the network’s future expansion.

“This is the first look at potential routes for an expanded light rail network to connect major activity centres and suburbs in Newcastle,” NSW Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said.

Newcastle Light Rail proposed route (source: NSW State Government Revitalising Newcastle website)

Newcastle Light Rail proposed route (source: NSW Government Revitalising Newcastle website)

He also indicated that the Review of Environmental Factors report (REF) for the current project between Wickham and Civic Park is now on display online and at city locations, along with 10 options for the network’s expansion. It also details changes to some road intersections, bus stops and parking to “accommodate light rail operations and ensure the smooth flow of traffic”.

Newcastle Light Rail proposed initial extensions (source: NSW government/Revitalising Newcastle website)

Newcastle Light Rail proposed initial extensions (source: NSW Government Revitalising Newcastle website)

 

Newcastle Light Rail proposed initial and longer term extensions (source: NSW government Revitalising Newcasle website)

Newcastle Light Rail proposed initial and longer term extensions (source: NSW Government Revitalising Newcastle website)

A submissions report will respond to all feedback before a final design is completed. Major construction would start early next year and services would start in 2019.

According to the project overview brochure there will be six stops with services operating every 10 minutes during peak hour. The line will have the capacity to move 1200 passengers per hour and provide a “foundation for future light rail networks in the Hunter Region”.

The Future of Light Rail brochure provides more detail on these options. It notes that:

“The area within five kilometres of the city centre has both a relatively flat terrain and higher population compared with outer suburbs, making it well suited to a longer term light rail transport network if customer needs demonstrate the case for this. Population and employment density is higher closer to the city centre in the established suburbs and day-to-day trips locally oriented, meaning there is a greater likelihood of the take up of public transport and sustainable modes such as walking and cycling.”

The brochure identifies ten corridors, four of which appear to be shorter-term proposals:

  • A – Wickham to Broadmeadow
  • B – Broadmeadow to Stadium
  • C – Broadmeadow to Adamstown
  • D – Wickham to Mayfield

In the longer term, extensions to John Hunter Hospital, the University of Newcastle, Newcastle Airport, Glendale/Cardiff, Merewether/Bathers Way and a loop through Pacific Park and along the Newcastle Mall back to Hunter Street are also proposed.

Hunter Labor MPs have criticised the government’s light rail plans as “short, late land lazy”.

Tim Crakanthorp, MP for Newcastle, said the government was prepared to spend $1 billion on 22 kilometres of light rail for Parramatta and $2.1 billion on 12 kilometres of light rail for the Sydney CBD, yet it was only prepared to build 2.7 kilometres of light rail for Newcastle

“The Hunter needs an integrated transport network which connects employment hubs of Newcastle, Glendale, Wallsend and Maitland to suburbs throughout the Hunter,” MP for Port Stephens Kate Washington said

“The Government has refused to listen to sensible alternatives which will deliver a better system for Newcastle.”

Canberra light rail business case criticised, defended

The Grattan Institute’s report on transport infrastructure expenditure Roads to riches: better transport investment (see earlier item) has singled out the Canberra light rail project as a case study and consequently as an example to demonstrate its argument that “[d]ecisions on particular projects are dubious or made on the basis of weak or undisclosed business cases.”

The report claims that “Canberra’s light rail, now being built, is likely to provide no more benefits than bus rapid transit but cost more than twice as much”.

In exploring the project as one of five case studies, it notes that the ACT government’s submission to Infrastructure Australia in 2012 claimed that the light rail network would deliver similar benefits to bus rapid transit, but at over twice the cost.

After securing the support of the Greens the Labor government decided to proceed with the project, the report notes. A 2014 business case prepared for the project concluded the cost benefit ratio was 1.2. However this incorporated land use benefits and wider economic impacts, which according to the Grattan Institute “… are typically excluded from project evaluations by Infrastructure Australia because the risks of overestimating them are so high, account for almost three fifths of the projected benefits.”

The Grattan Institute report claims that the case study demonstrates the need to use “consistent methodologies” for cost-benefit analysis.

“If these land use benefits and wider economic impacts are excluded, the benefit cost ratio is just 0.5 – well below the level needed to deliver a net benefit to the community,” the report states.

In response the ACT government has released an expert review of the business case demonstrating that the methodology used was “conservative and robust”, according to ACT Minister for Capital Metro Simon Corbell.

The independent review by Professor Roger Vickerman from the University of Kent was one of two undertaken prior to the public release of the business case. The other review, by Professor Derek Scrafton from University of South Australia, was released last year.

“Both reviews confirmed that the methodology used in the business case is sound and that the document overall contains sufficient details and makes realistic conclusions and recommendations,” Mr Corbell said.

“The review also states that the overall benefits of the project could be higher than those presented in the business case.”

“The Capital Metro business case has been thoroughly reviewed by two highly qualified academics with expertise in this field and both have found it to be robust, conservative and reliable,” Mr Corbell said.

“The review released last year produced by Professor Scrafton review also concluded that the business case was fit for the purpose for which it was prepared, used appropriate and realistic methodologies in the analytical sections and followed guidelines which were recommended and approved by national organisations.”

Urban Heavy Rail

Qld government announces authority to deliver Cross River Rail project

The Queensland Government has announced plans for an authority to deliver the revised Cross River Rail project which will provide a second link under the Brisbane River and through the Brisbane CBD.

Described as the “the number one priority infrastructure project for Queensland”, a new 10.2 kilometre alignment for the link between Dutton Park and Bowen Hills was also unveiled by Acting Premier Jackie Trad and Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe.

Proposed route for Brisbane Cross River Rail project (source: Queensland Government Cross River Rail website)

Proposed route for Brisbane Cross River Rail project (source: Queensland Government Cross River Rail website)

“Cross River Rail is not only a critical infrastructure project but also a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape Brisbane through this major city-making initiative,” Ms Trad said.

“With South East Queensland’s population set to grow to 4.9 million by 2036, Cross River Rail is the state’s number one infrastructure project to boost network capacity in the region and unlock economic opportunity and productivity for our state.

“Almost half the state’s total jobs growth will occur in Brisbane and without an effective transport system to accommodate growth, Infrastructure Australia estimate the cost of congestion in the region could total $9 billion each year,” Ms Trad said.

A new Cross River Rail Delivery Authority will be established “to take the politics out” of delivering the project and the Treasurer said the updated business case based on the new alignment would be completed in mid-2016.

“Over the next 20 years rail demand will increase threefold in South East Queensland and without major investment in the inner-city rail network by 2021, there will be no capacity to increase services during our busiest times and passengers will face overcrowding on platforms and trains,” Mr Hinchcliffe said.

“The Palaszczuk Government has fast-tracked the business case for our number one priority infrastructure project and announced plans to establish a delivery authority to ensure the project is built.”

According to the announcement the new delivery authority will lead the development, procurement and delivery of Cross River Rail and support “wider economic and social outcomes for the transformational project”. It will also seek federal, state and local government co-investment and private sector participation as funding, financing and delivery partners. The government is still investigating the preferred model for the authority.

The announcement received a cautious welcome from the federal Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government, Paul Fletcher in a doorstop interview conducted after the Queensland government announcement.

“… The Turnbull Government stands ready to work with the Queensland Government in relation to the Cross River Rail project. Now what’s been announced today is the establishment of a Cross River Rail authority. What the Federal Government is waiting on from the Queensland Government is a business plan in relation to Cross River Rail, and work is certainly underway, we understand, in relation to the business plan,” Mr Fletcher said.

He also said that the federal government “strongly supported” and wished to “strongly encourage” the principle of private sector involvement in major infrastructure projects, indicating that the federal government “… will be looking to have discussions with the Queensland Government about how the private sector can be involved…”

The response of federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was more positive, according to a media report. He said a Labor government would allocate federal funding for the project, as well as funding from a $10 billion “Concrete Bank” of private investment, including superannuation funds.

“My ideal split would be that we’ll try and get the private sector to contribute funds in a way which guarantees good returns for their investors,” Mr Shorten said.

HSR, Freight, other Rail

ACT government prefers airport option for HSR station over Civic

According to a Fairfax Media report the ACT government will call for a major change in the route of any high speed rail (HSR) link, saying it should go to Canberra Airport rather than Civic with a light rail line linking the two.

A link between Sydney and Canberra would be the first stage in an east coast HSR network. Previous plans for the project had suggested a terminal under Civic but a 2013 report recommended Canberra Airport as “the first alternative” if Civic was unable to support the parking requirements for the station.

Alternative route options for ACT terminus for proposed Sydney-Canberra HSR (source: Fairfax media)

Alternative route options for ACT terminus for proposed Sydney-Canberra HSR (source: Fairfax media)

“High speed rail is on the future agenda for our capital city and today I urge the federal government that Canberra would significantly benefit from a potential airport alignment,” ACT Planning and Land Management Minister Mick Gentleman is quoted as saying, noting that the Territory government was developing plans for a light rail network.

“Through this process it may be more cost-effective to have fast rail connect to light rail at the airport,” Mr Gentleman said.

There is increasing support for HSR, the Fairfax report claims. It also noted that while former Prime Minister Tony Abbott decided in 2013 to abolish the High Speed Rail Advisory Group but the Turnbull government is continuing to work with the relevant governments “to protect the identified rail corridors.”

