Last week AHURI hosted a conference on “Housing the Secret to Urban Productivity Growth” in Sydney. The keynote speaker was Mike Mrdak, the most senior bureaucrat from the federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
Mr Mrdak said research by his department showed that jobs were increasingly being concentrated in central areas in our major cities (see State of Australian Cities reports and the recent Progress in Australian Regions: Yearbook 2014).
Combined with population growth, the concentration of jobs was putting upward pressure on housing that had good access to employment, education, transport and services.
Mr Mrdak pointed to disadvantages faced by communities that are located further out, where transport options are limited.
“There is a differential between where the jobs are and where people can afford to live,” he said. As a result, employment participation rates had actually been falling in some outer fringe areas, even during periods of low unemployment nationally.
The answer, Mr Mrdak said, was not just investing in infrastructure, but also investing the right infrastructure in the right places.
A key part of the discussion was about the future of Western Sydney, including its future airport, to provide housing and jobs for a growing population.
Located 50 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD, the new airport at Badgerys Creek would be fundamental to the socioeconomic future of Western Sydney. It would be a major catalyst for investment and jobs growth, Mr Mrdak said, and would also bring benefits to the Australian economy more broadly.
Mr Mrdak said that the Western Sydney airport was the single most important piece of infrastructure being funded by the Australian Government in Sydney.
“Over the next 10 years $3.6 billion will be invested in roads to connect Badgerys Creek to Sydney’s motorway network,” he said.
The federal government is putting twice as much towards the roads around the second airport than for the WestConnex motorway project, which will receive a $1.8 billion grant (in addition to a $2 billion loan). The investment program for Sydney’s second airport includes upgrading The Northern Road from Narellan to the M4; a new east-west motorway to the airport between the M7 and The Northern Road; upgrading Bringelly Road; and $200 million for local road upgrades.
The future airport site is at the intersection of the South West Growth Centre where 110,000 new dwellings are planned; and the Western Sydney Employment Lands which are expected to generate 57,000 jobs over the next 30 years.
Although the airport won’t be operational until 2026, developers have already started looking at developing commercial, industrial and residential land associated with the future airport site.
A key question is, with this much investment by the federal government, what are state and local governments doing? Given how pivotal this project is to future growth and employment prospects for the residents of Western Sydney, are we setting them up to require a car in order to access work? In short, yes.
Earlier this month, the South West Rail Link opened to customers. It is a new 11.4 kilometre rail line from Glenfield to Leppington, but still falls short of the Badgerys Creek site by about 14 kilometres.
Under current plans, there will not be a train to the airport when it opens in 2026, although the airport will be built with tunnels ready for a train station in the longer-term future.
According to a factsheet issued by Transport for NSW: “In the short term, it is planned to provide access to the second Sydney airport through road upgrades, park and ride facilities and new bus services providing direct link to major centres in Western Sydney. The Australian Government is future proofing for rail, by protecting a rail corridor and station box at the airport site.”
This seems strangely lacking given the billions of dollars being poured into this project, and its overwhelming potential to lift Western Sydney out of its economic woes. A report published by PwC late last year showed that Macquarie Park, to the north of Sydney, significantly improved its economic activity following the completion of the Epping to Chatswood railway. Macquarie Park went from being the fifth largest localised economy in NSW in 2001 ($4.68 billion gross output) to the third largest economy in 2013 ($9.11 billion) ahead of Parramatta.
The question of public transport access has started to reach the radar of politicians ahead of the NSW state elections on 28 March.
Last week NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley stood alongside his federal colleague, Anthony Albanese, to announce that Labor would ensure there would be trains running before operations at the airport commenced. The NSW Government responded with criticism that the proposal by Labor was not yet funded (and that it would come to fruition “when pigs fly” according to NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian).
Transport for NSW has made public its plans for a train line linking Leppington to St Mary’s via Badgerys Creek, and a second spur line to Narellan. There would also be a rail-bus interchange at Badgerys Creek.
- Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan: factsheet
- Transport for NSW, South West Rail Link Extension
Sara Stace is an active transport, urban design and policy consultant, and executive director of Link Place.