4 March 2023

Prioritising light rail to blame for 'neglect' of health, housing, roads: Canberra Liberals

| Claire Fenwicke
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Tuggeranong Homeworld

‘Relatively aged districts’ like Tuggeranong and Woden Valley are predicted to decline or grow marginally in the latest population projection. Photo: Sentinel.

The Canberra Liberals have blasted the ACT Government for what it said was “serious long-term neglect” of Canberra’s southern suburbs, while the Chief Minister has accused the Opposition of “misrepresentation” of the numbers.

It’s off the back of the latest ACT Population Projections 2022 to 2060, which stated the Territory’s population was expected to reach about 784,000 people by June 2060.

That’s about 63,000 extra people than the previous prediction from 2019.

The ACT is also expected to reach half a million people two years earlier than previously predicted.

In light of this, the Canberra Liberals have accused the current ACT Government of failing to use its past 20-plus years in power to “adequately plan” for population growth.

“It is estimated Canberra will need an extra 100,000 homes by 2050, and we are already well behind where we need to be due to the Labor-Greens government’s failure to prioritise housing, including continually strangling the release of land in the ACT,” Leader Elizabeth Lee said.

“Canberra is also suffering from long-term neglect of our health system, including the longest emergency department wait times in the country; hazardous and toxic materials in our schools and a chronic teacher shortage; smallest police force [per capita] in the country; a housing affordability crisis; and serious long-term neglect of our suburbs.”

Ms Lee pointed the finger at the light rail project, accusing the government of putting it ahead of all other priorities.

“The truth is, this Barr-Rattenbury government has no desire to prioritise key government services and has pulled hundreds of millions of dollars out of our health system, public housing, critical road upgrades and cut education funding over the last decade in order to pay for the tram,” she said.

“If the priorities of this government are not in fixing [these issues] … how can Canberrans have any faith our city is well prepared for a growing capital?”

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According to the report, the Molonglo Valley district is expected to grow the fastest over the 40-year period, although Belconnen will remain the largest district.

This growth is expected to be driven by the Denman Prospect and Whitlam developments, growing at an average rate of 5.3 per cent, followed by infill-driven developments in Canberra’s north.

But the opposite is predicted to occur for Canberra’s south.

“Established and relatively aged districts in 2020 like Tuggeranong and Weston Creek are either projected to shrink or grow marginally in population by 2060,” the report stated.

“By June 2026, four suburbs from the Gungahlin district are expected to be among the top 10 ACT suburbs by population.”

Belconnen, Bruce, Kambah, Gordon, Kingston and Civic would complete the top 10.

Ms Lee said the predicted slow growth and decline in the southern suburbs followed “decades of neglect” by the government.

“These projections show that this government has no plan or desire to reinvigorate our suburbs or provide the desperately needed housing and basic services that Canberrans deserve,” she said.

“Ultimately, all this government is offering to southern Canberra suburbs is a tram that will not be delivered for decades, will be slower than a properly functioning bus network and will cost billions upon billions with the money to be taken from other key areas such as health, education and city services.”

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However, the ACT Government has strongly disagreed it has neglected Canberra’s southern suburbs.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said demographic changes such as ageing populations and smaller household sizes were the most significant factors impacting the number of people in Canberra’s south.

He pointed to numerous projects promised for the region, including suburban shopping centre upgrades, the Lake Tuggeranong Foreshore, Tuggeranong Town Centre, the Canberra Arena Ice Skating facility and the new CIT Woden campus.

“There have been, and will continue to be, numerous renewal projects and precincts in southern Canberra,” Mr Barr said.

He said the long-term projections were just that – projections – and that they’re subject to external influences and ongoing revision.

The report itself noted the ABS had underestimated the ACT’s population by about 22,000 people before the 2021 census, and the COVID-19 pandemic meant there was “greater uncertainty” around the projections compared to previous years.

table showing predicted population change

Predicted population change in ACT statistical areas between June 2021 and June 2060. Photo: CMTEDD.

Mr Barr also assured further growth was possible for southern Canberra.

“The government will use planning decisions to influence population growth in areas with capacity, such as Tuggeranong, with growth concentrated along transport corridors and in areas with easy access to local shops, recreational facilities and green spaces,” he said.

“Consideration for local environmental and cultural assets will also be considered in directing appropriate areas for new dwellings, as per the ‘identified change areas’ set out in the draft district strategies.”

The Chief Minister also called out the Canberra Liberals for “misrepresentation” when it came to population size.

“In the last election campaign, the Liberals claimed that people were leaving Canberra in large numbers to move over the border to NSW. The 2021 census showed the extent of their misrepresentation on that issue,” Mr Barr said.

He added that the long-term population projections weren’t major factors in the lead-up to the June Budget or the Territory Planning Bill, both of which were still being put together.

