A who’s who of leading business and political leaders are behind a private sector consortium that has launched a high-speed rail proposal that will span Sydney to Melbourne, and which would require no public finance to deliver.
The proponents, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA), said that if the latest HSR trains were used, commuters would have travel times between Sydney and Melbourne of around two hours.
A crucial part of the plan involves constructing new cities along the route that could take the pressure off Sydney and Melbourne regarding affordability and sprawl.
The project aims to finance the $200 billion venture through value capture, by developing new cities and using the uplift in value of the land generated by the new infrastructure to fund the rail project.
According to information at the CLARA website, the plans include developing two new cities in regional Victoria and a further six in NSW.
The aim is to design and develop them as smart, sustainable cities that have high connectivity – including data connectivity – and minimal environmental footprints.
“The eight cities project can deliver critical mass in passenger numbers for the HSR network, as well as unlock the significant financial benefits to the Australian economy of inland city development,” the website said.
Deals have already been made for the acquisition of almost half the land required for both the rail corridor and the new cities, ABC news reported.
The first phase of the project is a planned high-speed link from Melbourne to the Greater Shepparton region. It estimates this phase could start within five years, and both the rail and two new cities in northern Victoria online within a decade.
The venture was founded by former vice chairman of the NSW Nationals and businessman Nick Cleary, and wealth advisor and property developer Jay Grant. Mr Cleary is CLARA’s chairman and Mr Grant managing director.
Former Minter Ellison and Sparke Hellmore lawyer Clayton Davis is the in-house counsel, and the advisory board includes former Victorian premier Steve Bracks; former partner and owner of Chicago’s Kenny Construction Phillip Kenny; former US Transportation secretary Ray Lahood; chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia Niels Marquardt; former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell; former Coalition minister for trade and investment Andrew Robb; US infrastructure finance expert Lois Scott; and founder of Empower Gas and Electric David Wilhelm.
The working group for the venture is also stellar, and includes RMIT’s Professor Ralph Horne and Dr Martin Hook; AECOM’s Joe Langley; GE Australia head of strategy and growth Suzana Ristevski, GE global growth and operations head Martin Kennedy; DLA Piper Australia partner John Gallagher; principal of SGS Economics and Planning Dr Marcus Spiller; senior research scientist CSIRO Land and Water Flagship Dr Neil Lazarow; professor of public policy and director of CSIRO’s National Outlook Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds; and commercial director of CSIRO’s Land and Water Flagship Scott Keyworth.
While the proposal has generated significant attention and praise, the Greens warned that the value capture proposal, which they said could “play a role”, might not be in the best interest of the community, with government involvement wise for a project of such magnitude.
Greens spokesperson for transport Senator Janet Rice said there were still many questions to be answered, with much of the information absent from the launch due to commercial in confidence considerations.
“Being asked to ‘just trust us’ is not good enough for a project of this scale,” she said.