Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Capital Metro - debate in the Assembly Feb 2013

ACT Light Rail do not think that the ACT Government have been effective with their communications strategy regarding developments in the Capital Metro light rail project. There is a great deal of information in this Hansard record of debate in our Legislative Assembly. Rather than opine on it, we offer it in full for your own analysis. 

The response by Minister Corbell is particularly informative. The questions that Mr Coe posed were answered recently, and will be placed online shortly.  

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2013 Week 2 Hansard (13 February)  Page 540 to 549
Transport—light rail
MR COE (Ginninderra) (6.09): I move:
That this Assembly:
(1) notes the Government's commitment to construct light rail; and
(2) calls on the Government to table by the last sitting day in February:
(a) the expenditure to date, broken down by financial year, on external sources including consultancies, reports and studies;
(b) the internal expenditure to date, broken down by financial year, on internal sources and the number of public service staff working on the project and in what agencies;
(c) the timeline for the decision-making and construction progress;
(d) the expected cost to taxpayers of pre-construction and construction;
(e) the predicted patronage, running costs and staffing once operational;
(f) the population within reasonable walking distance of a light rail stop;
(g) plans for park and ride facilities;
(h) the financial models for funding the project; and
(i) what feedback was received from Infrastructure Australia as a result of the 2008-09 federally funded proposal.

Madam Speaker, I stand here today to ask serious questions about the Labor-Greens commitment to construct light rail in Canberra.

In early November last year, following the agreement signed by the Chief Minister and Shane Rattenbury, the government undertook to review light rail in the ACT. Mr Rattenbury is quoted in the Canberra Times on 3 November last year as saying:
Light rail will come to this city as a result of this agreement. Canberrans will see works commence during the course of this term of the assembly.

We in the opposition will be scrutinising this agreement and, in particular, from my perspective as shadow minister for transport, the commitment to construct light rail.
The thought of light rail in Canberra is not a new proposition. Of course, Walter Burley Griffin designed Canberra with wide boulevards to provide for private vehicle traffic, many with space for the provision of a bus way or tramway at a later point in time. Since those days of the early development of Canberra, light rail has been considered countless times as an alternative transport mode in the city.

Today, the cause has many passionate advocates—such as ACT Light Rail, convened by Damien Haas. It is my belief that people like the idea of light rail, but the realities of the cost of construction, patronage and running costs are still major hurdles that need to be overcome.

In the 2008 election, the Canberra Liberals undertook that if we won the election and won government we would conduct an engineering study to provide more information about the feasibility of construction. After all, it is very difficult to do a cost-benefit study if neither the costs nor the benefits are known.
I believe the government has jumped the gun by giving an absolute guarantee to Canberra to construct light rail before the all the facts are known. The government has not committed to simply doing studies, research or costings. It has committed to delivering light rail in Canberra. This is a bold and courageous commitment and one I think it will struggle to honour.

The Labor Party said in media releases:

If re-elected, ACT Labor has committed to establish Canberra's first large-scale private sector partnership to plan, finance and develop the first stage of a light rail network starting from Gungahlin to the City.

The opposition have already flagged serious concerns about the cost and patronage of light rail, and we want to see evidence. If the opposition are to support the government in this endeavour, like all issues, the case has to be made.

My motion today is about this case. The government should deliver to the opposition—and, through the Assembly, all Canberrans—information about the project. I have asked for the expenditure to date on external and internal sources, the time line for the decision-making and construction process, the expected cost to taxpayers of pre-construction and construction, the predicted patronage, running costs and staffing once operational, the population within reasonable walking distance of light rail stops, the plans for park-and-ride facilities, the financial models for funding the project, and what feedback was received from Infrastructure Australia as a result of the 2008-09 federally funded proposal, which failed. These are all reasonable questions to ask and they should be able to be answered.

In the current budget, the government states:

