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Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 22-Aug-2009

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 9

Wordcount: 789

Take it or leave it, Sydney: your ticket to Tiger town

Elizabeth Farrelly

What is it about this town? Not so long ago, we had trams. Sydney’s network (see the Museum of Sydney’s current show) was the envy of the world, carrying a million people a day – twice as many as currently use buses. Extending west to Parramatta and Ryde, south to Sutherland and La Perouse, north to Narrabeen and Balmoral and east to Watsons Bay, Bondi and Coogee, it was second largest on the planet. And what did we do? We trashed it, making a bonfire of the trams and surgically extracting the rails to preclude regrowth.

Now, having finally understood that clean public transport is crucial to Sydney’s future, that more roads just mean more traffic and buses aren’t really the go, the Government has been panicked into building a brand new transit system. Instant metro. To where? Why, to Rozelle. Obviously. After Rozelle the line goes dotted.

Why Rozelle? Don’t misunderstand. I like Rozelle. So must the Government. It must like Rozelle a lot: why else would it commit $5 billion just to take people there from Central, or vice versa? Especially when our light rail system already does just that. Rozelle-Central, Central-Rozelle. (OK, technically it’s Lilyfield.)

I mean sure, Rozelle’s nice. Some people, of course, regard it as Balmain’s backside – and now it seems they may be right, judging by the official minutes of a Leichhardt Council meeting. Most councils regulate for sun access but in Rozelle, apparently, it’s the opposite problem. There, they protect “sun egress”. The sun must, literally, shine out of their back doors.

Which is lucky for them, since they’re about to get their first 12-storey building, immediately north of a hitherto sun-drenched block of Darling Street.

The proposal, on the Balmain Tigers site on Victoria Road, is already approved in principle by the minister and council, which last year amended the local environmental plan in a six-five vote dominated by councillors – yep, you guessed it – who were also Tigers members.

Admittedly, only two were Labor councillors, but that’s all they needed to tip the vote. This, too, was lucky, because now the Government has been forced (go ahead, twist my arm) to select that very same Tigers site for its metro construction works. Bit of a pain for the club, but nothing 12 windfall storeys of sun and sparkling views can’t fix.

It may look premeditated, but it wasn’t the first choice. First the Government wanted to knock down a childcare centre, only such was the outcry that it had to go the Tigers instead. Though this won’t stop it also demolishing a dozen shop-houses on three corners of the most important crossroads in the village.

My, haven’t metro stations grown? I could swear, last time I was in Paris (or New York, or London, or Tokyo) the metro stations were simple stairs in the footpath. And yet, at Union Square, Pyrmont, same story. There, Sydney Metro’s first choice was “temporary relocation” of the Anzac memorial – followed by public outcry, followed by the current proposal to whop five terrace houses out of this charming, heritage-listed Paris-style square. So now it’s green-ban stalemate.

Sydney Metro’s acting CEO, Rodd Staples, insists Union Square will be rebuilt in “similar scale”. But the only sketch – showing the clunky glass box that is Town Hall station-to-be erupting like a bit of Green Square from the windswept emptiness of a flattened city-block, due south of a gigantic tower – leaves one less than convinced. Otherwise, not counting Central, both remaining stations – Barangaroo (aka Wynyard) and White Bay – are government-owned mega-developments. Natch.

Far be it from me to suggest that property interests are driving this thing. Incompetence, after all, outrates conspiracy (although both caps might fit this administration). On the other hand, since densification around transit stations is the only planning principle the Government and its mates seem able to grasp, since our last three transit interventions (monorail, airport link, light rail) have all been undone by high-level expedience and penny-pinching, and since $5 billion would buy an entire working light rail network, the question must be asked. Is this metro the right thing for Sydney?

Well, yes and no. Yes, metro is good. Clean, green, fast. And no, we should absolutely not be building this tiny, seven-kilometre dead-end segment at such vast expense and in such unseemly haste (driven by three things; Barangaroo, White Bay and the 2011 election) without first committing to a long-term, overall plan.

Already, before planning approval, Sydney Metro has short-listed contractors for the Rozelle leg and officially lodged stage two – not extending west from Rozelle but starting again at Central, and heading for Parramatta-Westmead. This being unfunded, however, all we can actually count on is 17 different ways of making Rozelle for tea. Now doesn’t that sound like Tiger balm?


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