71 Was Never The Answer

The hysteria over “Copy 71” of a Transport for NSW cabinet minute which recommended Newcastle’s light rail be routed down the heavy rail corridor has plunged local politics into a state of high farce once more.

Who owned 71? Who gave 71 to who? When did 71 get passed on? Where was 71 found? Who’s on first . . . ?

All these questions and more might be salacious for political junkies – and the matter is now in the hands of ICAC anyway.

But when we return to the actual substance of 71, it is completely unremarkable.

Nobody in business circles was surprised to learn that Transport for NSW had recommended that Newcastle’s light rail system be routed down the heavy rail corridor.

One – this option was cited in the exhibited, public documents when potential routes were being canvassed by government.

And two - the transport planners and engineers naturally favour the path of least resistance and lowest cost.

Their only criteria were to replace heavy rail with light rail at the lowest cost and with the easiest construction program.

Factors such as maximising urban renewal opportunities and making the best use of public land freed up by truncation did not enter into their thinking.

Consequently, Transport for NSW were a lone voice in recommending the heavy rail corridor option.

Thankfully, the other voices being listened to by Government included the 950 stakeholders that participated in Design Newcastle and the 686 submissions made.

The most comprehensive of those submissions came from the Newcastle Renewal Taskforce. It was the only submission ground-truthed by independent research and tested at the CBD Leaders Summit on Light Rail.

Unlike the transport boffins who only considered cost and access, the Taskforce developed a matrix to evaluate each potential route against key criteria that make a city more liveable;

  • Street Permeability
  • Front Door Delivery
  • Future Network Capacity
  • Activation of Key Precincts
  • Sightlines from Termination Point.

 

The Hunter Street route was by far and away the most superior option because it will;

  • Provide new and enhanced connections
  • Activate the CBD’s three distinct precincts.
  • Support an integrated pedestrian and cyclist network
  • Accelerate adaptive reuse of heritage buildings

The Hunter Street option compliments the real drivers of urban renewal and gives primary consideration to the places where people want to live, learn, work and play in the future.

It is not simply the cheapest and easiest alternative.

It is the gold-plated solution for Newcastle’s future transport system – one that will make for a more liveable, competitive and sustainable city sooner.

ANDREW FLETCHER

NSW Regional Director

Property Council of Australia