The City to Gungahlin Transit Corridor Study is currently investigating the feasibility of replacing the existing bus service between Gungahlin and the City with a light rail transit or bus rapid transit corridor along Northbourne Avenue and Flemington Road.
So work has been done and is being done, but we have not got answers. The questions I propose in this motion I think should be able to be answered. If not, I would like a reason why not. Taxpayers deserve the information and I hope this motion will achieve this.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations and Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development) (6.13): I move:
Omit paragraphs (1) and (2), substitute:
"(1) notes that the ACT Government is committed to delivering the Capital Metro project for Canberra;
(2) notes that:
(a) construction of a light rail network will be one of the biggest and most complex capital works projects undertaken in the ACT;
(b) the construction of a light rail network in Canberra will bring major benefits to the people of Canberra and will be a transformative project for our City;
(c) the Capital Metro project will improve transport access and mobility for the community, especially through its integration with the broader transport network;
(d) the Capital Metro project will deliver environmental benefits via emissions reductions through mode shift from private vehicles to public transport; and
(e) the Capital Metro project will be a catalyst for urban renewal along the corridors and in our town centres; and
(3) notes that:
(a) the Government is committed to a high level of transparency and will progressively release information about the Capital Metro project as it is developed;
(b) a substantial body of work has already been undertaken to inform the progress of Capital Metro, including the Concept Design Report and strategic transport modelling and economic and financial appraisal;
(c) the Government is committed to continuing its thorough planning and investigations including such studies as the Light Rail Integration Study, for which tenders have now been called, and the Light Rail Product Identification Study to be commenced in April this year;
(d) the Government has released an indicative timeline through the Concept Design Report and has committed to laying the first light tracks by 2016 through the Parliamentary Agreement;
(e) the people of Canberra will be given many opportunities to be involved in this project as it progresses, through an ongoing program of public consultation; and
(f) the Government will continue to work to achieve a long term vision for Canberra as a sustainable city, with the Capital Metro light rail network as a vital element of that vision.".

I am pleased to speak today on the government's commitment to delivering a light rail system for Canberra. The government has committed to progressing a light rail network for Canberra, with construction to commence in 2016 and preliminary construction, including utility relocation, to occur from 2015.

The government's commitment to the delivery of rapid transit links between the Gungahlin town centre and the city was first announced in the 2012-13 budget. This commitment was reaffirmed during the most recent ACT election and its priority entrenched in the parliamentary agreement for the Eighth Assembly between the ACT Labor Party and the ACT Greens.

Capital metro stage 1 will be a light rail service, with vehicles capable of carrying up to 200 people at regular frequencies along a 12-kilometre route from Hibberson Street in Gungahlin to the city centre. The proposal involves potentially major stations at Gungahlin town centre and Dickson group centre, with high-quality stops 750 metres to 1.5 kilometres apart at various points along Flemington Road and Northbourne Avenue, terminating in the city.

Investment in rapid transit along the Gungahlin to city corridor, through the additional transport capacity and urban amenity benefits it would provide, has the potential to unlock a number of economic development opportunities. The light rail project will increase the transport capacity of existing corridors.

There are few viable options available to increase capacity outside of existing road corridors. During peak periods, existing bus services operating along Northbourne Avenue carry more passengers than all car passengers combined in a traffic lane. An investment in light rail will allow the carrying capacity of the corridor to be significantly increased, providing vital capacity to cater for future growth and, by using an existing corridor, optimising the use of existing infrastructure.

The light rail will promote economic productivity and stimulate economic activity through urban redevelopment. Therefore a number of opportunities are being investigated to increase residential and commercial densities along the corridor on sites which are significantly underdeveloped. These include public housing redevelopments, the Dickson group centre and the potential redevelopment of land currently occupied by EPIC and the racecourse.

As a key landowner, and as the land manager under the leasehold system, a unique opportunity exists for the ACT government to both directly and indirectly encourage urban renewal along the corridor, and indeed at the key anchor points of Gungahlin and the city.

Providing additional transport capacity is a significant enabler of promoting further development of these sites, allowing for the better use of existing land capacity within the corridor. The light rail network will enhance the sustainability of our development patterns.

As part of the project, the government will actively support transit-oriented development. This will include a mix of activities along the corridor, with the aim of encouraging a greater level of localised trips, which are more likely to be undertaken through walking and cycling. Where intertown travel is required to connect with employment hubs, faster and more reliable public transport services, facilitated by light rail, will encourage greater use of public transport.

The project is also economically efficient. A preliminary cost-benefit analysis undertaken suggests that, despite the higher cost of delivery, rapid transit has the potential to be economically viable. The preliminary economic appraisal showed that light rail under a "business as usual"population scenario delivers a benefit-cost ratio of just over one. By prioritising residential and employment growth along the corridor and within the Gungahlin town centre and city areas, in line with the government's planning strategy and transport for Canberra plan, the benefit-cost ratio increases to above two. That ratio represents an economically viable project, which, given the transformational capacity of light rail, is highly worthy of delivery.

The development of a light rail system will represent a significant capital investment in transport infrastructure and will implement the government's strategies and actions identified in Transport for Canberra and the planning strategy.

However, the real value of the capital metro project is in enabling transformation of how the city develops and its capacity to encourage growth in economic activity, particularly at the anchor points in the city and Gungahlin, as well as along the corridor.

