Submission to Lower Hunter Regional Strategy

Submission prepared for Save Our Rail NSW Inc.
by Joan Dawson
Email: info@saveourrail.com.au


Introduction

Save Our Rail is a community organisation reflecting community concerns regarding all public transport issues, but with a particular focus on rail, because of the threat to close the Newcastle rail service.

We welcome any move by the NSW Government to undertake forward planning, as indicated by the launch of the Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, and that stated aims are towards sustainability and responsible development.

We welcome the invitation for community participation, and accept that invitation, with the hope that community concerns will be reflected in the final document.

The Future

Predictions and certainties which will impact on planning include:

Predictions:

  • Population increase of between 95,000 and 125,000 people.
  • Global warming, climate change, rising water levels.
  • Newcastle will remain as regional centre for business, professional cultural and leisure needs.
  • Shipping, coal export, remain as principal industry.
  • Tourism will assume more importance to the region.
  • The cities of Newcastle, Maitland and Lake Macquarie, as the major Lower Hunter cities, will need continued public transport connections, for shared cultural, sporting and educational facilities and for the exchange of workers.

Certainties:

  • There will be population increase.
  • The population will have a greater percentage of elderly people.
  • “Peak Oil” will occur, when oil supplies will diminish.
  • Fuel will become much more expensive, car use will be less affordable.

Implications for Planning Strategies

1. Population Growth

With the prediction of a 95,000 population increase, according to Dr Phillip O’Neill[1], or 125,000, NSW Government projection[2], planning will need to be undertaken to ensure sustainability in terms of where the additional people will be accommodated, the type of accommodation and most crucially the proximity to public transport. Transport provision will need to have the capacity for the anticipated growth and to take into account community needs for social justice and equity, as opposed to negative perceptions created for short term profit motive.

The known factor of an increased percentage of the population being elderly, (the “baby boomers” now turning 60) requires transport provision for those unable to drive due to old age. Frail, elderly passengers cannot tolerate the movement of buses, especially those with spinal or lung disability, thus creating a greater need for rail transport.

Attention to disability access and needs will require planning, with particular attention to the needs of the blind. James Bennett, who is totally blind, stated that Vision Australia predicts the number becoming blind due to macular degeneration “will double within the next five to eight years.”[3]

Blind people are unable to use bus transport because they cannot determine the nature of a vehicle pulling up, nor the distance from the kerb. They are able to travel by train, as there is a fixed distance between platform and carriage, and announcements warn them when to alight.

2. Global Warming

There are strong indications that global warming, resulting from “Greenhouse Gas” build-up, has already commenced.

The NSW Government, to its credit, supports the Kyoto Protocol, therefore to honour this commitment, needs to undertake measures to ensure ecological sustainability of all future development.

Promotion of public transport should be vigorously pursued, to avoid traffic gridlock, to preserve local air quality as well as mitigating against the greenhouse gas climate change scenario. Measures are needed for the reduction of Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT)[4], as in Actions for Air, a NSW Government initiative.

While we acknowledge the use of phrases such as “sustainability criteria” and “maximise the use of existing and any future public transport” in the draft document, there is little to indicate actual planning to ensure the provision of infrastructure.[5]

To attain the stated aims it will be necessary to provide an integrated transport plan, linking all transport modes. Rail is accepted worldwide as the most ecologically sustainable transport mode, according to Prof Peter Newman[6], therefore it is imperative to retain all existing rail infrastructure, and restore to service previously closed lines, including the Toronto and Cessnock lines. Infrastructure previously provided for coal transport, now unused, such as the line to Belmont, could be brought back into service for passenger use.

It should be mandated that all new developments be within one kilometre of rail[7], and the Government should adopt the goal of 20% of all trips using public transport by the Year 2020, as in the Save Our Rail Transport Plan.[8]

This would bring all Lower Hunter Transport, rail, bus (including private buses) and ferry, under one authority and provide free transport within the region, which should reduce VKT.

The provision of infrastructure should apply to all development, not just those outside the “Designated Areas”[9], through agreements which involve “infrastructure development contributions,” the developer having a responsibility in this respect, before being able to proceed.

Some New Release Areas identified are disappointingly distant from any form of public transport. For example, Medowie, Tanilba Bay and Anna Bay are already deficient in transport provision for their current needs, with access only by the narrow, inadequate Nelson Bay Road, and North Raymond Terrace has no transport infrastructure, with access to Newcastle only via the New England Highway (Maitland Road), an identified traffic accident “hot spot.”

The proposed development circles near Cessnock are equally deficient in transport provision, the rail to Cessnock was closed more than 30 years ago, and indications are that bus provision is inadequate, not well patronised and runs thinly to employment spots, such as the Vineyards.

Planning needs to be specific. In the Glendale/Cardiff area, for example the Cardiff Industrial Estate, a huge employment area, is cut off, creating “peninsular” effects, where buses have to go in then right back out again. It could be connected to Glendale with the building of a bridge at Pennant Street, and be linked to a proposed new Glendale Interchange. Save Our Rail supports an interchange providing the line continues into Newcastle. Such an interchange needs to be planned so that it does not prevent a future re-alignment of the main rail line. This line has unnecessary curving bends, which should be straightened to create greater efficiency and save journey time.

