Hopes for confirmation that a dedicated bus transitway from Belconnen to City will be delivered in three years have been dashed.
Ginninderry Greens MLA Jo Clay introduced a private member’s bill on Wednesday (13 September) calling on the government to not just deliver the long-wanted infrastructure within three years, but also to enable the delivery of light rail stage 3 and start its early planning work.
It looked as if her motion would get through after the Canberra Liberals signalled they would support it with a few tweaks.
Shadow Transport Minister Mark Parton said he was glad to “see some common sense” on transport policy but wanted to remove the references to light rail.
“I’m with the Canberra Liberals [so] there is no possible way that I can sign up to a motion that declares that we’re spending money and doing things pertaining to stage 3 of the tram. I can’t do it,” he said.
“[Ms Clay], if you want this motion to succeed, all you have to do is vote for the Liberal amendments.
“If you don’t, I think there’s a large possibility that it won’t [succeed].”
However, Ms Clay said she couldn’t exclude references to light rail stage 3.
She explained light rail was already rolling out at a slower pace than anticipated, and she wanted to ensure it was set in stone that better public transport infrastructure was on the way for the Belconnen area in the near future.
“I’m really worried about an official ‘calls on’ [in the motion] to build a Belco busway that doesn’t future-proof that busway for light rail stage 3,” Ms Clay said.
“It’s going to worry a lot of people in Belconnen, I think, if we take out light rail … at this stage, what we’re telling people is ‘you’re not going to get it’ and that’s not a message that I’m prepared to deliver.”
Then it was Labor’s turn to introduce their amendments, which removed the three-year timeline.
Transport Minister Chris Steel said while his party supported the intent behind Ms Clay’s private member’s motion, they didn’t support the method.
He reasoned the past studies on the proposed busway were now too old, and new modelling needed to be done to take into consideration the projected population growth of the area, the expansion of CIT and the new northside hospital.
“This is the right time to reassess potential bus priority measures across the Belconnen transitway, particularly along Haydon Drive and Belconnen Way,” Mr Steel said.
“We need to undertake those detailed investigations to ensure the bus priority measures that could be delivered achieve their intended outcome, and we’re not going to commit to an undefined and unfunded project that has not been fully considered and scrutinised through appropriate government processes.”
He confirmed he had been briefed by Transport Canberra on a recommended next step for progressing this project, and his amendment called on the government to put this new feasibility study to the Federal Government for funding consideration under its $5 million housing support program. This program also covers transport facilities that would support more growth.
Mr Steel was also critical of how Ms Clay chose to bring forward this issue.
“Contrary to Ms Clay’s expectation, the government does not make significant decisions on capital expenditure funding through private members’ business … particularly for a motion provided with less than a week’s notice,” he said.
“[Her] motion calls on the government to deliver a project that hasn’t been properly investigated or considered; there’s no defined scope, no concept, no supporting business cases and no approved funding.”
Ms Clay rejected Labor’s amendments, stressing she was just trying to get a “firm commitment and timeframe”.
She attempted to amend her own motion, which addressed some of Labor’s concerns but still kept the deadline.
In the end, no amendments were agreed to by any of the parties and so Ms Clay’s motion was voted down.
Reflecting on what happened in the Assembly, Ms Clay said she was “disappointed” they couldn’t all come to some sort of agreement.
“It’s a real shame we couldn’t get a commitment from ACT Labor and the Canberra Liberals to just finish the job,” she said.
“But I was pleased to hear that all three parties support the Belco Busway.”
However she rejected the premise that there was an ‘all or nothing approach’ when debate was happening over amendments, where everyone refused to budge.
“I’m still hopeful we’ll still get Labor to commit. Now the question is when,” Ms Clay said.
“We know in Belconnen we need this busway now, and so my job is to make it happen as quickly as possible.”
Community members have been left frustrated, including groups who had been behind Ms Clay’s original motion, such as the Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTAC).
“It is absolutely baffling that three parties, who all claim to support the completion of the Belconnen Transitway, are unable to agree on a simple motion that would actually see it delivered,” PTAC chair Ryan Hemsley said.
“This is an incredibly disappointing outcome, and a dark day indeed for the 30 per cent of bus users who catch public transport that uses this increasingly congested corridor.”