It's time for the Greens to get on board with light rail

In 2010, the Australian Greens released a comprehensive public transport report which was led by research and world’s best practice. More than an infrastructure proposal, it was an invitation to “take the next step toward a more liveable, socially inclusive and sustainable community”.

The report was entitled Light Rail in Australia – Get on Board, and The Greens did exactly that. They became the chief advocate for national light rail networks.

Everywhere but Newcastle, that is.

In Newcastle, Greens councillors’ have stubbornly defied their progressive State and Federal colleagues on transport policy for over six years. They have dismissed the professional advice of their own city planners and turned a blind eye to world’s best practice in urban renewal and transport infrastructure.

As late as November last year, they were still acting against the advice of Council’s Director of Planning, asking fellow Councillors to support rezoning of the old corridor to allow for the eventual return of rail services. Their latest protest is that the State Government did not consult properly with the community on their plans for revitalising Newcastle and the light rail project.

If that’s because the Greens Councillors’ feel their own views have not been given proper consideration, perhaps they should have made a submission themselves. Of the 285 submissions published on the Revitalising Newcastle website, the Newcastle Greens are conspicuous by their absence.

The Revitalising Newcastle Community Engagement Program was delivered in partnership between Newcastle City Council and UrbanGrowth NSW. It’s bedrock was a Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations which the Greens Councillors' signed-up to in May 2015. 

Since then, all Councillors’ have received regular briefings on the program - including a presentation on the full engagement reports and outcomes of the community consultation. For the Greens Councillors’ to criticise the program outcomes is one thing. For them to criticise the very process they helped to design and then failed to participate in, is baffling.

In their Newcastle Herald opinion piece published on March 22, they claimed Council was “yet to consider any detailed report or recommendations” from the community engagement program. In fact, it’s a matter of public record that on December 1 last year, UrbanGrowth NSW briefed Councillors on the engagement outcomes. The following Monday, the full Community Engagement Report was publicly released.

And at the Council meeting 24 hours later, on December 8, UrbanGrowth NSW presented the report, along with outcomes of the community consultation.

Now it seems the Greens have missed another report – the one from two years ago which announced the route for Stage One of the Newcastle Light Rail Project – and are now calling for a review to be undertaken.

Two years after the route was announced and in the midst of enabling infrastructure being delivered, the Greens are prepared to turn off the city’s $1.25 billion investment pipeline and spend ratepayers’ money on another transport review.

Thankfully, positive signs are beginning to emerge. The Greens have now switched their attack to why the NSW Government has not committed to extending the light rail to destinations such as Broadmeadow and Callaghan. Perhaps they are on board with light rail after all.

First published in the Newcastle Herald, 28 April 2016.