“The more impactful data source is the 2021 Census and the most significant influence will be the Federal Budget in May,” he said.

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Clever Interrobang6:44 pm 06 Mar 23

I don’t really understand the argument that the south doesn’t get it’s fair share on public spending

What exactly is it that they’re not getting compared to older northern suburbs, not including private developer cash? Sure, people complain about things like roads and schools etc but those sorts of challenges affect both north and south

How much more public money do established suburbs need that they don’t get? A lot of older suburbs both north and south might have a bit of older infrastructure and amenities but when I look around and most places on the older north they’ve barely changed in decades aside from investment from private developers which is unrelated to the government

Seems most of the public spending is in new areas where there’s no infrastructure as it should be, and a lot of the development around the place is from private investment and not the government. Meanwhile you’ve got overcrowded public schools in places like Gungahlin while schools in Tuggers remain chronically under capacity

The way to bring money back to the south is to do what’s happening in the north, namely, encouraging private developers to build more high density housing

Low density sprawl doesn’t generate enough tax revenue on its own to sustain itself past a few decades when the infrastructure gets too old, that’s something that can be seen in the United States which loves low density and freeways and cars more than we do in Australia and it’s sending a lot of local councils bankrupt and needing to be bailed out by their state governments

People point to the tram as evidence that the north gets more public money than the south even though the government is literally extending the tram to Woden first to try and revitalise the area instead of more logical extensions like Belco/UC/Airport which don’t require building a tram over the lake and through the parliamentary zone

Unless we redesign the south to be a lot denser I don’t really understand how you would solve a lot of what people complain about. You can complain about shops and businesses closing down in the south but it’s not the governments fault of private businesses and private landlords can’t come to an agreement

The South has been increasing density for at least a decade. Look at the apartment buildings around Tuggeranong and Woden.
I travel around this city a lot and I can see the difference in even basic road maintenance between the Northside and Southside. The expansion of Athlon Drive was being advertised nearly 20 years ago – it’s still not done. The government has promised that it will commence work by the end of this year – but it hasn’t even gone out to tender yet. So I’ll believe it when I see it.
There are other major roads southside that are in the same situation.
When the tram project started Southside lost more bus routes than Northside.
The tram has to go across the lake at some point. The idea is to get the hardest biggest parts done first. Build the backbone and work from there.
Shops and businesses close down when customers can’t get to them. Decent public transport helps that.

The choice is clear to me. You can have a tram with billions in debt and no business plan or better hospitals, roads and other government services.

So Mr Barr points to four infrastructure projects as proof of his investments in Tuggeranong and Woden.

The Ice facility and Woden CIT where the build on either project hasn’t even started work, and Tuggeranong lake foreshore and Tuggeranong Town Centre upgrades which in reality were some very minor maintenance to damaged and tired infrastructure. That’s a pretty weak Scomo style response.

It’s simple urban planning principles that Mr Barr continues to ignore. People and businesses as highlighted by his own Treasury, won’t want to move to the south of the city if his government continues to close schools, remove public transport services, dismantle community facilities and playgrounds, withdraw business opportunities, allow property developers to replace sporting and community with apartment buildings, etc.

There doesn’t seem to be an actual pipeline of work to ensure adequate infrastructure and services for the existing southern population, let alone a plan to better spread population growth in a well designed way.

dingus_maximus9:30 am 06 Mar 23

I had lived in Canberra, noting that I lived there, for over 40 years. The continuing neglect for services on the southside by this self-effacing government over the last 10-15 years was a big part of the reason as to why we relocated. Having to sacrifice so much on the southside for a piece of infrastructure that only benefits such a small percentage of the population is absolutely staggering in its short sightedness and shows a real lack of responsibility from this incumbent government. An example is the Kambah Village shopping precinct, it services the largest suburb in Australia, yet it has received no significant upgrades since 1977. All the while rates have skyrocketed whilst no improvements have been made. Roads into the city precinct from the south have become more congested, and in a constant state of disrepair. I never voted for the Barr government and the fact that they have never been able to govern in their own right, has allowed the Greens to push an agenda that does not serve the community as a whole. I wish Canberra would wake up and vote these clowns out. They have ruined what once was the best city in Australia to live in. Not just for now but for years to come.

What’s worse building a tram thats only marginly nicer than the buses it replaced for insane cost or social policies to force people to use it?

Haas says its only 1% of budget, but its only one route, of a huge network.
Buses were 120 million a year to run, now light rail for one route is $50 million.

its like building the bike paths that no one uses, built next to on road cycle lanes that again no body uses.

We couldn’t even buy a tram from Australia, and we make them!

Capital Retro8:06 am 06 Mar 23

Who wants to buy a tram from Australia when the other option is buy one in Europe with a fact-finding trip thrown in. It’s what happens on that “tour” that seals the deal. Those Eurotram salesmen are good.

