Transport Administration Amendment (Sydney Metro) Bill 2018

(Bills - Second Reading Debate, May 2 2018, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

The Transport Administration Amendment (Sydney Metro) Bill establishes Sydney Metro as a statutory corporation to deliver the metro project and develop land around metro stations, depots and stabling yards. The metro is an important public transport project that runs through my electorate. It will add much needed heavy rail capacity at a time when investment in sustainable transport is essential. But I share the concerns of the Opposition that the changes to Sydney Metro are about privatising metro planning. 

Like its push to quickly sell the Sydney Motorway Corporation to privatise WestConnex decisions so that they maximise private profit regardless of health, environmental, neighbourhood and financial impacts on affected communities, privatising Sydney Metro could see metro transport decisions reflect profit to private companies.

Of great concern are changes in the bill which will allow Sydney Metro to become a developer. While I acknowledge that building infrastructure will involve change of land use and new developments, the past example of metro associated development in my electorate – the two towers to be built above the Martin Place station – prioritised private profit over good planning outcomes.

Macquarie Bank got approval to build the two massive towers above the station after it lodged an unsolicited proposal with the government. Despite the metro station being a major public infrastructure project, and being declared state significant, the government failed to undertake a public tender process to ensure the best community benefits were achieved.

Appallingly the two towers together will exceed the floor space ratio requirements set out in the local environment plan by 49 per cent! There will be new shadowing in the public domain including adjacent to the MLC Centre where large numbers of people congregate. New shadows will be cast on Hyde Park. Parts of Martin Place will be so windy they will no longer be comfortable to sit in.

The only obvious benefit of the development is to Macquarie Bank, which will occupy most of the floor space and lease out the rest.

The City of Sydney and the Royal Institute of Architects opposed the development, as did I, as state representative.

One of the buildings will be on land that Transport for NSW acquired through compulsory acquisition which included a state heritage listed 1930s apartment building at 7 Elizabeth Street; it also provided rare low cost housing. The building next door owned by Macquarie Bank that is used for bicycle parking and lockers was not acquired.

The community has no confidence in the process undertaken. There is significant suspicion that Macquarie Bank was informed about what buildings would be seized and knocked down before owners and occupiers were told. Indeed some believe that Macquarie Bank was involved in decisions to determine what land would be acquired.

After compulsory acquisitions were made public, Macquarie Bank’s unsolicited above-station development proposal progressed rapidly, suggesting that plans had long been established. It is not clear when they were first presented to government.

I even heard reports that one employee of Macquarie Bank and their partner each purchased a property at 7 Elizabeth Street a year before the compulsory acquisition was public and made significant profit from the final sale, raising concerns of potential insider trading. At the time I raised this concern with the government.

The process did not result in the best outcome for the site and left many feeling cheated.

We know that development will occur above the Pitt Street Metro Station and around other metro infrastructure outside my electorate. More land is likely to be acquired amid a Supreme Court ruling handed down yesterday that found the state government did not lawfully acquire land in Rozelle for the WestConnex.

The Pitt Street station is close to Hyde Park and residential towers, and is within the thriving commercial and retail central business district. What will happen in this sensitive environment?

Given the example with Macquarie Bank, there will likely be massive high rise developments around stations and metro infrastructure with no transparency, accountability, sustainability, design excellence or adherence to good planning principles particularly if Sydney Metro is privatised.

The bill gives Sydney Metro an objective to maximise the net worth of the state’s investment in the metro – which essentially means maximising the value of land.  

Sydney Metro will essentially operate as a developer making its decisions purely to get the most out of metro land at the expense of community outcomes (much like UrbanGrowth).

Community concern about state government development decisions benefitting special interests – from WestConnex to Packer’s casino at Barangaroo to the knockdown of Aussie Stadium – is rising but the government seems to have an ideological view on giving private developers carte blanche to land and services.

I am concerned about deals, promises and guarantees that the government will make in sales contracts for Sydney Metro that would result in poor transport and development outcomes to maximise the profits of potential buyers and therefore increase the purchase price of Sydney Metro.

Much is at risk and I will also oppose the bill.

 

To read the speeches of other Members on the subject, click HERE