UNDERWHELMING: Our hub-and-spoke network model is apparently ready to roll.What if a 40-year plan for infrastructure in Newcastle and the Hunter was announced and no one noticed?
That’s what happened last week.
The document is the Regional NSW Services and Infrastructure Plan.Even the government hid it under the bed. The ministers for transport (Andrew Constance) and roads (Melinda Pavey) issued a vague media release about the plan and said nothing about Newcastle and the Hunter. Nothing was issued at all by the parliamentary secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald.
Because there was nothing to announce?
We used to complain that Macquarie Street would make infrastructure promises, then renege on them. Now, it seems, they don’t even make promises.
The plan is more than a bit bizarre. A 40-year plan should do three things: appraise what is needed, show how existing and future projects will address a region’s needs, and set a timetable for the rollout of projects according to available funding. But the new plan does none of these, at least not for Newcastle and the Hunter.
As is too often the case with modern government, the document appears to have spent more time in a graphics office than on the desk of transport and infrastructure planners.
The state’s regional plan starts with a peculiar argument: that transport provision in NSW will in future concentrate on a “… hub and spoke network model radiating out [sic] from regional cities rather than a network just focused on Sydney.” What could this mean? That residents and businesses in non-metropolitan NSW should give up on getting anywhere fast unless it is to the nearest air-conditioned shopping mall?
Or maybe the hub and spoke idea is a way of telling us to give up on fast 21st century transport services across NSW, especially between Sydney and Newcastle.
Yet – again in bizarre fashion – the plan declares Newcastle to be one of NSW’s three ‘global gateway cities’, alongside Sydney and Canberra.
The fit-out that makes Newcastle a global gateway city is, apparently, its coal export port, the local airport and a cruise terminal. Underwhelming isn’t it?
In respect to connectivity between Newcastle and Sydney, the plan seems to defer high speed rail considerations for at least two decades. So an entire next generation of new rail users should expect no improvements on the world’s slowest rail journey other than new train carriages.
A year ago, writing in the Sydney press, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, “Right now, Sydney is experiencing the biggest infrastructure and jobs boom in history. And the good news is we are only just warming up.”
She is spot on. Infrastructure spending in Sydney involves the rollout of a city-wide metro system, a new international airport for Western Sydney, major roads to the airport site, sizeable additions to the inner city light rail network and new light rail for Parramatta, and massive extensions to the city’s motorways via WestConnex and NorthConnex. More will follow, paid for by sale of portsand utilities, including the electricity networks, assets that once belonged to all of us.
The jobs and income benefits for Sydney are immense. And that city gets a fit-out deserving of a genuine 21st century city.
Meanwhile, just up the M1, the state’s second city gets a new tag: Newcastle, Global Gateway City. I hope they erect a sign.
Phillip O’Neill is professor of economic geography at Western Sydney University.