3. Newcastle as Regional Centre

The Draft Regional Strategy aims to “promote Newcastle as the key regional city”.[10]

If this is to be achieved it will be essential to retain rail as the central transport mode. The Kellog Brown Root[11] report commissioned by the NSW Government states:

“Any removal of the heavy rail towards Woodville Junction would mean that preservation of the CBD’s role as the regional centre would be compromised. With enforced interchange from suburban rail services the resultant decrease in accessibility… from suburban areas into The CBD would mean the CBD is no longer as attractive and customers would increasingly look for alternate destinations… This would inevitably erode the role of the CBD as the primary regional centre.”

The Government has been misinformed, when advised to cut off Newcastle from rail transport, as stated in the Currie Report[12], the concluding statement of which is:

“Newcastle is clearly gifted in the physical and natural resources it possesses. It is unfortunate that its sustainable transport system is to be discarded so easily based what can be factually identified, as biased, flawed and misrepresented advice.”

Business proprietors have also been misled into thinking of the rail line as a liability. Many are now realising they need the rail system to bring customers and workers.

When Save Our Rail canvassed business proprietors in the CBD for support for Railfest (our celebration of 150 years of NSW rail), 91% of those approached were supportive of keeping the line, and contributed thousands of dollars in cash donations and “in kind” prizes to sponsor the event.

When the commercial television station, NBN Channel 3, conducted a phone survey on the issue, despite an anti-rail bias expressed by the presenter, the announced result was 75% in favour of retention of the rail into Newcastle.

Many travel from outer areas of the region to visit medical specialists, for legal services, work related journeys, as well as cultural and leisure pursuits and to attend educational facilities. Inland centres especially value the rail connection to access the beach.

The reports by the Lower Hunter Transport Working Group created the perception of land value loss through the presence of the heavy rail service into Newcastle. Advice to the Honeysuckle Corporation by the Dupont Fagan[13] valuation firm was that, though needing some improvement, the rail line into Newcastle adds value to property, and quoted the following from the Real Estate Board of Toronto (Canada) when that city decided to put in a heavy rail system:

“If an urban transit system never earned an operating profit it would still pay for itself a thousand times over through its beneficial impact on real estate values and increased assessments.”

The NSW Government could benefit from “Land Value Capture” as has occurred in Subiaco, a Perth suburb, where the Western Australian Government invested $70 million in lowering the line and improving the amenity. Within two years the investment doubled its value.

4. Shipping and Coal Export

Shipping and in particular, the export of coal is an important industry in Newcastle. ECCHO (Environment & Community Coalition of Hunter Organisations), of which Save Our Rail is a member, considers that fossil fuel is so damaging to the environment that the Hunter should cease these operations. This is a worthy goal, which the NSW Government should embrace if it is serious about the environment.

Reality dictates that this will not occur in the immediate future, therefore planning must include freight infrastructure, to prevent conflict between the demands of passenger and freight rail lines. The separation of the lines being carried out at Sandgate will not address the total picture.

5. Tourism

Tourism has attained importance in the Lower Hunter Region since the closure of the BHP Steelworks.

The recognised International Gateway to Australia is Sydney, which has a direct rail connection to the heart of Newcastle, which has great tourism potential, but requires promotion as a destination. Newcastle and Lake Macquarie have magnificent natural assets, with beaches, the harbour and the lake, while Maitland has a rich built environment of heritage significance.

Backpackers avail themselves of the rail connection in increasing numbers, and Newcastle Airport is experiencing an increased patronage, despite an almost total lack of public transport to it. Almost all passengers transfer to the airport by private car via the narrow Nelson Bay Road, or by crossing to the stressed Maitland Road (New England Highway). Sensible planning could involve a rail connection from the airport at Williamtown to Stockton Ferry, which is five minutes across Newcastle Harbour, into the city centre.

6. Linked Cities and Communities

Newcastle and Maitland have a long history of co-operation, being connected by rail for almost 150 years, and have, during that time enjoyed a history of shared experiences and facilities.

Regional facilities include the University of Newcastle, The Newcastle Regional Museum and the Regional Art Galleries of Newcastle and Maitland as well as many educational and sporting links.

Traditionally the Maitland district has been a supplier of dairy and farm produce, while Newcastle has been the industrial and employment hub.

Lake Macquarie was part of the City of Newcastle until more recent years, when it was created into a separate administrative area.

The nature of the place has not changed and it operates culturally as one large city with shared work and play situations. “Our Town” includes both city administrative areas.

Planning strategies need to ensure the continued connection of these three closely linked cities and their smaller satellite towns.

The arbitrary creation of the Lower Hunter Region cuts across natural and traditional boundaries such as rivers and mountain ranges.

