Who benefits from the Trojan Tram going south?

Here’s some news the ACT Labor/Greens coalition government may not appreciate. The model they use to enable for development and for getting the tram done, builds on the way trains and trams were introduced in and around Sydney in the late 19th century.

There’s a book, published in 2017, titled “Shady Acres – Politicians, Developers and Sydney’s Public Transport Scandals 1872-1895” by Leslie Muir. Reading this book will reinforce your view on how things have not changed in NSW.

One revelation is how Sir Henry Parkes operated both as an entrepreneur and as a politician. Often failing in both but always managing to connive his back into being elected and into another financial project that most likely failed. Many politicians were involved with the development of the rail and tram networks and many of them either profited themselves (being both politicians and developers) and/or made sure that their developer friends benefitted from where the rail and tram lines were routed.

Some of the routes were designed purely to ensure that they ran by a politician’s or a friendly developer’s land. In some cases, lines were not delivered (eastern suburbs) because it did not suit developers and some stations were sited purely to increase the profits of the proposed development nearby.

Nobody would have argued against the introduction of these important transport links, but how they were delivered was very convenient for the politicians involved. Very shady, indeed!

Then there’s Canberra and how the ACT Labor/Greens government has been making development and transport decisions. There is no evidence nor suggestion that ACT politicians are using their position to bring about profits for themselves or their own companies. But just how much do development decisions seem to favour developers over responsibilities to residents is my question.

For instance, the tram going south to Woden. The ACT auditor-general recently reported dubious benefits to the public and the problematic linking of the need for the tram and the developments along West Basin.

What the report did not say was that the beneficiaries after all this expenditure of public monies will be the developers who get their hands on the land to the right leading to Commonwealth Bridge plus others along West Basin. These inevitable tower developments are usually not mentioned in the mindless spin by the Labor and Greens politicians about wonders of the West Basin developments.

The bus system serving Woden to Civic has been successful. One day it could be upgraded to electric buses using the same road infrastructure. The far more expensive option of the tram going south is probably going to happen as it is an ideological, not-negotiable matter of faith within the closed shop of the current government.

Any chance of changing this would require the elder Andrew Barr to overrule the naive decisions of his younger self when these things were made Labor/Greens policy. Can anyone see that happening any time soon?

Development along the corridor will be inevitable. What style that development takes is the matter that residents need to be concentrating on. The land near the North Curtin land swap will be first. Expect more of what you see along the tram in Gungahlin or towers as plonked endlessly along Northbourne. Something to note – according to the government’s intensification diagram, the Prime Minister will be asked to move out to make way for apartments.

Tram or not, the corridor could be developed sensibly and with some innovative and aesthetically pleasing architecture with homes for the later 21st century (think climate). Sadly, there is almost nothing in the DNA of this government that will deliver such new residential developments and suburban infill redevelopments.

The tram will be the Trojan Horse for developers to run amok with the laissez-faire planning system allowing any rubbish to be approved. All this will happen, unless the residents get organised now and take on the local politicians with some independent thinking candidates for the 2024 ACT elections.

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This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday matters.

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