 

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The Strategic Week (no. 15, Friday 1 April 2016) – the week in governance, planning, infrastructure and transport

Top of the Week

NSW council mergers: mayors and councillors likely to be dismissed and made to apply for interim positions on merged councils …

The NSW Minister for Local Government Paul Toole has revealed that merged councils are likely to be formed with new interim administrations – including in some cases the appointment of Administrators, implying that the current sitting mayors and councillors will be dismissed well ahead of the deferred elections for the new councils in March 2017.

The Minister has written to the mayors and councillors (alternative copy here) of the affected councils to indicate that they will have to apply to participate in these administrative arrangements which will operate until the first elections for the new councils are held. This suggests that once any recommendations from the boundary review process are accepted and new merged councils formed the mayors and councillors of the previous councils will be dismissed.

The Minister’s letter goes on to claim that while the government has “made no decision” on any of the merger proposals, it is “committed to ensuring effective implementation of any merger that goes ahead” and is therefore “considering options for providing serving councillors with an opportunity to help shape the future” of the new councils.

Attached to the letter was an Expression of Interest form inviting interested mayors and councillors to participate as:

  • An Administrator (either singly or as part of a group), effectively acting as the council;
  • A councillor retained on the new council;
  • A member of a Local Representation Committee; “to ensure effective local representation ahead of the next election”; or
  • A member of a an Implementation Advisory Group to advise the new council “on key decisions necessary in establishing and operating the new council”.

The EoI also outlined the selection criteria which are the same for all these positions, effectively requiring interested mayors and councillors to support the government’s merger process at least in respect of their own councils. The requirements include commitments to “making the new council a success”, “working collaboratively with Government in implementation” and “promote the new council to the community”.

… provoking angry responses…

The letter from the Minister for Local Government advising that mayors and councillors of merged councils will have to apply for new positions in the merged councils (see previous item) has attracted a strong response from mayors, councillors and others opposed to the amalgamations.

The Save our Councils Coalition (SOCC) in a written response described the Minister’s letter and EoI as “toxic” and urged merger opponents to boycott the process.

“SOCC is of the view that Councillors who have voted against amalgamation and who have supported their community in its wish to stand alone and not be forcibly merged must treat this EOI as a toxic document not to be touched,” Phil Jenkyn, Carolyn Corrigan and Brian Halstead state in the letter on behalf of SOCC.

“For such Councillors to fill in the EOI and tick the criteria will be seen by the community as a betrayal by Councillors of their own principles and a betrayal of the will of the people.”

The depth of anger shown in the SOCC response was reflected by other opponents. Local Government New South Wales President Keith Rhoades, told the ABC that the Minister’s letter was premature and undemocratic.

“The Minister has not even fully read all of the reports from the delegates as yet,” he said.

“From a democracy point of view, this is one of the most undemocratic decisions this government has made during this so called consultation on these merger proposals of local councils.”

State Opposition Leader Luke Foley also told the ABC that the push to consider job roles in merged councils at this stage pre-empted the process.

“They tell us there’s a legitimate, independent process. Of course, it’s anything but,” he said.

Mr Foley said of the affected councillors and mayors that “there’s really a gun at their head.”

“They’re being forced to sign a pledge of loyalty to Mr Baird’s agenda in order to be considered for a leadership role in their local community,” Mr Foley said.

The Minister’s letter has led to debate on how to respond even among councillors opposed to the proposed mergers. Woollahra Mayor Toni Zeltzer told Government News that interested councillors would submit EOIs – despite rejecting the proposed merger with Randwick and Waverley Councils – in order to represent the community that elected them.

“We believe that our community voted us in as their representatives and that has not changed,” Ms Zeltzer said. “We are still their voice. We continue to voice their majority opposition to forced amalgamation, we continue to fight for the democracy we believe should still be the heart of local government.”

… as the benefits of the merger outcomes and the cost of the process are questioned

The benefits of the NSW council mergers (see previous items) as promoted by the state government and the costs of the merger process itself have been the subject of further analysis.

Professor Brian Dollery in an opinion piece for the Conversation criticised the government’s claims regarding the financial advantages of the proposed mergers. Prof. Dollery – who has written extensively in opposition to council amalgamations – claims that research does not back up assertions that “bigger is better” when it comes to local government.

“In particular, the financial performance of local authorities does not improve as advocates of amalgamation contend. On the contrary, amalgamated municipalities often perform worse than their unmerged counterparts,” Prof. Dollery said.

“Amid the controversy over the Baird government’s compulsory council consolidation program, our findings underline the foolishness of making public policy in an ‘evidence-free’ manner.

“If forced amalgamations proceed, we may well see hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer and ratepayer funds squandered simply because policymakers preferred dogma to empirical evidence,” he claimed.

Government News has also assessed another financial aspect of the NSW council process – the cost of the individual merger inquiries which are currently underway.

The publication notes that the daily rate for the delegates currently conducting the inquiries who are not currently public servants is $1500 a day – and only three of the 18 delegates appear to be currently employed as public servants. In addition there are expenses and as Government News points out many of the delegates are likely to have been appointed through recruitment firms who could be charging ongoing management fees of 15-20% per day.

NSW Local Government Shadow Minister Peter Primrose told Government News that this was the cost of Mike Baird’s “faux consultation” for forced local government amalgamations.

“It’s clear that this Government will stop at nothing to push through its forced local government agenda,” Mr Primrose said.

“For a government that continues to bandy around the cost savings of amalgamations it is highly questionable whether this expensive process delivers value for NSW residents.”

Strategic Planning and Policy

ABS figures reveal Sydney will be first to five million…

ABS data has confirmed that while Sydney will soon reach the five million mark Melbourne is Australia’s fastest-growing capital city, with a population increase of 91,600 or 2.1% in 2014-15.

The second-fastest growing capital was Darwin which experienced a 1.9% increase. Sydney had the third-fastest rate of growth, increasing by 1.7% or 83,300 to reach 4.92 million.

“Should this amount of growth continue in 2015-16, we would expect Sydney’s population to hit 5 million sometime this year”, said ABS Director of Demography Beidar Cho.

Perth and Brisbane both grew by 1.6%, while the ACT increased by 1.4%. Adelaide experienced 0.9% growth and Hobart 0.8%.

The national population increased by 1.4% and the capitals (which in total grew by 1.7%) accounted for 83% of this growth. Most of the growth occurred in inner city and outer suburban areas.

The ABS data also revealed interesting growth patterns within many of the capital cities. In Sydney for example, inner-suburban Waterloo-Beaconsfield, had the largest population increase statewide, growing by 3,100 people. Cobbitty-Leppington, in the outer south-west, had the fastest growth rate (26%) and the second-highest growth (2,600).

In Melbourne most of the growth occurred in the city’s outer suburbs which experienced some of the largest increases nationally.

“Seven out of the country’s top ten growth areas were in Greater Melbourne”, Beidar Cho said.

Cranbourne East in Melbourne’s outer south-east increased by 4,600 people, the largest growth of any area in Australia. The outer northern areas of South Morang (4,200 people) and Epping (3,300) came in second and third respectively, whilst Point Cook (3,200) in Melbourne’s outer west ranked fourth nationally.

… as Vic government responds to news that Melbourne experiencing fastest growth…

In response to the ABS data that Melbourne had experienced the fastest rate of growth of any Australian capital city in 2014-15, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that his government had a plan “for smart growth” in Melbourne.

“We need to make sure housing is available to everyone, delivering housing options throughout the city with the access to education, health services and transport people deserve.

“We are the world’s most liveable city, the country’s sporting capital, and Victoria is the Education State – people are naturally drawn to Melbourne and we need to plan accordingly,” the Premier said.

Planning work underway cited by Mr Andrews included:

  • A review of Plan Melbourne, the over-arching planning document, to include housing affordability and climate change;
  • A review into the previous Government’s “widely-criticised residential zoning roll-out”;
  • Preparation of detailed plans for 640 hectares of land near Melbourne’s CBD to allow more people to live closer to inner city jobs and services;
  • Drafting of detailed plans for five separate neighbourhoods to accommodate about 80,000 people by the recently-established Fishermans Bend Taskforce ;
  • Preparation of precinct structure plans “on the fringe” by the Metropolitan Planning Authority to “keep a healthy supply of land to the market”, maintaining Melbourne’s affordability; and
  • The release of Managing Growth, the government’s long-term infrastructure plan for Melbourne’s outer areas.

… while LGA population growth analysis reveals more detail

Demographic consulting firm .id has undertaken an analysis of the ABS 2014-15 population growth data (see previous items) at the local government area level, revealing some interesting trends at a more local level than the “headline” capital city figures.

The .id report discusses the 20 fastest-growing LGAs with populations of more than 5,000. Of these all but two of the council areas were in NSW (5 LGAs), Victoria (7 LGAs) and Western Australia (6 LGAs). The majority were located at the urban fringes of the capital cities, though some inner-city LGAs particularly in Sydney which have been the location of an apartment-building boom also grew strongly.

Camden LGA in NSW grew the fastest at 7.6%, with Serpentine-Jarrahdale in Western Australia as the second-fastest (7.2%). Melbourne LGA was the third-fastest at 5.6% followed by another Victorian LGA, Wyndham, as well as Litchfield in the Northern Territory which both experienced 5.1% growth.

