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
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.”
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)
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 (source: Sydney Light Rail website)
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)
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.”
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.”
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%.