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February 25, 2021

Regional transport plan snubs northern rivers

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Hans Lovejoy

The NSW government has failed to include the northern rivers in a recent statewide press release spruiking its commitment to regional transport.

The western, central west, Murray and Murrumbidgee, New England, northwest and central coast regions of NSW were all promoted as areas worthwhile of infrastructure investment.

But not us.

However, a document was released by the coalition on December 19, entitled Northern Rivers Regional Transport Plan.

Fastest-growing region in NSW

It was among eight other NSW transport studies released just before the holiday break, and is available at www.transport.nsw.gov.au.

Surprisingly, the omission of our region in government promotions comes despite the report admitting that the northern rivers is the fastest-growing region in NSW, ‘at about 0.9 per cent per year’.

Additionally, the 52-page document lifts material from the previous Casino to Murwillumbah Transport Study, released early in 2013.

Disadvantaged

As for statistics, the report says approximately 48 per cent of the northern rivers population is concentrated within the four centres of Tweed Heads, Ballina, Lismore and Casino. And we are an ageing bunch, as ‘the proportion of the population aged 65 or older is expected to increase from 19 per cent in 2011 to 28 per cent in 2031’.

Not only that, but our region ‘has an above-average level of social disadvantage compared to the NSW median’.

And while the report points to the Lismore and Byron Bay road corridor as continuing ‘to see the most demand for travel’, there were no plans to improve that road except ‘Road safety works relating to decommissioning of fixed speed cameras at Bangalow Road, Clunes’. The report claims that cost is $381,900.

The disused railway line that runs from Casino to Murwillumbah – and which also runs between Lismore and Byron – was barely touched upon, but mention was made of developing ‘service plans to encourage public transport use to connect to festivals in the northern rivers region’.

A future high-speed rail corridor was also vaguely referred to, but no plans as yet; currently the government only wants to ‘identify and protect a future high-speed rail corridor between Brisbane, the northern rivers region and Sydney’.

Wow, gripping stuff huh?

Statements such as ‘We will work’ were repeated 17 times. There are endless unspecific costings, time-frames, locations and commitments. I wonder how much this report cost.

For example, there is ‘ongoing investment in maintenance to improve safety and reliability on the rail network’.

But where and how much?

There was the introduction of NSW TrainLink, however, which ‘operates services to the northern rivers region, and for the first time provides a dedicated organisation focused on improving services for our rail customers in regional NSW’. The report claims $389 million will go to ‘support and improve rural and regional bus services’.

As for the Byron shire, the report claims a total of $1,721,136 was spent improving our roads, yet our shire did not benefit from grants that were awarded to other shires for boating, transit centres, interchanges and cycleways. In contrast, Ballina received $3,136,645 in funding for all that.

However, we should probably be thankful we have a huge highway that we can soon barrel down.

Call me cynical, but reading such repetitive guff reminds me of BBC’s Yes Minister.

Roads are used because the railways have long been abandoned by governments who are beholden to fossil fuel and transport corporations. So the focus of the report is, you guessed it, roads.

The two people that are currently responsible for this are minister for transport, Gladys Berejiklian, and minister for roads and ports, Duncan Gay.


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