The .id report also looks at the LGAs which are losing population, noting that these are overwhelmingly located in outback Western Australia. The report cautions however that many of these council areas have less than 1,000 people each, which means that “relatively small adjustments to the population can result in large percentage movements.”

There is only one LGA with a larger population which recorded substantial population decline the Shire of East Pilbara in the Kimberley region which decreased by 4.4%. As the report notes, “If you want a demographic representation of the mining boom and bust – this is the LGA for you”.

East Pilbara grew by more than 10% annually in the late 2000s but lost over 560 people in 2014-15 due to the mining downturn.

Responding to growth 1: Victoria seeks larger federal infrastructure funding share

According to Fairfax media reports the Victorian government has “dramatically stepped up its demands” for a larger slice of federal funding, complaining that it receives only 9% of national infrastructure funding while having 25% of the national population.

Fairfax media claims that state treasury had provided it with analysis that shows that if Victoria were to receive its correct share over the five years to 2018-19 the federal government would have to provide an extra $6.3 billion.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas told Fairfax media that the funding mismatch was “discriminatory and bordering on ludicrous” and that there was an increasing risk it would hold back the state economy.

“Increasingly what this is doing is holding back the star performer of the nation’s economic resurgence,” Mr Pallas said.

Responding to growth 2: SA sets growth boundary for Adelaide

The South Australian government has succeeded in getting the state’s Legislative Council to approve the introduction of an urban growth boundary for Adelaide through the creation of an Environment and Food Production Area (EFPA).

The EFPA which will protect food and wine production areas to the north and south of the city, according to ABC news reports. Government Upper House leader Kyam Maher said the measure would protect farmland and the rural landscapes while providing a 15-year supply of land for urban growth.

“It will encourage building of new homes in our inner and middle-ring suburbs, something which market research shows is where more and more people want to live,” he said.

“Such infill development, compared to green field development, generates more jobs, costs less to service and provides more affordable living options.”

The measure was opposed by the Property Council SA, whose executive director Dennis Gannon warned that Adelaide’s growth would “become inflexible”.

“It will make it harder, not easier, to respond to demographic and economic changes,” he said.

“Beneficial disruption” theme for green cities conference…

The annual Green Cities conference which was held recently in Sydney highlighted the theme of “disruptive ideas” to mark 10 years of the sustainability conference for the urban environment.

According to a media report of the conference the first session concentrated on “disruptive densification”,  and involved NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Greater Sydney Commission chief Lucy Turnbull, C40 executive director Mark Watts and Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation town planning head Steve Yiu.

According to the report the ideas discussed included greater government and community collaboration, transport-oriented development, limiting sprawl and encouraging cycling and diversity of housing choices.

In a panel discussion however, the Lord Mayor pointed out how “non-disruptive” some of these ideas were..

“It’s not revolutionary,” Ms Moore said. “It’s what all the other cities are doing. But here it’s considered disruptive. It’s not. We should learn from those other cities. It would enable us to become sustainable future cities, not backward-looking cities.”

This perspective appears to have been reinforced in some of the subsequent sessions which demonstrated the increasing innovation of some Asian cities. In Singapore for example the Housing and Development Board which houses 82% of Singapore’s residents has integrated sustainable development guidelines into all its activities – and these weren’t applied just to new buildings.

The city has also adopted a similar approach to commercial buildings. In its Green Building Master Plan, Singapore has legislated that existing commercial buildings undergoing upgrades need to meet a Green Mark Standard and owners must carry out periodic energy efficiency audits and submit building information and energy consumption data annually. Financial incentives to upgrade are also provided.

In Australia however commercial building energy intensity had improved by just two per cent from 2005-2015, according to an upcoming report prepared by ClimateWorks and the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.

“The market leaders, who are largely represented in this room, have done a fantastic job of lifting their own performance and moving the frontier forward. But what hasn’t happened is that the rump of the market – which by volume is greater – has come with it at that pace,” ClimateWorks chief executive Anna Skarbek said

“So the big question for existing buildings… is how do you take the best practice with the higher rated buildings and make that universal across the lower-rated buildings?”

… while innovation a key theme for upcoming LG National General Assembly

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has announced that the theme for the 2016 National General Assembly of Local Government to be held in June will be “Partners in an Innovative and Prosperous Australia”.

The conference will be attended by local government leaders from Boston to discuss the city’s transformation into a “global innovation hotspot.” This will draw on a  report released recently by Microsoft called Accelerating Australia’s innovation ecosystem: Lessons from Boston and recommendations for a unique path forward.

The report was based on a tour to Boston and nearby Cambridge involving “20 leading Australian politicians and government business officials” that was organised late last year. The delegation met with state and local government leaders, executives and specialists “to discuss business growth, urban planning, education and citizen engagement”.

Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services

Development Projects and Plans

NSW government mulls reopening of Parramatta Gaol…

Fairfax media has reported that the NSW government is considering a proposal to reopen Parramatta Correctional Centre and could make a decision within days.

The report claims that Corrections Minister David Elliott is pushing for the jail, which was closed in 2011 to be reopened to cater for the record increase in the number of prisoners.

The move is said to be opposed by the government’s property development arm UrbanGrowth NSW, which plans to redevelop an area next to the jail. David Morris, the Sydney West managing director of property consultancy firm Knight Frank, said property prices within one kilometre of the jail “could fall as much 30 per cent” if the jail reopened. A number of Western Sydney advocacy groups have also strongly opposed the proposal to reopen the jail.

Fairfax notes that if the government decides it wants to reopen the jail it would still have to negotiate with the Deerubbin Aboriginal Land Council which has ownership of the site under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. Fairfax claims that the council has refused “multiple requests” for an interview but could be open to leasing or selling the jail because its heritage listing prevents any major changes to the building, and maintenance is costly.

… while Parramatta council endorses landmark civic building design…

Parramatta Council has selected a “cutting-edge glass construction featuring a wave-shaped façade of crystalline blocks” as the winning design for Parramatta Square’s landmark civic and community building.

Artist's impression of new building for Parramatta Square

Artist’s impression of new building for Parramatta Square

The design was endorsed by Council after a jury voted unanimously to award the international design competition to a consortium of French firm Manuelle Gautrand Architecture and Australian firms DesignInc and Lacoste + Stevenson.

According to the council media release the “eye-catching design encapsulates and extends above the historic Town Hall with a cantilevered structure providing a platform for the Council Chambers”.

At its core is a stack of transparent glass that will gradually rises to the north-east with a large LED screen for public art projections. The $50 million project will cover six-storeys with a Gross Floor Area (GFA) of approximately 8000sq m.

Lord Mayor of Parramatta Cr Paul Garrard congratulated Manuelle Gautrand Architecture, DesignInc and Lacoste + Stevenson on the design.

“The jury was tasked with selecting an iconic design and they have certainly fulfilled that brief. The architects have produced a contemporary and thought-provoking design that is sure to become a must-see destination for visitors to Parramatta,” Cr Garrard said.

“This design truly cements 5 Parramatta Square as the civic heart of our City. The transparency of the glass façade makes the building inviting and open for the community to explore the library of the future, public roof garden, customer contact centre, visitor experience centre, community meeting rooms and technology hub.”

“All this is within a building that is designed to achieve at least a 5- Star Green Star rating,” the Lord Mayor said.

David Stevenson from Lacoste + Stevenson said the design team “worked hard” to ensure that public art was an essential component of the design.

“The design team’s vision for public art at 5 Parramatta Square was to make Council’s civic facilities a canvas for artistic expression in a way we haven’t seen before in a public building in Australia,” Mr Stevenson said.

“The building creates the opportunity to be transformed into an interactive public art display through shading devices that also serve as projection screens. This is truly a building for the 21st century.”

… and riverfront location mooted for Powerhouse Museum as move opponents join forces

Media reports suggest that the former David Jones car park on the banks of the Parramatta River is the NSW government’s favoured option for the Powerhouse Museum if the NSW government succeeds in moving it out of the current Ultimo site to Sydney’s west.

The reports claim that the government wants to develop the site in conjunction with the Western Sydney light rail project, with a stop being located inside the new museum. It also claims that Parramatta Lord Mayor Paul Garrard who previously opposed the proposal has largely reversed his position after a visit to the site with NSW Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance.

The other short-listed site for the museum is to the west of the city centre at the former Parramatta golf course. This is more isolated from the Parramatta CBD but the report suggests that it would probably allow for a bigger museum and car park to be built.

Opposition to the museum’s relocation is growing however, leading to an alliance between the Save the Powerhouse group and the North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) according to a local media report.

The Powerhouse group travelled to Parramatta to visit the historic Fleet Street precinct which NPRAG is trying to protect from redvelopment. The groups will now join forces to campaign for the Powerhouse to remain in Ultimo and for Parramatta to have its own museum, calling on the NSW government to review the decision lobbying for an Upper House inquiry.

“Being the ‘premier’ state, our government should be firstly be investing in a Museum of NSW prominently placed in the cradle of our modern nation – Parramatta,” NPRAG president Suzette Meade said.

“The Fleet Street heritage precinct is filled with architectural, environmental and social stories that would make a natural location for a financially successful arts and cultural precinct.”

