PLANNERS are often accused of being the reason for poor planning outcomes, with cries of why can’t they get it right?
Yet this denies how captive they are to the political process.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many try and point out the shortcomings of a shiny government project – those that hold the power usually get their way.
Yet sometimes time reveals the truth – and those that choose to ignore a tsunami of professional advice should be held to account when it does.
Take the Sydney Monorail, which was built despite resistance from many planners and design professionals.
In 1986, more than 7000 of those planners, design professionals and others took to the streets to protest what was coined the ‘monster rail’.
What were the main reasons for imploring caution?
Well the biggest concern was that the monorail was not integrated into the existing transport system – it looped from Darling Harbour to the city in longer than it took to walk directly, and it did not link back to Central Station. Who apart from the odd tourist would want to use it?
The original number of users was predicted to be 12 million each year. In reality it turned out to be more like four million.
Many people at the time were worried about the effect of the monorail on the city. Its visually-dominant track snaked past heritage buildings with little sympathy, and the stanchions protruded into the street.
Apart from the politicians that wanted something to open, nobody else appeared to want it.
Yet what happened? Well, you know the answer.
So now to Newcastle, where the parallels to the current light rail proposal are so similar it’s eerie.
The monorail cost approximately $130 million (in 2016 dollars) for 3.6km.
Newcastle’s light rail has been allocated $500 million for around 2km (apparently around $126 million has already been spent).
Figures are rubbery but the monorail carried around 1500 people an hour, with Newcastle’s light rail predicted to carry around 300.
Like the monorail, the light rail links poorly to the existing transport systems and it is very likely that it will be quicker to walk.
It goes from pretty much nowhere west of the city to a city centre that is already floundering with a lack of parking, and it is suggested that making it more difficult to get into the city centre is not going to attract more customers.
Many planners and design professionals, as well as business owners, have strongly voiced their concerns that the project will be a lemon.
But we won’t just be left with a track no one uses, we will also lose a large amount of parking on Hunter and King streets and still there will be no space for trees or cycle paths.
Almost every relevant professional group is saying that they think the current proposal has significant flaws.
So why are we hurtling towards its construction? Surely it is also in the government’s best interest that we get this right?
But don’t worry that it will be irreversible, in another 25 years we can start ripping it up and blaming the planners for putting it there.