This can mean some communities are not included in the planning region in which the larger city or town centre, to which traditionally and logically they are attached. For example, Dungog is not included in the Lower Hunter planning region, but is linked naturally with Raymond Terrace and Maitland through the river system, roads and rail. The Williams River runs from Dungog to Raymond Terrace, where it joins the Hunter River. It seems that this community should be included in the planning region where it most logically belongs, i.e. the Lower Hunter.

7. “Peak Oil” and Fuel Costs

“Peak Oil” occurs when oil supplies for a country, or for the world, reach maximum production, following which supplies rapidly decline. When this occurs it becomes necessary for alternative sources of energy to be found, to maintain current use.

The world is predicted to reach “Peak Oil” within the next five years[14], after which world supplies will begin to diminish and the cost of motor fuel will rise dramatically. This will mean that many who drive cars for daily transport needs, will simply not be able to afford to continue to do so, and public transport will need to be available for many more users. The fuel costs may make bus transport too expensive for daily commuter use. Governments will need to take account of this in planning and revert to more use of cheaper and more sustainable options for mass transport, such as rail.

8. Conclusion

There is a need for much more specific planning.

The Sustainability Criteria for Proposed Development Outside Designated Areas[15], in Appendix 1 are very worthwhile.

We suggest that most of this appendix should be adopted as part of the final document and be applied to all new development proposals. In particular, these provisions should apply:

1. Infrastructure Provision

  • Mechanisms in place to ensure utilities, transport, open space and communication are provided.
  • The provision of infrastructure is costed and economically feasible based on Government methodology for determining infrastructure development contributions.
  • Preparedness to enter into development agreements.

2. Access

Accessible transport options for efficient and sustainable travel between homes, jobs, services and recreation to be existing or provided.

Accessibility of the area by public transport in terms of:

  • Location /Land use – to existing networks and related activity centres
  • Network – the area’s potential to be serviced by economically efficient transport services
  • Catchment – the area’s ability to contain, or form part of the larger urban area which contains adequate transport services. Capacity for land use/transport patterns to make a positive contribution to achievement of travel and vehicle use goals, (e.g. VKT as previously mentioned)
  • No net negative impact on performance of existing regional road, bus, rail or ferry and freight network.

The above provisions, as well as strict biodiversity considerations should apply to all development proposals.

Developers are able to afford to make considerable contribution to the provision of infrastructure and services, and these should be ensured prior to development approval, along with more rigorous environmental controls.

Previously developments have been allowed to occur in an irresponsible manner with no transport provision, no access to schools, and often in inaccessible areas, e.g. retirement villages in unsuitable isolated locations, where elderly people can be trapped with no social amenity or centre for community interaction.

Some developments in the Port Stephens area, for example, have been approved without due thought for the future. Medowie is a huge settlement, with no high school, and inadequate road and transport provision. To the south, on Nelson Bay Road, approval has been given recently to develop on a sensitive dune area, destroying in its path quality coastal rainforest, which is a component in the green corridor from the Watagan Range to Stockton Beach.

This development is totally unacceptable, yet the Lower Hunter Draft Regional Strategy lists areas to the north of it, with similar problems and previous irresponsible approvals, as “New Release Areas” and “Proposed Major Urban Development,” compounding a situation of bad planning and questionable procedures.

If the NSW Government does not use its powers to protect the community and the environment, and to ensure adequate transport provision at the outset, it will continue to be “left in the lurch” picking up the pieces and incurring the infrastructure debts, while developers make huge profits and move on to the next project.

The process of strategic planning is a chance to “stop the rot” and ensure better outcomes for the future.


References

[1] Phillip O’Neill, Lecturer, University of Newcastle, Presentation to Public Forum, May, 2005

[2] Shane Nugent, NSW Government Demographer, DIPNR workshop, April, 2005

[3] James Bennett, Address to Railfest, October, 2005

[4] Kellog Brown Root, Newcastle Transport Options Planning Study, Section 3.4.3. NSW Government, October 2003

[5] Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, NSW Government, p7, November, 2005

[6] Prof Peter Newman, Murdoch University, NSW Commissioner for Sustainability, Address to UDIA (Urban Development Institute of Australia,) Hunter Chapter. July 2004

[7] ECCHO, (Environment &Community Coalition Hunter Organizations) Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, p.1. October 2005

[8] Save Our Rail Lower Hunter Transport Plan, online at saveourrail.org.au, Jan 2006

[9] Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, NSW Government, Appendix 1, p28. Nov. 2005

[10] Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, NSW Government p.7, Nov. 2005

[11] Kellog Brown Root, Newcastle Transport Options Planning Study, Section 3.4.3. NSW Government, October 2003

[12] Prof Graham Currie, Monash University Decision to Close the Newcastle Branch Rail Line – Independent Review of Transport Reports, p. 32, Nov 2005

[13] Dupont Fagan, Valuers, Letter to Angus Dawson, CEO Honeysuckle Corporation, Oct. 2000

[14] Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, Newsletter No. 49, p.2. January 2005

[15] Draft Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, NSW Government, Appendix 1 p. 28, Nov. 2005