Light Rail/Tram/BRT

Indigenous artefacts found during Sydney LR construction as government studies La Perouse extension option

Transport for NSW has issued a statement in response to media reports on the discovery of a large number of Aboriginal heritage items at the CBD and South East Light Rail (CSELR) Randwick Stabling Yard construction site.

Media outlets reported on Wednesday that over 20,000 artefacts were found on the 100sqm site which had prompted calls by Darug elders for construction to be halted.

The response from Transport for NSW claimed that the government agency had expected to find such artefacts. It has prepared an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment Report and Archaeological Technical Report and established a relationship with four “Registered Aboriginal Parties”.

“The 2013 Environmental Impact Assessment identified likely zones for Aboriginal objects to be found and the Randwick Stabling Yard is within an area considered ‘most likely’ to find Aboriginal artefacts,” the organisation’s statement said.

“Where it is known that there is high potential for Aboriginal objects, archaeological investigation will be undertaken.”

The statement claims that the site was dug “with the agreed methods” and that Aboriginal groups were present during this process. A “substantial collection” of tools and stone off-cuts were found, suggesting this as the site where such things were manufactured. However it is likely that the stone used is not local, with the “Nepean, Upper Hunter and coastal areas of the Illawarra viewed as possible places where the stone originated”.

“Further study of this find could yield new understanding of how Aboriginal tribes travelled, traded and interacted between one other,” the statement added.

According to Transport for NSW the area of interest is less than 200sqm on a site of more than 20,000sqm. and the Aboriginal groups involved had expressed a preference “to salvage the remaining artefacts.

“It is critical that the artefacts are extracted delicately and respectfully and we are making sure that area is accessed sensitively,” the statement said.

“Elsewhere on the site, it’s critical that we continue preparations for building a city-changing public transport project. The good news is that the two are not mutually exclusive and can continue simultaneously.”

Meanwhile media reports claim that the Government has called for a report into the viability of extending the light rail from its current planned terminus at Kingsford to La Perouse via Maroubra Junction.

Proposed route for light rail extension to La Perouse (source: News.com)

Proposed route for light rail extension to La Perouse (source: News.com)

As the article notes much of the former tram corridor is still in place and could be used for the light rail extension. In addition the route could service major residential developments near the old Prince Henry Hospital site at Little Bay and the Long Bay jail complex which the government is considering for redevelopment in the longer term. The proposal is supported by Randwick Council.

Sydney’s new tram design revealed…

Transport for NSW has revealed the Citadis X05 light rail vehicles designed by Alstom, one of the partners in the consortium building the Sydney and South East Light Rail (CESLR), which will be used on the corridor when it opens in 2018/19.

New Sydney light rail vehicle interior

New Sydney light rail vehicle interior (source: Sydney Light Rail website)

New Sydney light rail vehicle exterior

New Sydney light rail vehicle exterior (source: Sydney Light Rail website)

Construction of the sixty trams began at Alstom’s plant in La Rochelle in France last month, according to News Ltd reports. According to the article, Nouredine Benkaza, Project Director for Alstom Transport said the tram’s distinctive design “reflects Sydney’s status” as an advanced and modern global city.

“Two unique, vertical white LED light strips are positioned at the front of each vehicle to provide a unique and distinctive look from other vehicles and light sources along the alignment,” Mr Benkaza said.

“The design aims to reflect Sydney as a city that celebrates light, for example with the Vivid Festival each year.”

The trams will be run in 67m-long pairs, with a total passenger capacity of 450 of whom a maximum of 120 or around 27% will be seated. This compares with about 65% on the buses to be replaced by the light rail.

… as Melbourne’s new trams get safety overhaul

According to media reports Melbourne’s E-class tram fleet is being overhauled and drivers retrained to prevent passenger falls after an independent report found that the city’s newest trams had “sensitive” brakes and accelerated too quickly.

Public Transport Victoria (PTV) commissioned the report into the performance of the fleet in 2015. As well as the braking and accelerating issues, the report found that passengers also needed more places to hold on.

“With these new E-class trams … because they are newer they have had an issue where they brake more suddenly and accelerate more quickly and that is being, if you like, smoothed out as a result of this investigation and report,” Ms Allan told 3AW.

As well as fixing the trams, drivers are also being trained on how to drive the new vehicles.

“We have gone through a lot of work with Yarra Trams to ensure drivers are being trained properly and they understand how to manage a vehicle of that particular size,” Acting PTV CEO Jeroen Weimar also said on 3AW.

BRT over LRT proposed for Canberra and Hobart

The Liberal opposition in the ACT has released a plan to develop a network of rapid bus services in contrast to the ACT government’s light rail project.

The opposition has vowed to scrap the light rail project even though a successful tenderer has been announced and construction is likely to commence before the next ACT election (see TSW7). As an alternative the opposition’s Canberra Rapid Bus Network would add six new rapid bus services to the city’s current Red (Gungahlin to Fyshwick) and Blue (Tuggeranong to Belconnen) Rapid bus routes.

The Red and Blue Rapid routes would run every 7 to 15 minutes while the Bronze (West Belconnen to City), Green (Tuggeranong to Airport) Purple (Tuggeranong-City loop), Pink (Gungahlin to Belconnen, Yellow (Woden to North Canberra) and Silver (Woden to City via Weston Creek) would all run every 10 to 20 minutes.

ACT Liberal Opposition proposed Rapid Bus Network (source: ACT Liberals)

ACT Liberal Opposition proposed Rapid Bus Network (source: ACT Liberals)

In addition express routes and late night services on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights would be introduced. Buses would be given priority at intersections and new “super bus shelters” constructed with all-weather shielding and heated seats and real time information.

The plan also proposes high-capacity buses including four-door articulated vehicles. According to the plan a Liberal government would “provide buses that are modern and sleek and provide a feeling of elegance, yet be able to provide efficiency and flexibility” and electric bus options would also be tested.

According to an ABC news report opposition spokesman Alistair Coe said the plan was a major overhaul of the ACTION bus system.

“We think this is probably the biggest transport reform ever proposed by a government or opposition in the ACT,” he said.

Michael Apps, the executive director of the Bus Industry Confederation has also called for the introduction of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Hobart, claiming that “talk of light rail” in the short term on the disused Glenorchy to Hobart rail corridor is “folly”.

“Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding’s commitment to retain the corridor between Glenorchy and Hobart is the right one, and light rail might have its day, but today is not that day. The corridor in the short to medium-term should be a Bus Rapid Transit system,” Mr Apps said.

“BRT has characteristics of a Light Rail Transit system — dedicated right-of-way use, same stations and ticketing, but on rubber wheels that can operate on and off corridor.

“BRT can be built to the specification to be transformed into light rail in the future if required. The beauty of BRT is it can be built up to 10 times cheaper than light rail and gives flexibility.”

Metro

SA anger at NSW decision to source rail for metro project overseas

South Australian State Development Minister Tom Koutsantonis has asked the NSW Government mustto explain why rail has been imported from Spain rather than Whyalla for construction of the Sydney Metro Northwest.

In a strongly-worded media release the minister said it was “astounding” that the NSW government had chosen to import the steel from Spain given the “most uncertain future” of the Australian steel industry.

“The NSW Government should explain why Australian rail was not preferred for the Sydney Metro Northwest project. This 6,500 tonne supply contract should have gone to local steelmaker Arrium to support Australian jobs,” Mr Koutsantonis said.

“NSW should adopt South Australia’s policy to mandate Australian Standard steel on taxpayer-funded projects,” he said.

“It simply makes no sense for Australian taxpayers’ money to be spent on sustaining another country’s strategic industry. Australia can not simply be a country that exports iron ore at the cost of its own steel industry.”

Urban Heavy Rail

Melbourne “sky rail” neighbours to be given option to sell homes

The Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allen has announced a range of measures including an offer to voluntarily purchase affected properties in response to criticism of the proposal to remove level crossings in the Caulfield to Dandenong rail corridor by elevating sections of the line in viaducts.

The government will also provide “extensive fencing and landscaping works” in addition to the previously-announced plans to remove nine level crossings, rebuild five stations and “create kilometres of new parks, paths and community space” below the elevated sections of the line.

Residents will have until 30 June 2017 to apply to have their homes purchased at the market rate, and for the government to cover related costs.

“Local residents said they wanted the project to provide landscaping and fencing works, and the opportunity to sell their property if they want to move and that is what we are delivering,” Ms Allen said.

“We are respecting the views of those closest to this significant project, and giving them the opportunity to make the choice that is right for them.”

Opposition leader Matthew Guy told The Age that although “sky rail” had become a “huge political issue” for the government it had not produced any final route maps or designs.

“There’s no final details on sky rail whatsoever for any of the residents to properly look at, yet they’re given a 12 month deadline to opt in or opt out of being bought out,” he said.

HSR, Freight, other Rail

Modernising NSW Trainlink services means less customer service staff

NSW TrainLink has announced that it is “modernising” its regional services to provide “better value for money for NSW taxpayers” and is in discussions with staff and unions about measures to discontinue the sale of third-party tour and accommodation products, remove staff from a number of stations and coach stops and “better align” the operating hours of the remaining stations with train and coach timetables.

Face-to-face operations at Murwillumbah, Lismore and Byron Bay coach stops would cease and Nambucca Heads, Macksville, Broken Hill, Parkes, Blayney, Wellington, Yass Junction and Griffith Stations will no longer have staff. The travel centre at Broadmeadow station will also close and staffing levels at the centre at Central station will be reduced.

