CBDs are for us all, not just suits
Seventy years ago, you could do Sydney to Newcastle by steam train in two hours eighteen minutes. Today’s fastest trip is two hours and thirty-six minutes – a full hour, says rail expert Colin Schroeder, longer than necessary.
Yet now, far from installing this faster train, Newcastle’s city fathers are following Sydney’s stupidity, with less excuse and greater expense.
Egged on by local developers, the Baird government proposes to rip up the last, crucial 2.5 kilometres of Newcastle’s rail track, the bit that delivers people right to heart of this lovely little town. Why? Not to improve transport, or the city – but to free the city’s last non-undermined waterfront land for development. Work starts on Boxing Day.
This is nothing short of madness. Elsewhere, cities compete for sustainability, greenhouse reduction, freedom from the car. They measure their self-worth on creating clean, fast, dignified transit. Not Newcastle.
Newcastle has excellent bones. Its pretty, gridded sandstone core drapes over a headland set between river and ocean. Sure, the surrounding sprawl is ugly, but rail lets you ignore all that, popping up like a meerkat right in its heart. Newcastle is as close to a European-style town as you’ll find in this country.
Developer-governments want to change all that. Mayor Jeff McCloy megaphoned the rail idea back in 2011, when (according to ICAC counsel Geoffrey Watson, SC) he was still just some multimillionaire developer – and prohibited political donor – summoning local parliamentary candidates like Tim Owen into his soft-top Bentley for wads of hundred-dollar bills.
ICAC’s ongoing Operation Spicer has heard evidence suggesting all sorts of sinister links between developers such as McCloy and Nathan Tinkler, politicians including Tim Owens and Joe Tripodi, and the friendly-fire campaign – ''stop Jodi’s trucks'' – to winkle Labor MP Jodi McKay from office. Less a can of worms, all this, than a pit of ruthless trouser snakes.
None of it furthers the public interest. Indeed, if we, the public, stand by, it will destroy a system that could benefit Newcastle’s city economy a thousand times more than all the third-rate high-rises those guys can erect between them.
We should demand a moratorium, halting all inner-city rezoning, development approvals and rail-destruction until ICAC sheds its light. We should demand that Sydney’s voting rules apply equally to everyone.