THE NSW government is "dragging the chain" on its study into a possible extension of Newcastle light rail, according to two MPs who have called for the study to be released before next month's state election.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) MPs Robert Borsak and Robert Brown secured a commitment from the government to undertake the study before the city’s heavy rail line was removed.
The government needed the Upper House MPs support to pass legislation in 2015 to remove the heavy rail.
But almost four years later and only weeks out from the launch of the light rail, a strategic business case for extending the line remains behind closed doors.
Mr Brown told the Newcastle Herald this week the government should “start trusting their policies for public scrutiny” and immediately release the study.
“That business case is not just a month, or six months overdue, it is two years overdue,” he said.
“If the business case come up and said, yes we need to take it the stadium or we need to do X and Y - university or hospital or whatever - they should have put the planning in.
“Started the planning so that by the time the [light] rail is finished, now, they would at least have all the planning done and the city of Newcastle, the people of Newcastle would know what value this thing could be to them.
“As it is now… it’s a 2.7-kilometre toy train, which was not on the basis of which we agreed to support it.”
The government released a document in 2016 listing four possible extension options into Newcastle’s suburbs, including Broadmeadow, Mayfield or Adamstown.
Broadmeadow has since shaped as the most likely route for an extension, and the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan 2036 predicts an increase in population in the suburb in-line with the touted redevelopment of the Broadmeadow sports and entertainment precinct.
“It’s no good just going from A to B,” Mr Brown said of the light rail line due to begin services on February 18.
“It was always the idea and it was always the commitment [to extend]. I would have expected this business case three years ago. The destinations that were on the table back then, certainly by now should have been tested.
“But they’ve held to their colours, and their colours are that they do not like to tell the public what they’re doing.”
Transport for NSW told the Newcastle Herald in September it hoped to have the strategic business case delivered to Transport Minister Andrew Constance by the end of the year and the documents ready for public display in early 2019.
However inquiries to the minister on Thursday – the same day he announced a start date for light rail – were diverted back to the agency, which indicated a release of the business case was unlikely to occur any time soon.
“The Newcastle light rail extension strategic business case is in the final stages of development,” a Transport for NSW spokesperson said.
“Following the recent and successful delivery of light rail and subsequent operations in Newcastle, government will formally consider future options and update the community once this has occurred.”
The SFF party lost the balance of power in the Upper House in recent years, which both Mr Brown and Mr Borsak said had prevented them from pressuring the government to release the study.
“We can’t force them to do anything,” Mr Borsak said.
Mr Brown accused the government of a continued lack of transparency, citing the failure to release a business case supporting the redevelopment of stadiums in Sydney.
“This is the one single repetitive issue that we see with this government since 2011,” he said.
“These people for some reason, the Liberal-National party governments seem to have a pathological fear of producing government documents which should be on the public record.
“And of course the [extension] business case is that.”
The MP said he had recently spoken to Mr Constance who reassured a commitment to the extension study.
However, Mr Brown said “talk is cheap” and called for its release.
“The government are obviously hiding it until after the election,” he said.
“The commitment they made to me was not just that they would do the business case, it was that the premier had already put aside $10 million to do the business case and the investigations.
“These bastards are just dragging the chain.”Shooter, Fishers and Farmers MP Robert Brown
Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said the business case was “certainly overdue”.
“The Chamber, and I think most of the community, have always viewed the current light rail project as a first stage – the service will have to be extended to fulfil its potential to deliver economic benefits, improve connectivity and boost public transport usage,” he said.
“The Hunter Street section will assist movement around the CBD, but to attract genuine commuter patronage, and get private cars off the streets, the service needs to run to the suburbs.
“With the initial service set to begin within weeks, it would be timely to see the business case now.”
Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes, who has been vocal backer of extension, said the council was a participant to Transport for NSW’s advisory group tasked with preparing the business case
She said the current line “can only be considered as the starting point of a broader network” and that the council has its own plan advocating for extensions.
“Prompt delivery of this strategic business to expand the network is now both essential and time critical as viable transport corridors are otherwise likely to be lost to development in the city and to the west,” she said.
“Strategically, an expanded light rail network as a component of a well planned multi-modal network is essential to ensure the future liveability and sustainability of Newcastle.
“This infrastructure will facilitate the urban development of the metro core of the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan area, as outlined in Transport for NSW’s Future Transport 2056: Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan.
“The Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan itself identifies extending Newcastle light rail as a catalyst for achieving higher urban densities, increasing housing supply and creating new jobs.
“An extended light rail network will provide a fast, efficient and affordable public transport alternative carrying commuters to high-demand destinations.”