“Customers are increasingly choosing to purchase their regional train and coach tickets from the comfort of their home with 24/7 online access or over the phone with our extended contact hours, reducing the number of face to face transactions at NSW TrainLink travel centres,”  NSW TrainLink Director of People and Corporate Services, Mr John Hussey said.

New sleepers provide foundation for Victorian Murray Basin rail freight upgrade

Victorian Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford has welcomed the roll-out of 100,000 new sleepers between Maryborough and Mildura as part of the $416 million Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP).

The MBRP will upgrade and eventually standardise the entire Murray Basin freight network, providing better connections for primary producers to the State’s major ports in Portland, Geelong and Melbourne.

The broad gauge sleepers will increase safety and reliability as well as paving the way for the next phase of the project. Because they are wooden, they sleepers can be easily converted to standard gauge, which will minimise the time to undertake this work when the Murray Basin freight network is standardised.

The Minister also called on the federal government to provide funding towards this second stage.

“The Andrews Labor Government has put $220 million towards this project, and is calling again on the Federal Government to pay their fair share,” Ms Pulford said.

“They have had the business case for the project for more than six months and it’s time for them to support farmers, their families and our economy, and commit this vital project.”

Transport: other

Melbourne train and tram use increases while buses decline…

Melbourne bus patronage declined by 7 million trips or 5.5% in 2015 according to media reports, while the city’s train patronage increased by 3.5% and tram usage by 11.1%.

The decline in bus usage occurred despite initiatives to improve bus routes and timetables and the introduction of real time bus tracking for smartphones.

“Buses are still under-appreciated by many Melburnians, still having their love affair with rail,” Bus Association Victoria executive director Chris Lowe said to The Age, though he claimed that many of the improvements had “backfired”.

“These [straightened out] services ignore the social transit function of the bus, to satisfy the need of those passengers who just want to get to their high street, the medical appointment, the modal interchange and other major community activity centres,” he said.

Other experts quoted in the article cited the lack of bus lanes and frequent, regular services.

“People put a high value on reliability,” Professor John Stanley from University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies said.

“If you can’t depend on your train or tram or bus getting you where you want to go at a particular time, that is a real disincentive to using it, and one of the things congestion does is it buggers up reliability.”

… and Sydney PT users are satisfied with services

NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has released the latest Customer Satisfaction Index which shows improvements across all modes of transport.

More than 17,000 customers were surveyed in the November 2015 report on factors including timeliness, safety and security, ticketing, convenience, accessibility, comfort, cleanliness, information and customer service.

According to the Minister’s release, customers rated safety and security as one of the attributes they were most satisfied with across all modes, with 94% on average feeling safe at either a train station/ferry wharf/bus or light rail stop, while 95% on average felt safe when travelling on public transport.

Satisfaction with train services has jumped significantly from 79% in November 2012 to 90% in November 2015. The Minister claimed that improvements to train and station cleanliness, as well as “moving more staff out of back offices and on to platforms and concourses so they can assist customers” helped drive the increase.

“We want more people to use public transport and having great people working on the network is one of the key ingredients in helping to make this happen,” Mr Constance said.

“We’re investing heavily in our staff whether they’re a train or bus driver, a customer service rep or a rail signalling expert, because it’s important they all play their part in providing a great public transport experience for the people of NSW. The latest customer satisfaction figures are testament to their hard work and dedication.”

The breakdown of individual lines and routes in the Index’s appendix displays some interesting variations. While most rail lines have an overall satisfaction of over 85%, the T6 Carlingford line has a rating of only 69% while the T5 Cumberland and the Southern Highlands lines both received scores of 79%. The Carlingford line also had by far the highest dissatisfied score, at 24%.

Posted in Governance, Growth, Infrastructure, Planning, Population, Public Transport, Regions, Statistics, Sydney metro area, The Strategic Week, Transport, Western Sydney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Strategic Week (no. 14, Thursday 24 March 2016) – the week in governance, planning, infrastructure and transport

Top of the Week

Claim that NZ local government reforms support collaboration over amalgamation challenged

The New Zealand Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga claims that reforms to the country’s local government sector to enable better service delivery are based on collaboration rather than amalgamation have been challenged by Wellington Council

The Minister said that the costs of local services were rising faster than council revenues and so councils needed new ways to manage finances, improve efficiencies and “create value for ratepayers”. He also claimed that current structures limited the ability of councils to work together.

“The reforms include more flexibility to collaborate and develop shared services; reorganisation processes that can be locally led and driven; and greater use of Council Controlled Organisations, with improved accountability tools to safeguard local democracy,” said Mr Lotu-Iiga.

“There are also enhanced Local Government Commission powers and processes to enable the Commission to promote and facilitate reorganisations.

“The Better Local Services package creates new options for councils and communities to improve performance and better manage local services and infrastructure”, the Minister said.

Further information provided by the government on the changes also claimed that the package “creates new options for local communities to choose from to improve their own local services and infrastructure” . It also noted that “recent attempts at reorganisations have proved unpopular so the package includes new options to improve services and infrastructure without amalgamations”.

The government hopes that legislation enabling the package of reforms will be passed by parliament by the end of the year so councils elected in 2016 “will have access to the new options” early in their  term.

Wellington City Council has however rejected proposals contained in the cabinet paper outlining the reforms which would allow council-led amalgamation proposals to proceed without a poll.

The paper proposed that “that council-led proposals of this type that meet the criteria for consultation, and have public and council support, should not be subject to polls.”

Council’s media release said that in response the council would “cease work on any future local government reorganisation” and the Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, described the proposed reforms as “a mixed bag”.

“Mandatory polls for Local Government Commission proposals are a great idea. Encouraging Councils to amalgamate while circumventing a poll is wrong and is not in the public interest.

“We have consistently said there should be a binding public poll to decide any change to local government boundaries and Council will be making this position clear to Government as part of legislative process,” the Mayor said.

Governance

NSW councils head to court over mergers while non-merging councils head to Sept polls

According to media reports Woollahra Council was expected to vote to continue its legal action against the NSW government over forced council mergers.

As noted in TSW12, Council’s case relies on legal advice that the government has made inappropriate use of a section of the Local Government Act that was intended to facilitate voluntary amalgamations. It claims that this invalidates the merger process.

The report claims that council intends to proceed despite the costs involved and the fact that the Government has indicated that it will defend the action vigorously, indicating it will seek costs if the council’s action is unsuccessful.

A number of councils are watching the case closely. Kiama Council has resolved to receive a report on the possibility of joining the Woollahra action and is also holding a non-compulsory poll of local residents to be conducted by the Electoral Commission asking residents if they want the council to amalgamate.

Meanwhile Local Government Minister Paul Toole has confirmed that councils not merging should prepare for elections in September this year.

“If a council is a merger proposal, their council elections are aimed for March of next year,” he told parliament on Tuesday.

“For other councils we have told them it is business as usual. It is business as usual to be preparing for an election in September of this year.”

Qld Government reaffirms local government partnerships…

The Palaszczuk Government has reaffirmed its commitment to “work constructively” with the State’s 77 local governments following the recent council elections.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her Government “valued the partnership with local governments” and she has vowed to strengthen those links to generate jobs across the State.

“I congratulate the new and re-elected Mayors and councillors across the State and reaffirm my Government’s commitment to work with them. My Government has always had a constructive relationship with local government and I am determined that we will continue to work closely with councils across the State,” the Premier said.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Local Government Jackie Trad said the government had been reforming the way it “planned, prioritised and invested” in infrastructure.

“Working with local governments has been an important part of our infrastructure reform agenda and we look forward to continuing this important work with new and continuing local government representatives,” the Deputy Premier said.

… while state votes for four-year terms and incumbent Mayors

While votes are still being counted in last Saturday’s referendum on fixed four-year terms for state parliament the measure looks certain to pass, according to an ABC analysis.

The ABC reported that with 66% of the votes counted, the yes case had a clear lead of 53% to 47% (1,041,608 to 920,026).

The council elections held at the same time as the referendum have shown strong support for incumbent Mayors. In 61 of the state’s 77 councils the incumbent Mayor stood for re-election and at the last count 44 were leading the polls. In Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast the incumbent Mayors were all re-elected with large majorities.

The re-election of these Mayors will also have implications for public transport infrastructure in these cities, particularly Brisbane where the centrepiece of the Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s campaign was a commitment to a rubber-tyred metro (see TSW7) and the Gold Coast where the re-elected Mayor Tom Tate promised to provide $160 million towards a stage 3 extension of the light rail to the Gold Coast Airport (see TSW12).

SA Councils seek independent boundary adjustment process

Adelaide independent publication InDaily claims that the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGASA) is working on a “boundary adjustment process” under which minor changes to boundaries would be negotiated by neighbouring councils with more complex changes overseen by an independent body

It states that LGA CEO Matt Pinnegar raised the concept with InDaily after the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies (SACES) released a report last week calling for the “rationalisation” of local councils in the interests of economic efficiency.

Pinnegar rejected both the SACES report and the concept of forced mergers but said that under the LGASA’s approach “future decisions about council boundary changes and consolidation would be made by an independent body with appropriate skills, experience and knowledge”.

