A consortium planning high speed rail from Sydney to Melbourne has won a slice of federal funding to develop its business case.
Urban Cities and Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher announced on Thursday that Consolidated Land and Rail Australia’s (CLARA) proposal was one of three that should be further investigated.
The consortium will receive a portion of the government’s $20 million Faster Rail Prospectus funding for the business case. CLARA will co-fund the study, to be delivered over the next year.
The investigation relates to the Melbourne to Greater Shepparton link. Mr Fletcher said the program was aimed at developing detailed proposals for faster rail services between major cities and surrounding regional areas.
CLARA’s concept involves construction of two new ‘smart cities’ to be built on greenfield sites within the Shepparton region and Strathbogie Shire. They would be focused on sustainability and advanced technology. The consortium estimates a 30-minute trip to Melbourne from Greater Shepparton.
Company chairman Nick Cleary said the government announcement was welcome news.
“We have been working hard for two years to get to this exciting point,” he said.
“To demonstrate the CLARA plan and private funding model, and in the process help solve some of the major issues impacting our nation, is a great step forward.”
He told The Post the announcement augured well for the Sydney to Goulburn section of the project. This is pegged as stage two of the overall $200 billion plan but will not receive federal business case funding.
But Mr Cleary said this section stacked up economically in its own right.
“We do not need the (Sydney to Melbourne) line to be connected to make it economically viable,” he said.
“...These two sections can be done concurrently because they rely on two separate markets and have two separate econometrics.”
CLARA is proposing a smart city north of Goulburn accommodating up to 400,000 people. It won’t say exactly where. Mr Cleary said CLARA was working with its partners to optimise the rail corridor.
Talks with renewable energy companies, water reuse and recycling outfits, arts and cultural groups and other service providers were underway.
Mr Cleary, who was formerly a Southern Highlands real estate agent, said it was important that cities were highly livable, otherwise they wouldn’t be economically viable.
Discussions with the ACT and NSW governments are also taking place. Mr Cleary said these were focused on the fast rail concept and vision, and benefits flowing to the State and Territory.
“We want to put it front and centre that NSW and the ACT have run out of space and the answer to this problem is decentralisation. But the only way you can achieve that is through rail connectivity,” he said.
“...Our business case is built around our economic thesis and from there we can launch into land rezonings and development applications, which will enable us to start building.”
CLARA has enlisted former Goulburn Mulwaree Mayor Geoff Kettle as its community engagement consultant. He is talking to councils along the corridor about the plan.
The company earlier said it had taken out options on half the land it needed. It’s involved talks with landowners in the Goulburn district.
Mr Cleary estimated the planning process would take three years with construction of the smart cities to start by 2021. People could move in soon after and have access to fast rail by 2026.
“It will totally change the debate about Goulburn’s proximity to big cities,” he said.
The proposal is privately funded and based on the value-capture, whereby land is on-sold to developers at a higher rate than purchased. The profits fund the infrastructure and smart cities. Mr Cleary said CLARA was the developer and was currently dealing with construction companies.
“We absolutely believe that value capture is the best method and that is our business case. It’s a model that’s worked well for major infrastructure projects overseas, ” he said.
“The time of doing nothing has passed for Australia. We have to do something to cope with growth in our major cities. An estimated six million people will be looking for a home and we have to do that in a planned way that enhances people’s lives.
“We need to step it up and look at new opportunities. Our funding model will create those and it means that State and Federal governments don’t have to put their hands in their pockets.”
Mr Cleary described it as an exciting project that people wanted and which would solve problems of housing availability, affordability and quality of life.
He said the company was advancing all stages of the proposal.
Thursday’s announcement followed a competitive selection process. Mr Fletcher said the two other business cases to be funded were the NSW Government’s upgrade of the Sydney to Newcastle line and the North Coast Connect consortium's concept for Brisbane and the Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast regions.
“If these proposals prove to be viable, they offer the potential to significantly reduce journey times on these key corridors – meaning better options for people who want to have the lifestyle of a regional centre but access to the job opportunities of a big city,” Mr Fletcher said.