Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Freight plan is off the rails
OPINION, CAMPAIGN FOR SYDNEY
Elizabeth Farrelly, Elizabeth Farrelly is the Herald’s architecture and urban planning critic.
Eco-aware government can’t get to grips with moving the goods, writes Elizabeth Farrelly.
It’s not actually that hard, freight. A little complicated, sure, but nothing as difficult as, say, moving molecules around the human body. Not even close.
Other cities with more humans and less space than we have manage it. Why, then, is Sydney still without a freight strategy after 10 years of a supposedly environmentally-aware government? Why is the Government still waging protracted court battles against self-funded rail infrastructure proposals that actively promote its policies? Why do the people of western Sydney keep voting for a government that needlessly pumps 12 tonnes of greenhouse gases and diesel particulates into their children’s already asthmatic lungs every day? Why?
Greening the freight system is crucial to Sydney’s future: here’s a story that shows why it isn’t happening. In December, 2004, the Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, Craig Knowles, released a policy (as in a press release) promising to double the volume of rail freight in Sydney from 21 per cent to 40 per cent within six years.
To this end, government reports recommend fostering many small intermodal facilities across the metropolitan area (an intermodal facility is where containers are off-loaded from trucks onto trains).
Suitable sites are few. They must be far enough from Port Botany to make it worth the bother, far enough from residential centres to be tolerable and yet close enough to residential centres to capitalise on the 90 per cent of Port Botany imports destined for the Sydney basin.
In 1998, the Rail Infrastructure Corporation examined 29 potential sites. Only a handful were worth considering. One was a six-hectare site at Ingleburn. It was acquired and an intermodal proposal lodged with Campbelltown Council in 2000. The proposal was rejected, then called in by the minister, supported by a commission of inquiry, and sat on for a few years.
Court cases ensued, as the applicant attempted to extract a decision – any decision – from the minister, who (given that Ingleburn was his electorate) fought for his right to dither without ceasing. Eventually, in September 2004, the minister gave such limited approval as to ensure the facility was inoperable.
More court cases followed. In the latest hearing, the Government is arguing it can’t determine the Ingleburn matter until there is a ports freight plan in place, but it can’t produce such a plan until the inquiry into Port Botany is completed and the expansion fully approved.
The minister didn’t show at the inquiry. Instead he sent Liesbet Spanjaard, who manages the ports freight plan. Spanjaard hadn’t looked at the site’s zoning, she said; she hadn’t seen any of the noise-mitigation proposals; she hadn’t read any – any – documentation from the commission of inquiry into the matter. Yet, she opined, government approval might be forthcoming if the proposal didn’t breach government policy.
Still the Government seems determined to reject this self-funded proposal to help to green Sydney. Why? Could it be the lack of a plan, or was it old-fashioned politics, based on the fact that the protagonist, the applicant, is bad guy Patrick Corporation? Ad hominem, amen.