He indicated that the Association was “in talks” with Local Government Minister Geoff Brock who supported reform but also rejected the concept of “forced” amalgamations. With the abolition of the Boundaries Adjustment Facilitation Panel the Minister currently has responsibility for council boundary changes.

As InDaily notes, the LGASA proposal appears to be a response to concerns that a government could decide to adopt forced mergers similar to those in NSW. It claimed that the Minister had told the publication that the government did not support forced amalgamations “simply for the sake of reducing the number of councils” but that legislative proposals on boundary reform were being developed.

Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services

Light Rail/Tram/BRT

ACT government defers Russell light rail extension until after the election

The ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell have announced that proposals for the extension of the light rail network to the Russell defence precinct will be deferred until after the next ACT election and considered as part of a stage 2 package for the project..

The Government will press on with delivery of the first City to Gungahlin stage of the network. Work is scheduled to start later this year and be completed by 2018/19.

“Just as we sought and were given a mandate for the first stage of the network, we will seek a second mandate at the 2016 ACT election for the next stage,” the joint release said.

“It is encouraging that now both sides of Federal politics back urban rail project and with the Commonwealth the major landowner, employer and beneficiary of a future stage of light rail we will continue to engage with the Commonwealth Government.

“Taking into consideration the light rail master planning work and community consultation that the government is currently undertaking we will make further announcements closer to the election about the next stage of the light rail network under a re-elected Labor government.”

Minister for Capital Metro Simon Corbell said Russell would be strongly considered, alongside other options, in the next stage of Canberra’s city-wide light rail network.

According to media reports the Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he would now develop and seek federal funding support for “a much more ambitious stage 2” involving not only Russell, but the wider parliamentary triangle and possibly Canberra Airport and the Australian National University.

“People will be very clear when they come to vote in the territory election in October what our commitment to stage 2 of the project will be and what we would intend to deliver if the government were re-elected”, he said.

Liberal transport spokesman Alistair Coe said the government should put the entire project on hold until after the election.

“It’s a very big decision for our community and the responsible course of action is to put the project on hold until October,” he is quoted as saying.

Metro

Sydney Metro – the big unanswered question

An opinion piece by Jacob Saulwick claims that there is a “$20 billion-plus unanswered question” at the heart of the Sydney Metro project – where will a second branch of the metro run south of Sydney Harbour?

Saulwick notes that north of the harbour, there are long-term plans for a branch to run under Military Road towards the Northern Beaches, but with the apparent decision to drop plans for conversion of the line between Sydenham and Hurstville to be integrated with the Bankstown line metro conversion there are no plans for an alternative. As Saulwick says, “there is patently no need for a train to run to Bankstown every two minutes”.

Sydney Metro with proposed extension to Liverpool (source: Sydney Metro)

Sydney Metro with proposed extension to Liverpool (source: Sydney Metro)

Saulwick draws on work by Dick Day, the former head of rail planning at RailCorp, to conclude that a second branch should be constructed to deal the “elephant in the room”, the large growth in rail passengers on the Western Line past Strathfield. This could involve either the construction of a completely new metro line or the conversion of the existing all-stops line to metro and a tunnel bypass for the existing suburban line from Homebush to the city.

“It is to be hoped that the government involves the community in a genuine discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the different options, rather than its past practice of making substantive decisions behind closed doors. Those decisions often prove to be wrong,” Saulwick concludes.

Urban Heavy Rail

Sydney rail patronage data shows mixed results

A study by Fairfax media suggests that rail patronage in Sydney has “boomed in the city’s inner rings and slumped across its outer boundaries.”

The report claims that an analysis of Transport for NSW figures. shows that the number of rail commuters has soared in areas  such as Rhodes, Auburn and Green Square, where populations are exploding, while at stations such as Gosford, Penrith, Fairfield and Blaxland “rail patronage has fallen by up to 25 per cent despite modest population growth.”

The report quotes Independent transport expert Garry Glazebrook as stating that rapid growth in patronage at inner city sations reflected both an apartment boom and gentrification in these areas.

Patronage had fallen along train lines where there had been no improvements in service speeds or frequencies, such as the Blue Mountains and Central Coast lines. The decline could also be linked to an ageing population and an improved road network.

This is a shorter edition of TSW than usual due to the Easter weekend. Have a happy and safe break.

Posted in Public Transport, Sydney metro area, The Strategic Week, Western Sydney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Strategic Week (no. 13, Friday 18 March 2016) – the week in governance, planning, infrastructure and transport

Top of the Week

PM links innovation, a new cities agenda and Western Sydney plans…

While the Prime Minister’s comments during the Lachlan Macquarie Lecture at the recent Out There summit on the possibility that a rail link to the proposed Western Sydney Airport could be brought forward attracted most of the media attention (see TSW12), his extensive speech also addressed a range of other issues relating to the federal government’s cities and innovation policies.

Mr Turnbull noted that Western Sydney is Australia’s third-largest urban economy. He said it is also one of Australia’s fastest-growing regions making up nearly half of Sydney’s population “with the greatest potential for even more growth”.

He also noted however that employment levels are lower for young people and about 200,000 people have to leave the region to work, a number that is forecast to grow to about 340,000 by 2041.

“So because both the promise and the problems faced by Western Sydney are so complex, the solutions we provide must be coordinated across all layers of government and indeed the private sector,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Rapid growth is a challenge because of the demand it puts on housing and transport, the problems of congestion and mobility, the concentration of high value jobs in only a few places or the lack of local jobs.

“Our cities policy will address this by focusing on investment in transport and urban renewal, increasing the supply of housing and by improving amenity, making cities wonderful places to live.”

The PM made a clear pitch to link innovation and the development of cities, quoting urban economist Ed Glaeser who called cities “our species’ greatest invention”. He stated that “strong, well connected, liveable cities and regions are vital to support the high-tech, knowledge-intensive sectors of the new economy” and that in the “knowledge economy physical proximity and connectivity is more important than ever”.

Mr Turnbull also agreed with Glaeser’s assertion that the central goal for governments in planning and building cities is to “retain and enhance this basic function of cities, improving lives and creating opportunities for people.”

“… Cities are for people, not machines. Cities must have a human form because serving humanity is their function,” Mr Turnbull said.

“All of our policies must ensure that cities continue to provide this critical role in human progress, especially as we face the transition from the old economy to the new.

“Technology and infrastructure can smooth and enable that transition. Both can unlock potential and in the history of Western Sydney this has always been true.”

Mr Turnbull claimed that “the building blocks”of great cities are simple: “affordable housing, good transport, easy access to employment and study, reliable communications, energy and water”.

“Communities need smart, well-designed, walkable density,” Mr Turnbull said.

“We should aim to have more people in western Sydney living in an ever extending zone of the 30 minute city – where people do not have to travel too long to get to work, school or university.”

Mr Turnbull also indicated that while it would no longer “discriminate between modes”, and would fund rail as well as road projects, his government would also cease to be “a passive ATM doling out grants for infrastructure, without being especially involved or concerned about the consequences of that infrastructure… We will invest more in cities and we will do so as partners.”

The Prime Minister said that the planning and delivery of this infrastructure had to improve.

“We should approach infrastructure like the best run companies approach their business – planning, investing, delivering and operating infrastructure to get the best results for the best price.

“That means being a better partner to state and local governments – working closely together in the planning stages, ensuring that project outcomes are in step with our national goals.”

See next item for a summary of some of the responses to the Prime Minister’s proposals.

… and receives a mixed response

The Prime Minister’s comments on his government’s cities and innovation policies (see previous item) have attracted a mixed response from economic and media commentators.

Peter Martin has praised Mr Turnbull’s urban strategies noting however that the government will need to borrow money long-term to fund urban and transport infrastructure, for example through 30-year bonds financed at “exceptionally low rates”. In addition Mr Martin notes that he will encourage the states to make greater use of value capture so that federal funds can be spread further.

“Turnbull’s major projects minister, Paul Fletcher, will produce a discussion paper outlining how value-capture will work within weeks. It could open the way for all sorts of projects previously regarded as uneconomic or not yet economic, including a Melbourne-Brisbane freight rail line, a railway to the site of Sydney’s second airport, and (perhaps) a Melbourne-Brisbane high-speed passenger line,” Mr Martin said.

Peter Hartcher has also supported the Prime Minister’s strategy, noting Professor Ian Harper’s comments that “the economic benefits of getting cities right is ‘many multiples’ greater than those of tax reform” and that Mr Turnbull intends to make his cities policy “a trademark of his leadership” .

Hartcher states that “Turnbull has dumped Tony Abbott’s roads fetishism” and is prepared to commit to urban rail links – and, as noted by Mr Martin, the possibility of an interstate high-speed rail line. He noted that a very fast train in Australia “has been studied since the 1980s but never made any progress towards reality”, despite the thousands of kilometres built overseas.

This was in part due to attempts to finance previous proposals entirely through ticket sales. Instead Hartcher suggests value capture could be used, claiming that “the huge surge in land values” resulting from the project could also help pay for it.

“Here is the key to the new agenda – the financing. For the new projects – the Badgery’s Creek airport rail link, the high speed Sydney-Melbourne train, for a range of other projects – the government is working on this and other mechanisms for raising the revenue without simply handing over federal tax monies,” Mr Hartcher said.

