Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Partial approval for rail plan
The Planning Minister, Craig Knowles, has partially approved Patrick Corporation’s proposed freight terminal at Ingleburn. The approval covers less than one-fifth of the proposal that would have taken 960 trucks a week off the roads in Sydney’s west. The trucks, which carry containers from Port Botany and cars from Melbourne, were to be replaced with trains. The approval allows only for an expansion of the facility where Patrick fits out cars, but not the transport of containers from Port Botany – the bulk of the proposal. Patrick says the partial scheme is “uneconomic”.
Metropolitan – Page 15
Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
After a shunt or three, off the rails
… as expected, really. Chris Corrigan wasn’t holding his breath, writes Elizabeth Farrelly.
INGLEBURN is Sydney’s answer to Steinbeck: down-at-heel bungaloid one side of the tracks, late-20th-century industrial the other. Both sides are the wrong side; shadeless, charmless, loveless. Freight, meanwhile, is the forgotten service, ignored and invisible. There are no votes in freight.
These two pockets of neglect have combined, over the past four years, into a microcosm of the NSW planning furball – a perfectly formed case study of how Sydney-style politics, far from guarding the public interest, works to destroy it.
It started in August 2000, when Patrick Corporation lodged with Campbelltown City Council a proposal for a road-rail freight transfer depot beside the Ingleburn rail line. It was actively supported by policy at every level – and yet, for four years, Patrick awaited an answer. Any answer.
Frustrating? Sure. Especially, says Patrick’s Chris Corrigan, “because we think we’re doing the right thing”. Already the delay has pumped 22,000 tonnes of avoidable greenhouse gases into our children’s future. And it’s not over.
How could it happen? Especially when the Planning Minister, Craig Knowles, regularly intones the virtues of putting road freight on rails? It’s a long story.
The site, zoned industrial, sits at the edge of the vast Ingleburn-Minto industrial estate. Across the drain is the existing Patrick Autocare site, where a zillion new Melbourne-built cars ripen under shadecloth before local distribution and consumption. The only houses in cooee are over the tracks on Ingleburn Road.
Patrick’s proposed freight interchange has two main purposes: enabling the zillion cars to journey from Melbourne by rail, not road; and enabling container freight to be moved from Port Botany also by rail, not road. It would take 160 trucks a week off the Hume Highway and 800 trucks a week off the public roads through all those safe ALP seats between Botany and Ingleburn. Instead, there would be nine weekly trains.
The proposed facility is more efficient and cheaper; less invasive, less dangerous, less pollutive. All up, it would reduce fuel use by 1.7 megalitres and greenhouse gas emissions by 4550 tonnes a year.
Which is why policies and departments at every government level support both the rail freight principle, and this project in particular. Even Campbelltown council concedes it complies with every plan on the books.
That’s some unanimity – and it is why Patrick bought the site in June 2000. Early discussions with council staff were positive, but from the moment the proposal hit the deck, first the council and then successive ministers seemed determined to reduce it to roadkill.
The methodology has been crude yet effective. First, the councillors raised noise and traffic concerns. Patrick added landscaped sound barriers and relodged the proposal on December 24, 2001.
There was no response, although a community meeting, in February 2002, was exhorted against the proposal by Aaron Rule – Campbelltown councillor, ALP branch secretary for Ingleburn-Macquarie Fields and adviser to (then health minister) Knowles. Rule said he expected council to reject the scheme and to defend that rejection in court – insisting that both local member Knowles and local member Mark Latham opposed the scheme.
He would know. Knowles, like Latham, has his electoral office in Ingleburn, and depends on Rule for something far sexier than policy advice: the numbers for preselection. Knowles attended the anti-Patrick rallies, wrote anti-Patrick letters and lobbied the then planning minister, Andrew Refshauge, for the anti-Patrick cause.
That was about when Patrick discovered its proposal actually qualified as “state significant”, making the minister, not council, its consent authority. The council saw this as a ruse, although the 1999 ruling was unequivocal. The only real surprise is that council didn’t see this from the start. But Patrick’s problems were just beginning.