The aim of the government, as outlined in our parliamentary agreement, is to commence construction by 2016. In order to meet this deadline, work has already commenced. Feasibility projects completed up to January 2013 include concept planning and transport engineering of light rail transit alignment options, including kerbside and median alignment; evaluation of certain options; land use development scenarios; government agency stakeholder consultations; the release of project update 1, informing the public on the progress of the project; concept design reports; community consultations during April-May 2012; the release of project update 2; the facilitation of six community information sessions in Civic, Dickson and Gungahlin, including surveys, social research, public submissions and meetings with industry and community stakeholders; the development of strategic transport modelling to support economic evaluation; economic and financial appraisal; peer review of strategic transport modelling; cost estimation of options; options evaluation; the development of a nation building 2 program for co-contribution from the commonwealth; the release of project update 3 in September last year; further refinements to light rail route alignments to achieve savings in the order of approximately $100 million; and investigations into catenary-free and wireless light rail technology.

This highlights that there have already been a considerable number of projects undertaken on which we will continue to need to work in harmony to facilitate the broader objective of a transit outcome, particularly focusing on land planning and development, public housing provision and affordable housing.

These projects aim not only to provide significant revenue streams to government which support the broader provision of government services but also to transform the territory by stimulating its economy through private and public investment, diversification of employment and residential centres, promotion of new employment sectors, and increased wellbeing of residents.

In July last year the government submitted to Infrastructure Australia a business case in support of a request for a co-contribution matching the territory's commitment of $15 million to fund further preliminary design works and feasibility assessments. The business case included a preliminary cost-benefit analysis focusing on the traditional and more readily monetised economic costs and benefits that could be expected to accrue. Over the coming weeks, at the invitation of the commonwealth, further revisions of the business case will occur to pick up our latest understanding of the wider economic benefits that are expected to accrue to the territory economy.

Gungahlin to city is the first part of a broader light rail network for Canberra which has the potential to ultimately link town centres and major employment areas as well as potentially servicing Queanbeyan and other parts of the broader region. The light rail network master plan will be undertaken in the next 18 months to identify suitable light rail corridors across Canberra for future expansion. These corridors will be based on the work underpinning the rapid network established in transport for Canberra. Work is also underway within the capital metro project office on a range of preliminary engineering investigations, transport planning, and economic and financing studies to guide the future development of the project.

One of the first projects since the election is the light rail integration study. Tenders to conduct that study are being evaluated and the study is expected to commence shortly. The study will investigate the integration of the light rail system into the broader public transport network and will inform the preliminary design of the project to be undertaken over the next one to two years. There will be opportunities for community input into all aspects of the project as this work proceeds.

Residential development and commercial development along the corridor are critical to support the overall economic benefits of this project. Capital metro will achieve its broad range of policy objectives by ensuring that it is considered not just as a transport project or a land development or infrastructure project but as one that brings all elements of our metropolitan context together.

The government has commenced the investigative process of assessing the procurement and financing options for the light rail infrastructure and operations, including the issue of public-private partnerships. As part of this process, we will be approaching the marketplace once we have developed an appropriate level of preliminary design to provide sufficient information to effectively and efficiently engage with the market. We will also be undertaking detailed risk analysis to understand and manage the risk presented by the project and identify appropriate strategies for risk mitigation.

As part of this work, we have also commenced the preliminary investigation for what will become the property strategy for the corridor. The urban redevelopment of this corridor will be transformative, providing a stimulus and confidence in the market for development and growth along it and at its terminus nodes in Gungahlin and the city. The work to understand the appropriate land release sequencing—including appreciating potential yields on the corridor; demand volumes and patterns, particularly around housing preference in the corridor; and demographic trends and the establishment of population and density targets—is well underway.

We will be developing a land release model that is able to immediately react to market requirements, a land release model that is attentive to the social and environmental impacts of urban renewal but that also supports affordable housing choices.

The government are aiming high with this project. We aim to put in place a framework that will safeguard high-quality sustainable design while encouraging efficient and sustainable land use. The project is not only about government investment; it is also about understanding and engaging the role of the private sector in achieving the outcomes sought.

Given the relationship of various elements of this project to the daily work undertaken by other areas of government, there will be close coordination across all government agencies that have a stake. For example, the property strategy will have strong linkages with a number of government policies and strategies, including the planning strategy, Transport for Canberra, relevant city planning projects and broader public health objectives.

The capital metro project is a multifaceted initiative, and its scope and nature are unlike anything previously managed by any previous government. It represents a vision for our future, not only in the way by which the people of the territory get about during their daily lives but, more fundamentally, in the way we think of ourselves and our city. A public transport network incorporating modern, efficient and integrated light rail services is the hallmark of a mature and confident city. It is that maturity and confidence, reflected in greater amenity, economic activity and an enhanced sense of wellbeing, that we are determined to deliver to the Canberra community. There first stage of the project is a critical step along that path.

