NSW Premier Mike Baird with Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian.

NSW is the strongest state in the country, according to NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, who is predicting year after year of surpluses for the state.

With an underlying surplus of $713 million (or $2.5 billion if changes to funding arrangements caused by a new Transport Asset Holding Entity are included) the government has said it will now bring forward millions in infrastructure spending commitments.

A total of $590 million will be spent boosting infrastructure projects, including transport, road, hospital, schools and cultural projects.

“The State is absolutely buzzing,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Cranes are visible right across the skyline. This is not just happening in our cities, but across our regions as well.”

Transport

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance and Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Duncan Gay said $16.5 billion has been earmarked for transport infrastructure projects over the next 12 months.

Mr Constance said $9 billion was going towards public transport. $977 million will go towards the $8.3 billion Sydney Metro Northwest, $120 million will go to the Sydney Light Rail, while $92 million has been allocated for new and replacement buses and $12 million for new ferries for Sydney Harbour.

The WestConnext would absorb $1.7 billion in additional funds.

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Greens MP Jenny Leong said the increased funding, combined with changes to state significant infrastructure decisions, showed the government was only interested in the big end of town, and not the community.

“Despite widespread criticism of the WestConnex project, and the government’s own modelling revealing the project won’t reduce congestion, the government has poured another $1.7 billion into this project black hole,” Ms Leong said.

“The government wants to halve decision-making time on state-significant infrastructure [see Planning]. WestConnex contracts are being signed before there is a publicly available business case or an Environmental Impact Statement. That’s not reducing red tape – it’s irresponsible.”

Other transport commitments included:

  • $103 million to progress construction on light rail in Newcastle
  • $84 million to continue planning and development for the second harbour rail crossing as part of Sydney Metro, with a new metro station planned for Barangaroo
  • $94 million to continue procurement of the next-generation intercity train fleet
  • $7.5 million to start planning for a new fleet to replace the ageing XPTs
  • $1.2 billion on rail maintenance and $74 million towards a rail operations centre to manage delays
  • $37 million to commence planning for the major upgrades on the T1 Western Line to increase train reliability and capacity and $43 million to overhaul Wynyard Station
  • $2 million towards four new Parramatta River ferry vessels
  • $275 million to continue delivering NorthConnex
  • $164 million (State and Federal funding) to build the infrastructure around the new Badgery’s Creek airport
  • $4.1 billion for upgrading rural and regional roads and fast tracking major upgrades of key regional highways such as the Princes, Great Western, Newell, New England, Oxley, Mitchell, Kings, Silver City and Cobb
  • $15 million to continue planning for a new Smart Motorway System for the M4 Motorway, to reduce travel times by up to 15 minutes during peak hour

The Urban Taskforce said the focus on funding urban public transport and infrastructure set the framework towards a more urban society.

“This is a good budget that sets in place a program of urban infrastructure projects that will support a more dense cosmopolitan lifestyle,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said.

“As Sydney inevitably becomes a denser city as the trend towards apartment living continues it will become more important to reduce congestion by providing improved infrastructure and transport.”

Other infrastructure

Hospitals were the other big infrastructure winner with a $5 billion investment over the next four years, targeting major hospital upgrades, redevelopments and expansions, and new and upgraded ambulance stations.

For 2015-16 this includes:

  • $72.1 million for the next stage of the Westmead Hospital redevelopment
  • $30 million for the next stage of the redevelopment of Blacktown and Mt Druitt Hospitals
  • $30.2 million for the next stage of the Lismore Hospital redevelopment
  • $12.9 million to commence work at Armidale, Bowral, Broken Hill, Grafton, Macksville, Manning, Muswellbrook, Ryde and St Vincent’s hospitals

$2.1 billion will also be provided for new schools and training facilities over four years, with the 2015-16 program including:

  • New schools established at Bella Vista, Narellan, the Old Kings School site at Parramatta and a Networked Specialist school in Dubbo
  • Significant upgrades and extra classrooms will be provided at Artarmon, Bardia, Cherrybrook, Homebush West, Rainbow Street, and Randwick schools
  • $172 million will be provided to continue 27 major government school projects
  • Another $101 million will be provided for TAFE construction and IT projects

Social and affordable housing projects are also set to get $641 million this year, with $400 million added to the government’s Housing Acceleration Fund, which provides infrastructure that enables new housing to be built.

