Does the proposed Rowville rail line make sense?

At first glance, the Victorian Opposition’s enthusiasm for a new rail link between the existing Huntingdale station and Rowville seems like simple opportunistic politics. And it undoubtedly is. But as we shall see later, a variation on this idea might be worth a second glance.

The idea of a Rowville rail line goes back to 1969. The most recent substantive development was a pre feasibility study commissioned by Knox City Council in 2004 and undertaken by Professors Bill Russell and Peter Newman.

The study endorses the rail line, arguing that it could reduce the travel time from Rowville to the CBD by 30 minutes, improve the mobility of students using rail to access Monash University, remove cars from freeways and reduce the need for households to own second cars.

The pre feasiblity study is very “preliminary”, but nevertheless there’s enough there to see that there are some formidable obstacles to this proposal. Read the rest of this entry »

Which portfolio should the Greens take?

Climateworks - click to enlarge

It’s a commonplace in politics, as it is in most things, that it’s better to focus limited resources on a few objectives than to spread them thin over a broad front.

So I’m therefore more than a little surprised that the Greens in Victoria, fresh from winning the Federal seat of Melbourne, are reportedly going to demand the Transport portfolio if they control the balance of power at the next State election (here and here).

If true that strikes me as a curious demand. There are doubtless complex political issues around why the Greens would even want a Ministry, but in terms of the scope for improving the environment it seems to me that Energy would be a more logical choice than the Transport portfolio.

There are a number of reasons for this view.

First, as this report prepared for the 2008 Victorian Climatechange Summit shows, electricity is a far larger generator of CO2 emissions than the transport sector. In Victoria, 64% of all carbon emissions are generated by the residential, commercial and manufacturing sectors. Almost all of this carbon is emitted from coal-fired power stations.

In comparison, all passenger transport in the State – by both car and public transport – generates 14% of Victoria’s total carbon emissions. The transport of freight is responsible for another 5%. Comparable figures are also published in The Victorian Transport Plan.

So on the face of it there’re potentially much bigger gains for the environment from clean energy production than there are from clean transport. Read the rest of this entry »

Is water priced to encourage conservation?

There have been some quite spectacular reductions in Melbourne’s water consumption in recent years. The latest invoice from my water company proclaims that total water consumed by customers has fallen 36% since 1997.

Most of this gain is undoubtedly due to water restrictions and jaw boning. Pricing doesn’t seem to have been a big influence, even though most economists would suggest that it is one of the most efficient ways to moderate demand.

I just got my water bill for the last three months. Average daily use by my household is 495 litres, or 124 litres per person. That’s not bad compared to the Government’s daily target of 155 litres per person (although admittedly it’s been a pretty wet winter).

What surprises me however is the relatively low profile given to pricing as a mechanism for dampening demand (pun intended). My Consumption Charges only amount to 24.4% of my total bill. The other key items are Parks Charges, Drainage Charges, Service Charges and Sewage Charges. Read the rest of this entry »

A new high school for Coburg – what are the lessons?

Coburg's "Black Hole" - no high school for year 7 students (existing high schools in red - grey schools don't offer full service)

There’s a fascinating struggle going on between the Education Department and residents of Coburg about the need for a new junior high school in the area (see here and here).

The map shows what residents call the “black hole” and this story in The Age gives the history of high school closures in the area:

“The troubled Moreland City College closed in 2004. Coburg High School shut its doors in 1993 and is now the site for a planned 510 apartments. Newlands High School, now part of the Pentridge Prison development, folded in 1993. Moreland High School taught its final class in 1991 and is now Kangan Batman TAFE”.

The Education Department says there isn’t sufficient demand to meet the minimum size requirements for a junior high school and that there are others nearby with adequate capacity to take Coburg children from year seven. The residents argue that these schools are either too far away or unsuitable.

There are two existing high schools within the circle, shown in grey on the map, but they are not full-service schools. One is Coburg Senior High (co-ed, year 10 upwards) and the other is Preston Girls College (girls 7-12 only). The obvious “new junior school” solution is to expand Coburg Senior High.

I’m not concerned with the reasonableness of either side’s case, but I am interested in the issue of how far teenagers should reasonably be expected to travel to school. I also think there’s some insight to be had here into the issue of whether or not there is spare infrastructure capacity in inner suburbs. Read the rest of this entry »

Where are the (infrastructure) white elephants?

With the renewed political focus on regional development, it’s timely to think about white elephants – in this instance specifically about Infrastructure White Elephants.

Anytime politicians are excited by regional development, herds of white elephants can’t be far away. I touched on this important matter in a previous post on “visionary” projects, but now I’m interested to know which projects, if any, qualify as Infrastructure White Elephants.

To begin with I’ll use a simple definition – according to Wiki, a white elephant is a valuable possession whose level of use is low relative to its cost to build and maintain.

On that definition I’d be tempted to include Sydney’s Cross City tunnel and Brisbane’s Clem 7 under-river tunnel on my list of provisional white elephants, as initial traffic levels were much lower than forecast. Then going back a bit, other potential candidates might include the Ord River Scheme and more recently the Alice Springs to Darwin rail line. Read the rest of this entry »

Can the NBN ‘save’ our cities?

In yesterday’s post I asked if our largest capitals could grow bigger and remain liveable. Today I’m looking at the flipside – whether or not the National Broadband Network (NBN) will give regional centres the wherewithal to draw population growth away from Sydney and Melbourne.

This question is prompted by avuncular New England Independent, Tony Windsor, who argued on Q&A this week that the National Broadband Network could be a key driver of decentralisation:

“If there’s been a piece of infrastructure (if it’s done correctly) that negates distance as being a disadvantage of living in country Australia, this is it…..

“We’re going through a population debate at the moment. The election was about the people of western Sydney and western Melbourne and Dick Smith and others talking about how we’ve got to constrain the population of this nation. Nothing about regional Australia in that context. Nothing about the infrastructure out there. If we get the broadband system right it could revolutionise country living and solve some of the city-based problems”.

I’ve previously concluded (here, here, here and here) that the prospects for diverting growth from our cities to regional centres on a significant scale do not appear promising (other than if nearby regional centres become satellites i.e. de facto outer suburbs). However could the NBN, as Mr Windsor suggests, be the magic bullet? Read the rest of this entry »

Can our cities get bigger (and remain liveable)?

The issue of decentralisation could be back on the table given the elevated significance of the three regionally-based independents*. I’ve previously argued (here and here) that there are big questions about the viability of decentralisation on a large scale, so today I want to look at whether or not our major cities can cope with more growth.

There was quite a bit of interest in the 60s and 70s around the idea of an efficient city size. The assumption that a point was reached where diseconomies of scale set in was part of the rationale for the failed decentralisation push of the Whitlam era.

There’s a better appreciation today that cities make structural adjustments in response to growth and may generate new economic advantages. There’s wide acceptance of the idea that productivity increases (modestly) as city size/density increases.

Australia’s major cities are certainly not bursting at the seams, notwithstanding residents’ concerns about issues like traffic congestion and housing affordability. Sydney is actually only the 80th largest city by population in the world and Melbourne the 87th. Many of the larger cities dwarf ours – Tokyo, for example, has more than nine times as many residents as Sydney. Read the rest of this entry »