THE state government has spent more than $4 million on reports and advice for its Newcastle transport plans but is yet to release the documents underpinning its decisions or give an estimated cost, a month before it starts removing the heavy rail.
But Transport and Hunter Minister Gladys Berejiklian says action, not more reports, is needed.
Contract notices show the government has commissioned consultants for traffic modelling, legal advice and several firms to provide engineering advice at costs ranging from $176,000 to $3million.
Newcastle-based firm GHD was appointed in September last year to analyse the best place for a new transport interchange and alignment of the light rail route.
In December, Ernst and Young was appointed to develop a business case and economic studies for light rail, the same month URS was appointed to give advice on the interchange’s design. Parsons Brinckerhoff was brought on board in January this year to give detailed technical advice on the light rail system.
GHD was hired in January to do traffic modelling for $232,000, then in April as planning approval contractor for $213,000.
But none of the documents have been released by the government, and only a traffic impact assessment, some modelling and a study into a pedestrian footbridge at Railway Street, Wickham, were tabled to state Parliament in line with an order of the upper house.
The rest of the documents were claimed as ‘‘cabinet in confidence’’, prompting criticism from Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi that the government was hiding the reports from public scrutiny despite promises it would be transparent.
With the line due to close on December 26 and work to start on its removal and a new transport interchange, the government has even declined to say how much the project or its components will cost, although it has been able to put a figure on its Sydney city light rail project.
Ms Berejiklian has defended the process. “Labor commissioned countless studies into the future of the rail corridor and did nothing,’’ she said. ‘‘The government’s reasons for its decision to revitalise Newcastle several years ago have been well documented – we believe further inaction was not an option as Newcastle had been held back because the city was split in two by the rail line.’’
A Transport for NSW spokesman said the reports commissioned had informed documents that had been made public, such as the Wickham interchange review of environmental factors, and more information would be made available in an upcoming light rail environmental assessment.
The government is also yet to confirm where the future light rail would leave the existing heavy rail corridor to traverse Hunter Street, although it has suggested Worth Place. The Transport spokesman said that would be subject to community consultation next year.
He said printed timetables for interim bus services to replace the rail were being finalised and would be available shortly.
‘‘The government has worked with the community every step of the way on plans to completely transform the Newcastle CBD by truncating the heavy rail line, building a new transport hub at Wickham and introducing light rail to connect the city centre with the foreshore, and we will continue to do so,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.
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