A Letter to the Minister

4 April 2013 | Posted In: 118 – Autumn 2013, Civil Society Issues, Planning Campaigns, Transport, | Author: Venietta Slama-Powell

By Venietta Slama-Powell

Dear Minister,

RE: SOUTH EAST RAIL ROUTE THROUGH THE HEART OF SURRY HILLS

I am writing to you as a Surry Hills property owner and resident who is deeply concerned about the NSW Government and Transport for NSW’s consideration of, and approach to, the South East Rail Route through the heart of Surry Hills.

After researching many suburbs across Sydney, five years ago I decided to purchase a home in Surry Hills due to the wonderful village feel, the parklands and ability to wander around the area safely with my daughter and dog.

I believe the Government’s plan for the South East Light Rail Route is from Central station, down Devonshire Street, through Wimbo Park, with the associated demolition of the Olivia Gardens apartment complex, across South Dowling Street then cutting across Moore Park before reaching Anzac Parade.

My concerns include:

LACK OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND CONSULTATION

In 2011, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MP promised to return planning powers to the community, yet Surry Hills’ residents have been blind-sided by the proposal to construct a light rail service through the middle of their suburb. The lack of engagement has created unnecessary stress, and a distraction from the bigger picture in bringing this form of transport back to Sydney. The first time residents of Surry Hills officially heard about the South East Rail Route was when the Government released the ‘Sydney’s Light Rail Future’ document in mid December 2012. Understandably, seeing maps with a rail line through the middle of the community, residents homes and parklands, sent shock waves through the Surry Hills community. And the timing could not have been worse, leading into the festive season.

Development that impacts a community, and may involve compulsory acquisition is sensitive at the best of time, and this has not been handled well by the Government or Transport for NSW.

BISECTING OF SURRY HILLS, AND ITS IMPACT

To put it simply, this proposed rail line route with split Surry Hills!

Surry Hills ranks as the 23rd most stylish neighbourhood in the world, according to American lifestyle magazine Complex (October 2012). Surry Hills was the only Australian neighbourhood to make the ranking. A rail line through the heart of Surry Hills will ruin it.

The proposed route has never before been used as a transport corridor. There is now no bus service between Chalmers and Crown Street; so if part of the objective is to replace buses with light rail, the existing bus routes should be used.

Why should Surry Hills be bisected for other people to transit between suburbs due to previous government mistakes in planning?

Traffic flows into and out of the city, and around the Surry Hills area will be impacted. A local traffic corridor i.e. Devonshire Street will be either closed, or limited, forcing additional traffic onto surrounding streets. This will result in the return of traffic congestion experienced before the Eastern Distributor was opened.

I estimate a loss of 100 car parking spaces on Devonshire Street. Already parking is a problem in the area. On Thursday at 2pm, a non SCG or SFS event day, during school hours, a typical week day . . . it took me 45 minutes to find a car spot between Parkham, Nobbs, Bourke and Devonshire Street.

Safety at the intersection of Devonshire and Bourke Street is also a concern, where there are two crossings; for pedestrians, cyclists and cars. Already this intersection is a hazard; it is frightening to imagine the chaos when you add another form of transport across this intersection. And you need to give consideration to how slippery the rail line gets when wet.

Let’s not forget the various Housing NSW sites, particularly the large Northcott complex on Devonshire Street that houses about 1,000 people. How would you ensure the safety of these tenants, many of whom have health related issues, with high frequency trams outside their front door?

The proposed route would meant the loss of housing in one of the most densely populated areas in Australia, and would significantly reduce green space available to residents. Wimbo Park will be destroyed and Moore Park will have a light rail line dissecting it. With residents primarily living in units and terraces, the parklands are the resident’s backyards, and are a critical part of their daily lives, and very much part of the reason why they live in the area. Surry Hills – known as the City’s Backyard.

PURPOSE AND SUSTAINABILITY

The route between Randwick and Central will be a major corridor for the light rail. During peak periods one light rail per minute will be passing their front doors. This is based on capacity of 9,000 people per hour in each direction and each train carrying 300 passengers as per the “Sydney Light Rail Future” document.

It is envisaged that a proposal will be made at some point in the future to extend this light rail service to La Perouse and this will of course further increase the frequency of light rail carriages using the proposed route.

Part of the objective of the proposal is to move as many students as quickly as possible between UNSW and Central station. This contradicts the purpose of light rail which is designed to move people ‘around a city/area’, enabling commuters to ‘hop on and off’.

I have concern that the light rail will result in very few cars being removed from the roads. Cars are the problem for Sydney traffic, not buses. The reason buses don’t run on time is that there are too many cars. Please provide to the public data to demonstrate that the proposed route will remove cars. My concern is that it will switch students from buses to rail and provide a more indirect route for those already travelling by bus to the city from Randwick.

Already Surry Hills gets stuck between the Eastern Distributor / South Dowling Street and the main railway line at Central. There are no proper arterial roads that divert traffic across these two corridors so consequently traffic is congested getting through Cleveland Street and all the surrounding roads. Adding light rail to this is likely to add to the congestion and deliver poor performances in commute times for light rail travellers.

How would the light rail travel across Moore Park as many sporting groups, individuals, families with children, and dogs play in this park and the light rail would need to be travelling at its maximum speed during this part of its journey, in order to meet the ‘speed’ objective?

Or one could look at it from a different angle . . . and suggest the need for a slow speed light rail, necessitated by the terrain. If so, the objective for this proposed route is not served.

FINANCIAL VIABILITY 

The Cross City Tunnel was supposed to be a solution to transporting people around Sydney, however many people are unable to justify the cost of this service. How much will it cost to use the light rail; will this have the same affordability issue?

With regards to the South East Route, light rail is a very expensive solution. The route will service the Sydney Cricket Ground precinct where (at best) one day per week patrons will use the service. The other major user of the proposed service are students at UNSW (which is limited to semester times, 32 weeks per year) and who will be concession fare payers i.e. limiting the revenue stream for the route.

I question the financial viability of a service where a large section of the regular university students are concession card holders, peak demand for this part of the service is limited (32 weeks for students and 52 days for sporting patrons), and a large section of the route is not populated.

Light rail is designed to service densely populated areas where patrons can “hop-on and hop-off” the service. A considerable proportion of the proposed route through the Moore Park precinct has no residents living on it, and in fact is a recreation area which is heavily used by local residents.

Is the light rail the best solution for the long-term transport requirements for ALL of Sydney?

Many believe that it is inevitable that tunnelling will be necessary to permit a proper rapid transport system: not light rail, not heavy rail but a metro system adapted to the urban terrain of a city. Examples exist in many cities, noticeably Paris, Hong Kong, Montreal, Shanghai, and just recently, Greece – all with different population densities and geological conditions.

I would like to emphasise that I am not opposed to light rail as a transport option as I trust you have undertaken extensive research to ensure this is the best form of transport for the sustainable future of all of Sydney. However I do question the proposed route from Randwick to Central Station.

Have you given great consideration to the adverse impact through a dense village environment? I am prepared to challenge development at the cost of the well-being of my community, our environment and our heritage, which cannot be replaced. Especially development that does not appear to have sustainability. I would appreciate your reply as to how the Government and Transport for NSW will address my concerns. ?

Venietta Slama-Powell is founder of PUSH

 Website http://peopleunitesurryhills.org   Facebook PUSH (People Unite Surry Hills)
Email yourfriends@peopleunitesurryhills.org
Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice, Issue 117, Autumn 2013
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