The Blade Runner option
21 January 2010
The view from the office window was mean-grey overcast with a light shitty rain. We have to be thankful, I guess, that bushfires have been few. We’ve had rain, yes, but not wholehearted rain, filling the dams. The downpours west of the mountains flashed off the parched earth and officially we slipped further into drought, a metaphor, somehow, for the state of the state.
I unkinked my tail, made myself another black coffee, and went back to my investigation of the Sydney Metro Authority.
In some ways it’s been an easy job. Most of the Metro employees are convinced it scratches with its hind leg. In decent society, “I’m still playing the piano in the brothel” are words more likely to fall from the lips than an admission that you’re drawing up plans for the Metro. It’s tough when the only bloke who’ll talk to you at parties is Russell Edwards.
The authority was thrown together in a hurry. About 60 per cent of the workforce came from the Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation, the rip-off “state owned corporation” that gouges the railways for a flat 12.5 per cent of the value of all the infrastructure they allegedly design for them. About 20 per cent come from the Ministry of Transport, 15 per cent from the RTA and maybe 5 per cent from CityRail or RailCorp. All these guys and gals were brought over on secondment and were “acting up” as they say in the public service, so they were pulling higher than normal salaries. In an effort to buy their loyalty, the authority got most to sign up as direct Metro employees by keeping them on the higher wages and promising 50 weeks redundancy pay if the projects were abandoned. In spite of this, many are keen to salve their consciences, and documents my client wanted walked out the door.
Then, of course, there are hordes of “planning consultants” leeching on the project, because it’s the only game in town. Most of them are cynical, and willing to talk. What I was hearing suggested the steam has gone out of the CBD Metro, although maybe not the West Metro.
It’s an open secret that Nathan Rees was bumped when he was bumped to stop him issuing his notorious, 30 year, “Transport Blueprint”a dog’s breakfast lashed together on the run – under the chairmanship of a former RTA bureaucrat who was sacked over the Cross City tunnel fiasco – to make the metro projects look like they fitted into some sort of rational plan.
I flicked through my leaked copy. The leitmotif, as explained by the former premier’s foreword was “a period of enormous population expansion” with Sydney housing 6 million people and NSW 9 million by 2036. The new premier, looking fetchingly gamin in her old portfolios of Planning and Infrastructure, gazed out of the Ministers’ Foreword promising to “deliver the best outcomes”. No wonder she wanted to stop the Blueprint hitting the streets.
Quite where all the water and arable land was going to come from to support the premier’s population increase, the Blueprint doesn’t make clear. The signals are, as they say, “mixed”. A hilarious example occurs on page 20 where the plan states “Land for primary production on Sydney’s fringe needs to be protected for food production, open space and conservation”. Yes indeed. But if you turn back to the map showing “Changing employment patterns in Sydney (2006 – 2036)” you see that every bit of arable land on the fringe is slated for between 25 and 150 per cent employment growth and a third of that between 50 and 150 per cent! You could only get growth like that if the rest of the Sydney Basin was entirely urbanised, which is, of course, the Tripodi Plan.
And the good folks of Rozelle ought to take note of this: I had to get out a magnifying glass to check it, but on the same map, a slab of Rozelle on either side of Victoria Road and north of Darling Street is shown as copping between 25 and 150 per cent employment growth … which makes the real Metro agenda clear. You won’t get that sort of growth if the ’hood remains a quaint mix of small one and two-storey homes and 19th century shops.
One of my informants explained it like this: the only way the state could get remotely near paying the exorbitant cost of fully-tunnelled metro is by erecting a steaming facsimile of Hong Kong on top of each station. This is what’s jocularly referred to as “The Blade Runner Option” down at the Metro planning office. Ah yes, when you see what they have in mind, you’ll want to go offworld for a new start, a new beginning.