Newcastle should keep its eyes on a transport strategy for the coming decades, including an expanded light rail network, the city’s Labor lord mayor says.
The comments come after revelations that the state government’s plan to replace trains with light rail in the CBD had a poor cost-benefit ratio.
Fairfax Media reported on Thursday that a leaked Cabinet document showed replacing Newcastle’s heavy rail with light rail would deliver 70 cents benefit for every dollar spent – at most.
But Cr Nuatali Nelmes said she was focused on learning from decades of short-term planning in Newcastle.
She said she was buoyed by Transport Minister Andrew Constance’s willingness to look into Newcastle City Council’s suggestion to expand the light rail network.
“There are a lot of things that could have been done better in this city over many, many decades, and absolutely, this was one of them. But I have to deal with the reality,” Cr Nelmes said.
“The light rail construction has started in Hunter Street. There are many good arguments of why that should or should not have occurred, but guess what – the reality is it’s occurring.
“So let’s make sure it is the best light rail in Hunter Street that it can possibly be.”
Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said the heavy rail truncation and introduction of light rail “was seen as a means to revitalise Newcastle and stimulate private investment”.
“These are big-picture calls only a committed, visionary government can make,” he said. “We stand by our decisions and look forward to a very strong, vibrant, accessible city.”
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said the cost-benefit ratio showed the government gambled taxpayer money to fund “their experimental light rail project”.
“This was never a transport or urban renewal decision, it was always politically motivated,” he said.
“We can see why, time after time, this government has refused to reveal the cost benefit regarding the decision to put in light rail.”
Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said Newcastle needed government investment.
“We are excited to see progress and the significant private sector investment that has followed,” said Mr Hawes, who was the general manager of government agency Hunter Development Corporation when the heavy rail cut was announced.
Kim Cross, vice president of anti-truncation lobby group Save Our Rail, said the government should scrap plans to sell rail corridor land so a future government could extend direct heavy rail into Newcastle’s East End via a “cut and cover” underground method.