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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Call This Sustainability?

The news of the dismissal of the NSW Government's Metropolitan Strategy Reference Panel, and in particular, the loss of NSW Sustainability Commissioner Peter Newman is a deeply disappointing development. Newman was the architect of what is universally recognised as the best public transport system in Australia, that of Perth (which was briefly touched on during this week's Four Corners). Obviously, Sydney is a much larger city than Perth, but the principles Newman used could still be applied, no matter the size of the city. Notably, Perth's system was wholly publically funded. It was not a public-private partnership.

Anyone who attended his speech to the Fabian Society last year on Sydney's public transport would likely have been as impressed as I was by his commonsense - and most importantly, achievable - solutions to Sydney's traffic problems. However, even then, I was concerned by the way that his ideas ran counter to initiatives by previous and current transport ministers, which, despite rhetoric about getting more people onto public transport, seemed focused on getting more people than ever into cars. The Cross City Tunnel is a case in point. As someone who does not own a car, and thus relies wholly on public transport, a whole lot of good this does me.

The dissolution of the panel is a troubling example of short termism in a policy sense, as the Metropolitan Strategy on which he was working was designed to show the way forward for Sydney's public transport for up to the next fifty years. It was an example of the sort of long term planning which is so rare yet so necessary nowadays. We take such things as our underground rail network for granted today, yet under the profit model proposed by PPPs, and the mentality that deems no project is worth considering for more than the three or four year election cycle, such a thing would never be built.

The fact that the panel could not work with Planning Minister Frank Sartor also does not bode well. The fact that Sartor has, in his capacity as Minister for Redfern-Waterloo, dismissed the widely-hailed Pemuluwuy Project vision of The Block by proposing the zoning of the area be changed from Residential to Residential/Commercial (a decision revealed as part of the recently released Redfern Waterloo Authority Draft Build Environment Plan) is more apparent evidence of the Minister's unwillingness to countenance any opinion on an issue other than his own.

Without honest, independent and diverse advice, even the best ideas become distinctly lousy, and damaging phenomena such as Groupthink begins to occur. The loss of such an advisory group, and such an expert as Mr Newman, is a sad step backwards for the quality of the decisions that will be made on the future of Sydney's transport and built environment.

5 Comments:

At 4:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems no one can work with Frank Sartor.

 
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