Jacob Saulwick however sounded a note of caution, specifically in relation to the proposed airport rail line, noting the promises for new rail links in Western Sydney and elsewhere made by Mr Turnbull’s predecessors which never materialised.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment on Friday to look at what it would take to build a fast rail link to Badgerys Creek within a decade could be an exciting and city-shaping development,” Mr Saulwick said.

“Or it could represent the most tired story of all: politician, seeking support in the polls, has a flight of steel-wheel fantasy that in a few years will be an embarrassment to all concerned.”

Another “risk” identified by Mr Saulwick is that the project could be built but result in a “express train to Badgerys Creek, but at the expense of the other transport needs of the city.”

“A more pressing need would be to do something about the lack of rail capacity on Sydney’s Western Line, between Parramatta and the CBD, which the state government’s $20 billion metro program does surprisingly little to address,” Mr Saulwick said.

Kirsty Needham raised concerns regarding the Prime Minister’s proposals to use value capture to finance transport infrastructure. She noted that in relation to the planned Sydney Metro, Transport NSW is already “investigating how high-rise towers could be built, Hong Kong style, above six of the Metro’s city stations” and that companies like MTR and China Rail are “spruiking” this model in relation to other projects.

“So if the debate about whether Sydney needs more rail to combat worsening traffic congestion is now settled, governments should move on to an honest conversation with voters about the next big questions. How much privatised rail does NSW want? At what cost to the quarter-acre block?” Ms Needham said.

“How will governments ensure that rail operators/property developers deliver affordable housing designed to make Sydney more liveable for its residents, not simply to maximise railway profits?”

See later item on High Speed Rail proposals and issues.

Strategic Planning and Policy

Sydney’s congestion worsens as federal minister mulls road pricing inquiry

A Fairfax Media analysis comparing Roads and Maritime Services weekday peak hour data from 2013 and 2015 claims that speeds on some major  Sydney roads have slumped by up to 25km/h in this period.

The analysis also claims that Sydney drivers are stuck in rush hour traffic for longer, with the worst afternoon peak – on the M4 Motorway between Concord and Clyde – now spanning six hours, from 2pm to 8pm. The study revealed that worst decline was on the M2 Hills Motorway from North Ryde to Carlingford, where the average afternoon peak hour speed decreased by 25km/h to 46km/h. While the M2 upgrade completed in 2013 temporarily lifted average speeds, they have declined again since.

Michelle Zeibots, research director in Transport at UTS’ Institute for Sustainable Futures, is quoted as saying that upgrades tended to deliver only short-term improvements to traffic.

“As people are attracted to the network, speeds deteriorate before flattening out, returning to what they were before the new capacity was added,” Dr Zeibots said.

“We see these patterns after the opening of every new motorway in Sydney.”

In an ABC radio interview the federal Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government Paul Fletcher indicated that the government was considering a recommendation from Infrastructure Australia (IA) to research options to introduce road pricing partly in response to increasing congestion.

In relation to the IA recommendation Mr Fletcher sated: “… is it worth looking at different approaches, would there be benefits in terms of reduced congestion, is it fairer, does it give us better roads, so those are questions that the Government will now consider whether we want to have this more detailed study that Infrastructure Australia’s recommended and that’s something we’re giving some thought to now.”

Scott Charlton, the CEO of toll road operator Transurban backed the road pricing inquiry proposal.

“Even factoring in committed projects such as WestConnex and NorthConnex, and all the currently committed rail projects, by 2035 Sydney motorists could face congestion levels on par with Mexico City and spend 110 hours a year in traffic,” he told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia luncheon.

NSW Transport Secretary Tim Reardon sounded a word of caution however, emphasising that “we have a long way to go in expanding our public transport system before we can contemplate such measures”.

NSW Government extends final fare report deadline

The NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance has written to Peter Boxall, Chair of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) to inform the organisation that the government is extending the due date for IPART’s final report on proposed NSW fare increases by six weeks to 12 May 2016.

This has been done, the letter said, “to allow the NSW Government to thoroughly consider the Tribunal’s 21 December 2016 draft report and give the Tribunal sufficient time to finalise its review after receiving the government’s announced policy position”.

According to media reports, Labor’s shadow minister for transport, Jodi McKay, has claimed that the government is “buying time” to work on a “sales pitch to try to soften the blow of steep fare rises”.IPART’s draft report proposed major changes to fares, including an increase in threshold for free travel from eight to ten journeys a week and a tightening of eligibility for the Gold Opal card.

Queensland infrastructure plan released – and criticised

The Queensland Government has released the state’s first Infrastructure Plan in more than three years, also announcing the establishment of a new State Infrastructure Fund with an injection of $500 million, “to build the infrastructure needed to grow the economy and support more than 1,000 jobs now for Queenslanders.”

The Premier said $300 million of the State Infrastructure Fund would be invested in seven critical road and rail upgrades, “to help boost capacity and reliability”.

“I made a commitment as Opposition leader to ensure that Queensland once again had a state-wide infrastructure plan, and today we deliver it,” Ms Palaszczuk said

“Our initial injection of funds will also target projects that have a clear community need and will help address important regional and economic priorities, including jobs for Queenslanders,” she said, also indicating that her government will call on the Prime Minister to match this commitment.

While the plan was generally welcomed, some regional leaders criticised it as being inadequate. For example, Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson said it was “a case of far too little and wrong priorities” which “overlooked the needs of the Sunshine Coast”.

“The Queensland Government’s own statisticians have identified the Sunshine Coast as one of the fastest growing regions in Queensland, increasing to nearly half a million people in the next 20 years,” Mayor Jamison said.

“Yet the State Government is not shouldering its responsibilities when it comes to critical state infrastructure like road, rail and public transport.”

“State of Victoria” report identifies the state’s development scenarios…

A report as “advice” for Infrastructure Victoria prepared by consulting firm SGS Economics and Planning provides a spatial perspective on the “current and future State of Victoria”.

The report describes a number of environmental, social and economic trends affecting Victoria and the resulting infrastructure implications. These trends include an ageing population, the increasingly service-oriented and global nature of the economy and, as more of the associated employment is agglomerated in the central city, an increasing mismatch between the locations of jobs and housing with impacts on housing affordability and equality.

The report outlines a “matrix of nine possible population and employment outcomes have been generated for Melbourne and Regional Victoria”. These are various combinations of population and growth scenarios and development patterns, including “consolidated growth, business as usual and increased expansion”. It examines these outcomes on a spatial basis, for example the impact on regional cities, sub-regions of Melbourne and on the Central Sub-region.

“The Central Business District (CBD) is at the heart of the Central Subregion and how that evolves will determine the growth story of the Subregion, Melbourne, and Victoria as a whole. The boundary of Melbourne’s CBD is not a fixed line: It has expanded over time in response to structural economic change, infrastructure investments, planning policies and decisions, and evolving property market dynamics,” the report says.

It also notes that “Melbourne is in a unique position… with the benefit of having vast tracts of developable land… adjacent to the CBD which have the potential to be developed”. It cautions however that are a number of threats including climate change and extreme fire events.

Several conclusions are drawn from the study. The report finds for example that the rate and profile of population and economic growth will vary across the state, with Melbourne growing very quickly.  The growth in “higher skilled, more knowledge intensive jobs” which have “driven the renaissance of Melbourne’s central city” will continue, while regional centres will grow more slowly but age faster than the city.

Terry Rawnsley, the report’s author, told Fairfax media that Victoria needed to “think deeply” about why it built infrastructure in the first place.

“People get caught up in travel time savings or things like that, but building infrastructure is about providing people with access to services and jobs, and the ability to live happy lives,”

… while Vic government announces regional growth summit

The Victorian Government has announced that there will be a Regional Futures Summit to be held in Bendigo in July to help “drive population growth in regional and rural Victoria.”

The Summit will bring together demographers, academics, community leaders, government, industry, education and health providers “to shape new regional population strategies.” The summit will also help shape priorities for the government’s $500 million Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund (RJIF) as well as the work plans for the nine new Regional Partnerships.

“The Andrews Labor Government is getting on with growing and investing in rural and regional Victoria. We are working with communities, industry and local government to ensure regional Victoria is a great place to work, live and invest,” said Minster for Regional Development Jaala Pulford.

Development, Transport and Infrastructure Projects/Services

Light Rail/Tram/BRT

Newcastle tram plans reviewed

The Newcastle Herald claims that Infrastructure NSW is reviewing the state government’s light rail plans for Newcastle as part of its “assurance role”.

“One of the key roles of Infrastructure NSW is to independently review major projects throughout their planning and delivery, to help keep projects within scope, time and budget,” an unidentified spokeswoman for Infrastructure NSW is quoted as saying.

“We conduct regular reviews on all major projects, and our input to Newcastle Light Rail is no different to what we would provide for any other significant infrastructure project.”

It is unclear whether the review will look at the planning aspects of the project and no information has been provided on the Infrastructure NSW website relating to the review. According to the Herald however the spokeswoman did state that “Infrastructure NSW’s role is to advise the Government of any risks throughout planning and delivery so they can be promptly addressed.”

The article also claims that concerns have been raised by some councillors that the Connecting Newcastle document proposing light rail extensions (see TSW11) had been released by the Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes before it had been considered by Council. The Lord Mayor said however that the document would go before Council.

