Coalition,Labor brace for state election battle in Sydney’s west

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns has outlined the cornerstone of his election pitch,arguing Sydney is a divided city,where infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth in the west.

With the NSW election now a year away,Mr Minns used a speech at the launch of a report for the McKell Institute on Monday to stress he will make the east-west divide a battleground election issue.

The McKell report found that access to infrastructure in major cities is unequal and “strongly reflects the regional and metropolitan divide,household incomes,and historic disadvantage”.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns says infrastructure must keep pace with population growth in booming areas of western Sydney.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns says infrastructure must keep pace with population growth in booming areas of western Sydney.Peter Rae

It warned that the financial support provided during the pandemic may see Australian state and federal governments “soon encounter political pressure to engage in fiscal consolidation – pressure that could see essential investment in infrastructure delayed or abandoned. This must not happen.”

One of the Coalition’s most senior ministers,Rob Stokes,who also spoke at the report’s launch,this week warned thatthe government is preparing to delay several multi-billion dollar mega projects.

The controversial Beaches Link motorway,favoured by former premier Gladys Berejiklian,and an extension of theParramatta light rail line are among the major projects likely to be deferred,with Mr Stokes warning that rushing ahead with major builds at this time would be “reckless”.

The Opposition leader said infrastructure needed to be built where and when it was required.

Mr Minns said the state’s population targets up until 2041 showed the local government area of Blacktown would have to take an additional 200,505 people,and Liverpool an extra 190,105.

Similarly,Camden would grow by 180,000 people,Parramatta by 140,000 and Penrith would need to accommodate an extra 140,000 people,Mr Minns said.

“Given that huge increase in population,we are not doing nearly enough to provide equity of infrastructure for these communities,” he said.

“I’d argue – indeed I’ll argue over the next 12 months in the run-up to the next election – that the combined decisions to stop many fair urban consolidation residential development projects east of Parramatta have put enormous pressure on western Sydney.”

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns.Brook Mitchell

Mr Minns said when there was “a preference for new infrastructure in communities with a light increase in population”,voters in the west were left feeling like the “forgotten people”.

In his speech at the launch,Mr Stokes said that his government had “sought to retrofit solutions” to problems caused by decisions made in the 1970s and 1980s.

“NorthConnex,WestConnex,Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link are all motorways that should have been finished a generation ago,” he said.

“As the report makes clear,spatial inequality continues to define our city,having been entrenched by the short-sighted decisions of past administrations.”

Mr Stokes said the government was not only committed to delivering transport in Sydney’s west,but also cultural infrastructure such as museums,stadiums and park lands.

However,he said in order to continue delivering infrastructure,big and small,the government would need to look at how it assesses projects.

“We need to reconsider the way we apply social discount rates to assess the financial viability of major infrastructure projects,” he said.

The discount rate used by most Australian governments,including NSW,has been stuck at 7 per cent since at least 1989,even though the cost of borrowing has fallen dramatically since then.

“Projects that are incredibly important in the long term but take a little longer to realise a financial benefit are left behind,” Mr Stokes said.

He cited the Sydney Harbour Bridge as an example of a project that would not have been built if assessed on current standards. “If the current discount rate settings were applied,I doubt a 10-lane bridge would ever have been approved,” he said.

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Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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