HiddenDragon8:54 pm 05 Mar 23

Appreciably improved services, instead of a light rail line to Woden, might be a net vote winner south of the Lake but not if the accompanying suburban “reinvigoration” that the ACT Liberals apparently have in mind will mean even more widespread housing densification than is in prospect under the Labor-Green government.

The ACT is number 1 in having the the worst:
* Health system ( I’ve seen ACT nurses wearing NSW uniforms in Calvary Hospital!)
* Housing supply
* income to house price ratio
* rental affordability
* transport system
* the list goes on…plus land rates….

But what would you expect from a Chairman Barr who is quoted as saying “it is he’s job to redistribute the wealth in the ACT.” in an ABC article.

Not The Mama3:16 pm 05 Mar 23

I don’t have the benefit of the numbers, but my gut feeling says that, broadly speaking the Liberals are right. Surely, it’s no coincidence that road duplications and improvements in the South have been abandoned and an additional amount to the equivalent to the dollar, has been transferred to the construction of Stage 2 of light rail. The point is that light rail will NEVER benefit the South, whereas the road improvements would have.

The privately led development of the Greenway Foreshore, and better shopping centers etc. is no consolation. We are talking about GOVERMENT neglect of the South, all the while Government money is being spent on the North (light rail, the Barton Highway, stadiums, Hospitals). Everyone’s rates pay for those government investments; therefore, the investments should benefit everyone more or less equally.

The Liberals seem to be doing well at holding this government to account for a change. They’ve made such an appalling job of it in the last couple of decades.

Trevor Willis2:51 pm 05 Mar 23

The trams for Canberra are the greatest waste of money I’m imaginable. They serve no benefit to anyone except those who happen to live next to a tram stop. It would have been much better to get more electric buses which can be utilised in a much better fashion than a tram line and would benefit the whole city.
Another of Barr’s Bedlam

Squirrelling down every perceived injustice to spending on the light rail says it all about the Canberra Liberals. Exploiting spending on the light rail and using inane and juvenile sound bites offers a diversion and escape route from questions on what the Canberra Liberals will do for public transport should they win government. We have a rapidly expanding population, spread out over a vast city and expected to reach half a million in 2027. If the Liberals are taking Canberrans to another Light Rail election, what vision and initiatives do they have planned for transport in this city into the future? The Canberra Liberals’ spokesperson on Transport, Mark Parton remains mute! If The Canberra Liberals want to take Canberrans to another Light Rail election they have to come up with an alternative transport plan!

“We have a rapidly expanding population, spread out over a vast city and expected to reach half a million in 2027.”

Exactly Jack. Thanks for providing the reason why light rail is simply not viable for Canberra as we do not have the population density necessary and light rail delivers a slower and more costly option than the alternatives.

“If The Canberra Liberals want to take Canberrans to another Light Rail election they have to come up with an alternative transport plan!”

This is true, and I would hope to see something well before the next election.

But even if they don’t, it doesn’t change the fact that light rail doesn’t stack up and is draining significant amounts of funds from the budget. Which necessarily results in worse service delivery in other core government areas, Exactly the point being made by Ms Lee.

Jack, thanks – I agree. A few things struck me from this article.

Firstly, yes, the Liberals are yet again trying to place all inadequacies percieved with public spending priorities on the cost of light rail. They’re just trying to keep the debate fuelled because they actually don’t have a lot else to generate an ongoing divide with. They need more original ideas and better offerings to take to the next election. I personally don’t believe the Liberals could do any better than the current government, as the Liberals stand now.

Secondly, I live southside but I’m realistic as to where the developing areas are – predominantly Gungahlin and Molonglo/Whitlam. Yes, I’d like to see my local area improved, but newer areas need the basic infrastructure too. This reflects Anura’s view above – it’s about a balance and compromise. If you’re not happy with the balance, work your local member. That’s what they are voted in to do by representing us.

Thirdly, we should no longer classify ourselves as just northside and southside. We now have a growing westside, and arguably a defacto eastside with Jerra, QBN and perhaps Googong. Sure, ACT doesn’t fund the eastside areas, but we need good infrastructure (connecting roads and hospitals as key examples) to help service them, as many in the ACT workforce live there.

Finally, the light rail was never meant to replace buses but to create a backbone from north to centre, with stage two being a backbone from south to centre. Buses then connect to it. Regular tram goers appear collectively happy with the tram service, and believe that it’s a valuable service. It also adds interest and “colour” to Canberra. And buses – hey, I’m so tired of seeing empty buses driving around, so I will never be supportive of “more buses”. I do believe that there has to be a balance of public convenience vs cost, with schedules re-factored to maximise use of buses at necessary times (e.g. peak on work days).

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