An increase in grant funding for local councils to deliver infrastructure for new housing was welcomed by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils.

“WSROC is particularly happy to see a $54.9 million increase in grant funding to help local councils deliver essential infrastructure for new housing developments,” president Tony Hadchiti said.

“The roll-out of State-managed infrastructure to Western Sydney’s key Growth Centres has also received a boost and we hope to see this accelerate new housing supply in the Sydney’s north west and south west regions.”

Planning

Planning Minister Rob Stokes said that $1 billion would be invested in planning and infrastructure, with $4.5 billion to be invested in planning and environment over four years.

“Providing record funding for infrastructure and amenity is accompanying record levels of housing supply in NSW and will help to put downward pressure on house prices,” he said.

For the 2015-16 year, the investment includes:

  • $19 million to establish the Greater Sydney Commission and deliver the Plan for Growing Sydney
  • $77.6 million to support infrastructure for new homes in The Hills and Blacktown local government areas
  • $46 million towards new parks, streetscapes and roads to support communities in Priority Precincts
  • $26 million from the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund to local infrastructure projects, including more than $12 million towards the University of Newcastle’s New Space project
  • $19.9 million to construct the on-line Planning Portal to make the planning system simpler and easier to use
  • $16.9 million to progress reforms that it is said will halve the time it takes to assess state significant projects, expand community consultation opportunities and ensure adequate capacity to assess environmental and social impacts to support the government’s investment in transport and social infrastructure in NSW

The Australian Industry Group welcomed the news of a Priority Projects Branch within the Planning Department to halve the assessment time for state significant projects, saying it was evidence of efforts to bring a problem solving approach to the traditional structures of government.

Environment

Environment and Heritage Minister Mark Speakman said the government had committed a record $1.66 billion.

“The increased budget expenditure is a clear demonstration of the priority the Government places on securing a better future for the people of NSW by supporting a healthy environment,” Mr Speakman said.

The budget measures include:

  • More than $160 million to strengthen the NSW Environment Protection Authority with $5.6 million allocated to support the EPA’s role undertaking compliance and enforcement for all gas activities as well as $66 million allocated to transform waste management in NSW and to increase education around better waste management practices
  • An additional $49 million will being contributed to waste programs from the Environmental Trust
  • $2.65 million towards the design and implementation of a container deposit scheme
  • $26 million to help the community to prepare for floods and coastal erosion
  • $34 million to improve the energy productivity and competitiveness of the NSW economy
  • $7 million will be allocated to the Office of Environment and Heritage for the design of the biodiversity reforms that will deliver the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel’s recommendations
  • $120 million over four years for improving parklands in Western Sydney
  • $47 million towards conserving and celebrating the State’s unique Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultural and historic heritage

Energy

$250 million has been allocated for energy rebates, with $196 million going to the Low Income Household Rebate, and $21 million to the $90 Gas Rebate.

Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts said it showed the government was “ensuring we leave no one behind, particularly low income households”.

Industry department announced

Mr Roberts also announced a new Department of Industry to commence from 1 July, with $49 million to grow jobs in the state.

He said NSW was now a hub for high-growth sectors including financial services, business technology, creative industries and advanced manufacturing.

”From 1 July, a new Department of Industry will begin operating with a clear focus to build and support NSW businesses,” Mr Roberts said.

“Private sector expertise will be leveraged to ensure this funding is used to deliver the greatest economic and employment impact for the state.

“The 2015-16 NSW Budget allows the NSW Government to deliver on its commitment to create 150,000 jobs over the next four years and aggressively pursue businesses from interstate and overseas to move to NSW.”