Opinion – Don’t give up on Parramatta’s light rail needs

During the NSW State Election, Premier Berejiklian told the voters of NSW that “they can have it all” when it came to the Government’s long list of election promises. Many of these promises to rebuild Sydney’s public transport infrastructure are now under construction. Some are in the final stages of detailed engineering and planning work. And one, the second leg of Parramatta Light Rail is according to reports at risk of being scrapped all together.

The Government has split the project into two stages. Stage 1 which will start construction next year will deliver a light rail route along the Carlingford rail corridor to Parramatta and Westmead and will open in 2023. Stage 2 that would expand the route to Olympic Park along the north foreshore of the Parramatta River taking in the suburbs of Rydalmere, Ermington, Melrose Park and Wentworth Point is now looking shaky according to recent reports.

According to the forecast by SGS Planning, the region between Parramatta and the Olympic Peninsula, known as G-POP, is anticipated to more than double in population from 107,000 people in 2016 to 278,000 in 2036- that will be the same size of Eastern Sydney today. Melrose Park alone will see an additional 5,000 apartments in the next four years.

But where the Sydney CBD will soon become the beneficiary of a shiny new light rail down George Street and out to the Eastern Suburbs, it’s looking more like that the residents between Parramatta and Olympic Park will have to make do with a cost-cutting bus service instead of mass transit light rail. While Parramatta has embraced higher densities along the light rail corridor, Eastern Sydney has opposed new development.

The Greater Sydney Commission correctly pushed for the light rail route to be on the north side of the Parramatta River to support the growth of these suburbs – all for naught it would seem if the Government backs away from actually building the transport infrastructure.

The Government has invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the narrative that it is building the infrastructure we need to support the growth of our city – and they have been. But to now abandon Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 would strike at the very heart of the narrative that they have worked so hard on – it only takes one scrapped project for the public to lose faith in the promises of a government.

I remember the promised Parramatta to Epping rail link as an example of failed infrastructure delivery – it was shelved and re-announced so many times that no future government will likely touch it even though it makes strong economic sense. We cannot afford for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 to fall into this trap.

We hear that Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 has a very attractive business case – generating more benefits than it would cost to build. The Government should release this information so the public can make an informed decision on this project – millions of taxpayers’ dollars are spent on detailed reports and studies but the public rarely has access to this information.

The suburbs of Ermington and Rydalmere are peppered with public housing that are long passed their use by dates and need to be renewed to reflect the changing needs of public housing tenants. Building light rail through these areas will connect some of our communities most vulnerable with key support services and job opportunities in Parramatta and the Sydney CBD via Metro West.

Melrose Park and Wentworth Point will be like slices of Manhattan that have been sailed down the Parramatta River but are at risk of being stranded without mass public transport to connect these higher density communities to their jobs and city amenities.

Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 could be open by 2025. Open and ready to support Sydney Metro West when it is expected to open in 2028. Stage 2 enhances the business case for Metro West and it will provide a reliable service to get thousands of people to the new metro station in Olympic Park every day.

The Western Sydney Business Chamber alongside Sydney’s peak industry groups and the City of Parramatta and more than 70 of Western Sydney’s leading business and community organisations wrote to our political leaders in May endorsing Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2. Western Sydney has signed off on this project. We need the Government to now do the same.

We have an opportunity to show that we can develop a great liveable model for higher density neighbourhoods. Great architecture, great urban design and great amenity – but only if it is connected by great public transport.

An edited version of this opinion piece appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

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