Fast train challenges thinking on past and future | Editorial, Monday March 12

She’s the grand old lady “with a shady past,” as Goulburn Post columnist Ray Williams is fond of saying.

Goulburn has a long and proud history, which was on full display over the weekend with a host of activities from cake cutting, book launches, the Rose Festival, exhibitions, tours and talks. It was a busy weekend reflecting of a thriving city, comfortable in its own skin.

It’s been exactly 200 years since James Meehan ‘discovered’ Lake Bathurst and Goulburn Downs, opening up the way for more settlement. Wednesday marks 155 years since we were declared a city by Royal letter Patent. Much has changed in that time, especially in the last few years where housing construction has taken off and the median home price has risen.

Goulburn’s rural town character is transforming from simply a rural town to a vibrant city with a diverse demographic. But there’s a lingering sense we don’t want it to change too much.

Consolidated Land and Rail Australia’s plan for fast rail and a city of 400,000 people to our north seems like a bridge too far for many. Amid scepticism of whether high-speed rail will ever happen, people can’t imagine a smart city of this magnitude almost on our doorstep. CLARA chairman Nick Cleary says it won’t compete with Goulburn but it’s hard to see how it won’t. Either way, the region will be transformed by a proposal that effectively changes settlement patterns.

The CLARA bid is gaining legs. One year ago most people hadn’t heard of it but today it has won federal government backing to develop a business case for the Melbourne to greater Shepparton link. It’s one of three rail projects aimed at connecting regions and opening up more affordable housing options. The entire concept from Melbourne to Sydney, via Canberra, also ties in nicely with Goulburn Mulwaree Council efforts to draw outer Sydney business to this region. The Highland Source pipeline is also in the armoury.

It’s only a matter of time before development pushes out to this area in earnest. When it does, it must be done in a planned way, in full cooperation with state and local government. Smart cities cannot be planned in isolation but must also consider the broader settlement strategy, including economic and social impacts.

Goulburn deserves a good train service and high-speed rail is well overdue. But how will it sit with our history and character? It’s a balance we must strive to achieve for everyone’s sake.  


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