Removed now from direct control, the council tried withholding landowner’s consent for slivers of its property included in the development application – but that only made the traffic and noise problems worse. Patrick excised the slivers and relodged the DA. That was November 2002, already more than two years since lodgement. Patrick had not met with the minister, but with strong support from the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources and just two objections it saw no reason to worry. Approval, it was assured, would be smooth and rapid.
At Campbelltown council, though, the fun continued. On December 12, 2002, the planning committee recorded its opposition, but asked the minister to require from Patrick a $1.8 million payment to council for future F5 off-ramps. This was never going to work. The council was not entitled to such a contribution and besides, the whole point of the scheme was to reduce road use.
Cr Bob Thompson asked why council was opposing a development with so few objections; another councillor wondered if council could impose limits on the nearby roads to stop Patrick from operating.
Then it was Christmas and, in March last year, an election. Suddenly Craig Knowles, public objector, was the scheme’s ministerial consent authority.
Even so, every strategic indicator promised fast and fulsome approval. After all, says Corrigan, “we were only trying to get approval for a site identified by Rail Access 10 years ago as one of three suitable in Sydney”.
And the minister? He did the only thing, besides actually making a decision, guaranteed to keep him out of the courts. Grasping that ancient procrastinatory device designed for ministers trapped between a decision they can’t make and a constituency they can’t deny, Knowles called an inquiry.
That was June last year. But, although the hearing was extended by several weeks so the 88 newly materialised local objectors could be wheeled in, the commissioner, Kevin Cleland, found with everyone else (except Campbelltown council) in the proposal’s favour.
Even now, though, Knowles couldn’t actually do it. Cleland made his report in December. It then spent five months on Knowles’s desk, while a flurry of ever more exasperated requests for meetings from Patrick met with ever more terse fobbings off. Poor bunny. Bad old spotlight!
Even a last, desperate attempt by Patrick to force a decision – any decision – from Knowles via a mandamus court action met with constant procrastination. Finally, on September 8, Knowles promised a decision inside 21 days. Two working days inside that deadline, that is, last Friday, Knowles gave the nod to a partial approval to date, for the Melbourne cars but not the Port Botany containers – which will have 20 per cent of the environmental benefit of the complete proposal. In any case, Patrick says the limited approval renders the proposal uneconomic. It’s what you do when you desperately want to do nothing: dress a “no” as a “yes”.
Why is the ALP at every level so determined to kill a proposal whose strategic and environmental benefits are so obvious, so widespread, so remarkably consensual?
Is it just Patrick hatred left over from the waterfront? Or the split between Macquarie Street’s ALP, grateful to Patrick, and the west-burbs rank-and-file who, like troopers in the jungle, still haven’t heard the war is over? What significance, if any, should be attached to the fact that Campbelltown council sank $50,000 into a competitor, CISSES (Chain of Intermodal Shared Service Hubs for the Eastern Seaboard) – a Wagga-led (no, really) lobby group designed to tip John Anderson’s $1.2 billion AusLink pocket towards its own private-public intermodal freight system?
Patrick may not be the company to win a popularity contest. But that is not the point. Regardless of history, politics or personality, Patrick is entitled to a without-fear-or-favour decision that turns policy into fact.
What will happen? Campbelltown council wants Knowles to wait until CISSES, which is still a pre-business plan, is up and running. Knowles wants to wait until the Port Botany expansion inquiry is complete and the much-touted Metropolitan Planning Strategy hot-air balloon is up and floating. That could take a year, or 10, and another 45,000 tonnes or so of greenhouse gases. Patrick may pursue its original proposal, but its patience may be tried even more sorely by that date.
Mark Latham, meanwhile, has “no views” on the subject. Maybe, though, if he wants to look green, he should muck out his own paddock first.
THREE PHOTOS: Days of thunder … the lessening of noise and other environmental costs of road freight is the pitch from Patrick’s Chris Corrigan, above. Top: Craig Knowles. Main photo: Jim Rice