I commend my amendment to the Assembly.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (6.25): I thank Mr Coe for raising in the Assembly the issue of light rail. This is, of course, a topic in which I and the Greens have a very strong interest, not just in the ACT but all around Australia as part of our commitment to improving public transport and building more sustainable and liveable cities. In the ACT the Greens released our light rail for Canberra policy before the 2012 election, and developing Canberra's first light rail route became a key item in the Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement. Going forward we have the capital metro project, the shared goal of the Labor and Greens members of this Assembly and one that springboards from various studies and investigations done on light rail over many years.

Recently I had the nostalgic experience of watching a video from 1992 which was part of the sustainable Canberra project. That video made the case for light rail in Canberra as a way of improving our public transport, addressing urban sprawl and car dependence, reducing pollution and capturing the benefits of urban villages. It is now 20 years later, yet the problems we face now are strikingly similar. Only now the imperative to act is even stronger. We need to make our city more sustainable and liveable and also make our economy more resilient to pressures such as peaking oil supplies as well as the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the face of climate change.

The ACT Greens have supported light rail because we believe the ongoing benefits of this system make it the best choice, particularly over the long term as our city grows and develops. Light rail is not just about the Gungahlin corridor, although that is where a lot of Canberra's growth is occurring. In line with the parliamentary agreement, the government is set to progress a light rail master plan detailing how and when the network will extend across Canberra to places like Woden, Tuggeranong and Belconnen. In light of the time today, I am trying to shorten my comments.

There are, of course, a range of recognised benefits to light rail, such as its ability to attract more passengers than buses, its additional speed and reliability and its compatibility with renewable energy as well as things like the sparks effect and the urban shaping effects, but I will talk about those more some other time. But all of these benefits are well researched, well documented and generally accepted.

The Liberal Party in Western Australia recently announced a large light rail project for Perth of which the Greens have been vocal supporters. The Western Australian Liberal Party are proud of their project, and their transport minister described it in glowing terms as:
... a transformational investment in public transport by our Government which will give the people of Perth access to the type of public transport offerings that exist in major cities all over the world.

A point I want to emphasise is that big projects such as capital metro and the Perth light rail project need to go through long and detailed stages of development, so not all of the information that Mr Coe is asking for today is available in its final detail.

Much of it is covered in work already made public, but certainly not all. It is the same in Western Australia; the Liberal Party transport minister has not yet explained how his government will finance its light rail project. Likewise, technical and engineering details will need to be finalised. These projects, naturally, go through staging, and, just like the Canberra metro project, details are refined as the project progresses. It does not mean there is some conspiracy to secrecy or mismanagement; the intention is for all staged work to come together in a well-planned and well-implemented project.

At this stage of the capital metro project, I am satisfied that it is progressing sensibly. Just over the last year or so we have had three concept reports on the Gungahlin-city corridor, and a lot of the information requested in Mr Coe's motion is already in those reports. That said, it will certainly remain a focus of mine to ensure that this capital metro project remains transparent and that there is significant public engagement and consultation. I believe these sorts of qualities will be key to the success of the project.

On that basis, I will be supporting the amendment put forward by Mr Corbell. It recommits to a high level of transparency and ongoing public consultation as well as the release of information when it is available. Again, I believe this is the essence of Mr Coe's motion between what has already been made publicly available and a commitment to continue to make the information available. I think the spirit of what Mr Coe is seeking in his motion will be delivered, and I will be supporting Mr Corbell's amendment.

MR COE (Ginninderra) (6.29): I am disappointed that both ministers will be supporting the amendment. It is disappointing they are not agreeing to take on the questions I have put forward. I understand some of the answers to questions would be estimates; I understand some of the answers would not be exact. But I still think there is an expectation in the community that the government should have a fair idea of the answers to each of the questions listed in my motion. I am disappointed. We will, of course, be voting against the amendment, but I welcome the additional information provided by Minister Corbell and Minister Rattenbury in today's debate.

Question put:

That Mr Corbell's amendment be agreed to.
The Assembly voted—
Ayes 9: Mr Barr Ms Berry Dr Bourke Ms Burch Mr Corbell Ms Gallagher Mr Gentleman Ms Porter Mr Rattenbury
Noes 8: Mr Coe Mr Doszpot Mrs Dunne Mr Hanson Mrs Jones Mr Seselja Mr Smyth Mr Wall
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question put:
That Mr Coe's motion, as amended, be agreed to.
The Assembly voted—
Ayes 9: Mr Barr Ms Berry Dr Bourke Ms Burch Mr Corbell Ms Gallagher Mr Gentleman Ms Porter Mr Rattenbury
Noes 8: Mr Coe Mr Doszpot Mrs Dunne Mr Hanson Mrs Jones Mr Seselja Mr Smyth Mr Wall
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

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