Call for tunnels to protect Lake land 

A HIGH-SPEED rail corridor should have tunnels through west Lake Macquarie to avoid land-use conflicts and protect biodiversity, the city council says.

The $114-billion federal rail proposal runs from Melbourne to Brisbane, with the Newcastle to Sydney section to cost $18.9 billion.

Lake Macquarie council said the rail corridor would run through residential land at Morisset and Dora Creek and within 100 metres of land earmarked for 1200 new houses at Wyee.

It would traverse land at West Wallsend and Killingworth earmarked for residential and employment uses.

In a draft submission to the federal government, council staff recommended tunnels through west Lake Macquarie, or relocation of the route from Wyee to Awaba, to reduce effects on residential land and biodiversity.

Councillors vote on the submission tonight.

The submission said council staff were "generally supportive of the project", despite the call for changes.

However, Liberal councillor Jason Pauling said the submission "leans towards anti-development".

Cr Pauling, who is Lake Macquarie Combined Chambers of Commerce chairman, said it would be cheaper for the rail to be above ground.

"If we have to tunnel everywhere, that puts a significant economic burden in place," Cr Pauling said.

The government's high-speed rail study said 8 per cent of the preferred route, covering 144 kilometres, was made of tunnels.

This was the "most significant construction cost" - about 29 per cent of the total.

"Access to and from Sydney would require the most tunnelling (67 kilometres)," it said.

Tunnelling was proposed for only places where surface routes could not be created "without unacceptable dislocation and/or environmental costs," the study said.

No tunnels were proposed in Lake Macquarie.

The corridor was planned to run for 37 kilometres through a 690-hectare area of west Lake Macquarie, the council submission said.

About 450 hectares of native vegetation would have to be bulldozed, affecting threatened species and leaving fewer habitat connections for wildlife.

The council said it should be a priority to "secure future biodiversity offsets", which involves conserving land to compensate for cleared bush.

It criticised the government study for having no measures to "maintain habitat connectivity across the rail corridor".

The government study said the Sydney-to-Newcastle link was scheduled to operate from 2045, with a Gold Coast-to-Newcastle leg to start in 2058.

Lake Macquarie's Labor mayor Jodie Harrison said it was essential high-speed rail planning occurs "in conjunction with planning for population growth".

"As the population across the east coast increases, high-speed rail will become more necessary as a relatively environmentally-friendly form of fast transport," Cr Harrison said.

"We need to make sure there is good communication between the transport planners and council."

The rail's proposed Newcastle station would be 750 metres from West Wallsend, occupying 10 hectares with two 215-metre platforms.

"With up to five services per hour when fully operational in 2065, West Wallsend is likely to develop into a major centre," the council said.

A light rail link should be built from the station to Glendale, it said.

The government is accepting comment on its study until June 30 at infrastructure.gov.au/rail/trains/high_speed/index.aspx.

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