Gold Coast light rail stage 2 contractor appointed

CPB Contractors (formerly Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd) have been announced as the preferred contractor to design and build the 7.3 km extension to the Gold Coast light rail in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

In announcing the appointment the Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Minister for Transport Stirling Hinchliffe said the project will cost $420 million, with the Queensland Government investing $270 million.

“Stage Two will complete the missing link between Brisbane and the Gold Coast and will provide an immediate boost to the construction industry supporting up to 1,000 new construction jobs,” Ms Trad said.

“The business case confirmed Stage Two will contribute an estimated $160 million to the Gross State Product and now we’ve selected the preferred contractor it is full steam ahead to deliver this project in time for the Commonwealth Games.

“Light rail has already transformed the Gold Coast, but Stage Two will provide a seamless journey for these passengers to move around the Coast and connect to Brisbane.”

The stage 2 extension will connect the existing light rail line at Gold Coast University Hospital station with the heavy rail network at Helensvale station.

As well as the $270 million contribution from the Queensland Government, $95 million will be provided by the Australian Government and $55 million by the City of Gold Coast Council.

Work begins on Adelaide O-bahn tunnel

Preparation work has begun for the construction of the extension of Adelaide’s O-Bahn guided busway.

This involves early construction works for the installation of central bus lanes along Hackney Road and construction of the O-Bahn tunnel walls on Dequetteville Terrace just south of the Botanic Road / Hackney Road intersection.

The O-Bahn City Access Project is aimed at improving bus travel times and reducing congestion on Hackney Road. It will extend the O-Bahn system from the end of the busway at Gilberton into the cross-city bus lanes on Grenfell Street. The Project includes creation of new bus lanes along Hackney Road and a dedicated bus tunnel from next to the National Wine Centre to near Grenfell Street.

Metro

Sydney Metro Bankstown to Liverpool “extension study” announced, but no commitment on route or mode

NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has announced an investigation into “improving transport connections” between Bankstown and Liverpool, “including a possible extension of the new Sydney Metro”.

While the Minister states that “as Sydney Metro construction rapidly progresses, were taking the opportunity to plan for future transport possibilities down the track,” the investigation process appears to leave open the possibility that options and modes other than extending the metro to Liverpool will be considered.

“The first stage of Metro in the north west will open in 2019, the city and south west is due to open in 2024, and it’s important now to see what options lay beyond that,” Mr Constance said

“Now we’re investigating how we can deliver better transport outcomes for Sydney’s growing south west, including a potential extension of Sydney Metro, and this is a chance for people to have their say.”

The Extension Study website and the Sydney Metro Newsletter provide some more detail including a map of the proposed study areas. While neither the website nor the letter make any specific commitments regarding mode feedback is being sought on possible station and train stabling locations, how to best connect town centres and key community facilities, as well as other important local issues that need to be considered.

Bankstown to Liverpool metro extension study area (source: Sydney Metro website)

Bankstown to Liverpool metro extension study area (source: Sydney Metro website)

Urban Heavy Rail

More high capacity trains for Melbourne…

The Victorian government has nearly doubled its current order for new high-capacity trains from 37 to 65 seven-car sets, making it the “single biggest order of trains in Victoria’s history”, according to an announcement by Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Minister Jacinta Allan.

The new trains will begin arriving in 2018 and will be used on the Cranbourne Pakenham line. The Dandenong corridor is Melbourne’s busiest and according to the media release the new longer trains, combined with power and signalling upgrades, level crossing removals and the rebuilding of five stations will boost its capacity by more than 40%, which equates to 11,000 extra passengers in the peak. The trains will also run on the new Melbourne Metro Rail cross-city line, providing capacity for 39,000 extra passengers in the peak.

“We’re making the biggest order of new trains in Victoria’s history to create local jobs, reduce congestion on Melbourne’s busiest line and make the most of Melbourne Metro Rail from day one,” Premier Andrews said.

“These 455 new carriages will be built in Victoria, for Victoria – boosting the capacity of the network and creating hundreds of long-term Victorian jobs.”

… while capacity challenge looms on SE Queensland’s rail horizon

Queensland’s Minister for Transport Stirling Hinchliffe has warned that South East Queensland’s busiest railway lines “will reach capacity in the next decade” without investment in network improvements.

The prediction was made in the South East Queensland’s Rail Horizon, the Government’s recently-released long-term rail network strategy. The Minister said the report confirmed that the busiest railway lines “will be overwhelmed by passenger growth” unless the “network capacity and congestion challenges” were addressed before 2026.

“There will be standing-room only on our commuter trains if we don’t plan for the massive population growth down the track or invest in major projects like Cross River Rail,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

“South East Queensland’s Rail Horizon released today outlines the projects and solutions to address our region’s rail network capacity and congestion challenges and ensure our infrastructure keeps place with growth.

“By 2036, the South East Queensland population is forecast to reach almost 4.9 million people and we need a better rail system to keep pace with growth and provide a better experience for passengers.”

Brisbane inner city rail constraints (source: Queensland Government website)

Brisbane inner city rail constraints (source: Queensland Government website)

The report identifies three broad strategies to respond to the capacity crisis:

  • Optimising the network, which includes actions such as improved timetabling, better management of dwell times at stations, resignalling and track upgrades;
  • Unlocking network capacity, which includes the introduction of new high-capacity trains and the development of the Cross River Rail project; and
  • Expanding network capacity, which includes new rail links such as Moreton Bay Rail Link, Salisbury to Flagstone extension, Ipswich and Springfield line extensions, Gold Coast extension, a new line to Caloundra and the North West Transport Corridor.
SEQ Rail Horizon strategies (source: Queensland Government website)

SEQ Rail Horizon strategies (source: Queensland Government website)

The document notes that because of the critical role of Cross River Rail in “easing congestion and improving accessibility into the Brisbane CBD”, the project is the state’s highest priority infrastructure project but it will require “funding contributions and cooperation” from all levels of government. It states:

“The new Cross River Rail project will take about seven years to procure, construct and become operational from the time an investment decision is made. This means a decision is required as a matter of urgency.”

HSR, Freight, other Rail

HSR unsolicited offer to be made to PM as experts spar over its benefits

Partly because of the interest of the Prime Minister in urban infrastructure and his “agnostic” approach to transport modes (see Top of the Week item) the level of interest in an eastern seaboard high speed rail (HSR) link continues to increase.

As reported in TSW11 a number of presentations from interested parties in support of HSR were made to the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities inquiry into the role of transport connectivity in stimulating development and economic activity, while Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Cities and Tourism Anthony Albanese reintroduced a private members bill to establish a High Speed Rail Auhority.

East coast HSR 2012 study proposal (source: Federal Government and Fairfax)

East coast HSR 2012 study proposal (source: Federal Government and Fairfax)

Now Fairfax media has reported that a Melbourne-based company, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia, is making an “unsolicited offer” to the Prime Minister to build a HSR link between Sydney and Melbourne. It also claims that the federal MP chairing the inquiry, John Alexander, has “enthusiastically embraced” the proposal and believes that the company is genuine in its plan. It also claims that the firm intends to finance the project using value capture techniques along the corridor.

The benefits of HSR were argued in an article by Beyond Zero Emissions CEO Dr Stephen Bygrave. He describes HSR as “a zero-emissions form of transport that would radically reduce our emissions, connect our regional and urban areas, create jobs and enhance investment,” dismissing the two main arguments against it – the high cost and a perceived lack of demand.

On the former issue he notes that the estimated cost has decreased from $114 billion as estimated by the Labor-initiated AECOM study in 2012, to a more recent figure of $68 billion.

“The costs get lower with each study, largely because of better economic analysis and modelling, and detailed studies of the rail path, particularly the routes coming into our major capital cities,” Dr Bygrave said.

On the issue of the lack of demand he claims that “Sydney to Melbourne is the world’s fifth busiest air route and Sydney to Brisbane the world’s 13th busiest”, while 60% of Australians “live within 50km of the route”. In addition Dr Bygrave believes HSR is a commercially viable proposition “that is not dissimilar to building a toll road in terms of the financial model that can be deployed”.

In a riposte to Dr Bygrave’s article, Alan Davies, writer of the Urbanist blog at Crikey describes the east coast HSR proposal as “the boondoggle that just won’t go away” and dismisses Bygrave’s decreasing cost estimates because they were developed by lobby groups “so it’s no surprise they insist it could be built for a lot less”.

Mr Davies also dismisses the claims that HSR would “radically reduce emissions” pointing to the findings of the AECOM study that the total value of negative externalities including emissions avoided by the HSR project would amount to “just $2 billion over the 50 year life of the project.”

“HSR would be such a ridiculously expensive way to reduce emissions compared to other options, it beggars belief that any progressive-minded organisation seriously concerned about climate change could propose it. It’s likely it would crowd out public funding of more cost-effective investments like renewable energy generation”, he said.

Transport: other

Real time bus data expanded in NSW

NSW Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance has announced an expansion in the availability of real-time bus data, “delivering customers up to the minute service information” to mobile devices.

Real time information on bus services can accessed on any of the 11 real-time transport apps that span the network from “Nelson Bay in the north, Shellharbour in the south and west to Penrith”. Work is underway to expand real time data availability across the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley.

 

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