Government says it won't fund Glendale rail bridge

21st June 2018

Source: Newcastle Herald | By: Ian Kirkwood | Posted: June 21, 2018

AFTER more than 20 years of planning the NSW government says it is not prepared to fund the road bridge over the railway between Glendale and Cardiff at the heart of the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange.

The government provided $360,000 in planning funds in this week’s budget but the Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, told the Newcastle Herald that Lake Macquarie City Council would have to start again on its design.

“Basically, if you want it in summary, we’ve asked them to go back to square one,” Mr MacDonald said.

“To be clear as possible, and I am happy to be quoted, what they have put forward does not reach a cost benefit ratio greater than one. So we are going back to taws on that.”

The government’s decision has shocked Lake mayor Kay Fraser and the two parliamentarians whose electorates meet along the railway line, Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper on the Cardiff industrial estate side, and Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery on the Glendale side.

The trio said they had not been briefed by the government on its decision, which Mr MacDonald confirmed had been based on a government rejection of a business case prepared for the council in late 2016.

“We have identified what Lake Macquarie council wanted there originally wasn't suitable, didn't reach any cost benefit analysis, didn't reach any suitability in terms of an integrated network, not at all,” Mr MacDonald said.

Although a first stage of roadworks opened a year ago – the new Stockland Drive entrance into the Glendale shopping centre from Main Road, Cardiff – the bridge and later stage transport interchange have struggled for funding since the late 1990s.

Mr MacDonald said the council business case had been reviewed by government agencies and the Pennant Street bridge “didn’t even get off the starting blocks”.

Asked if it would “never stack up”, he said: “On the model they put up, no. It's not going to continue.”

The bridge? “No.”

The Coalition government’s rejection of the Glendale interchange is the latest setback for a project that has long been at the top of the Hunter’s infrastructure “wish list”.

The Carr government promised to build it in 1998, with a finish date of 2003, at a total cost of about $33 million.

In the council’s 2016 economic assessment, the Pennant Street bridge was costed at $32 million. A “missing link” of Munibung Road behind the new Bunnings on the old Pasminco estate was appraised at $5.4 million, and the bus and rail interchange itself, including a new station at Glendale, was valued at $120 million.

The Pennant Street and Munibung Road works were calculated to have a “benefit to cost ratio” of 3.8 to 1, but Mr MacDonald said the government’s review rejected this analysis and put the ratio at less than one, meaning its costs outweighed its benefits.

Cr Fraser said the council had not been told about the government’s review of the business case and she was “alarmed” at the comments made by Mr MacDonald.

“We want to work positively with the state government, but after this it’s impossible to say whether they are serious or not,” Cr Fraser said. “There’s nothing wrong with our business case and I can’t help it if another agency says something else. They need to show where it is that the business case doesn’t stack up because I can tell you, it’s their figures that are rubbery, not ours.”

Mr Piper said the transport interchange had been endorsed by the Hunter Economic Development Corporation, the combined Hunter Councils, the Property Council and various others who “can see the patently obvious benefits it would bring”.

The council’s modelling had shown a significant positive cost-benefit analysis, so to be told now by the government that it’s in the negative beggars belief,” Mr Piper said. “If it is negative, then it’s in the same ballpark as the Newcastle light rail, so what’s the difference?

“I should point out also that the money spent shifting the light rail from the corridor to Hunter Street would have paid for the entire interchange project, and I know which one will do more for public transport.”

Ms Hornery said the negative appraisal of the Pennant Street bridge had come from people who “don’t live or work in the area and wouldn’t be able to find it on a map”.

“The government’s own Hunter Regional Plan 2036 identified the interchange as a high-priority infrastructure project because of its potential to unlock growth and improve connectivity,” Ms Hornery said.

She said it would open up land for affordable housing and generate thousands of new jobs.

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