Local political and business leaders have vowed to continue the fight for light rail along Oxford St, despite the State Government’s decision to build Sydney’s first new light rail lines since the year 2000 on Devonshire St instead of Oxford St.
At a forum held at the Beauchamp Hotel, Darlinghurst on Monday night – hosted by the Darlinghurst and Surry Hills Business Partnership – numerous delegates espoused the benefits of a light rail line for Oxford St, which has been excluded from the CBD and South-East Light Rail project.
This week’s forum followed last week’s meeting on light rail, hosted by Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, at which NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian confirmed a Devonshire St route for the project, claiming modeling showed it would be viable only if it ran via Devonshire St.
Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich told this week’s forum he would seek answers from the NSW Government as to why Devonshire St was chosen over Oxford St.
“I’ll continue to seek justification … We haven’t really had that in detail yet,” said Mr Greenwich.
“It does seem that the Minister has decided on light rail along Devonshire St, despite the community campaign [against it] being really strong … I will continue to ask why that decision was made.”
Mr Greenwich said that even though Devonshire St had been chosen over Oxford St, the Darlinghurst strip could still be serviced by light rail in future.
“It doesn’t mean that we can’t also have light rail down Oxford St,” he said. “A line that would go to Bondi, perhaps, as it used to.”
Greg Sutherland, a former transport advisor to the State Government, said there was an urgent need for light rail on Oxford St, with the bus routes serving the street at breaking point.
“Oxford St is beyond the capacity of a reasonable service by bus … the demand is growing, not falling,” said Mr Sutherland.
“There are more people living in the area than there used to be. One light rail vehicle is [the same as] five buses.”
Gavin Gatenby, co-convenor of public transport advocacy group EcoTransit, was supportive of the State Government’s new light rail project but said Oxford St should also be a priority.
“It’s a classic light rail route,” he said. “It’s more than adequately wide [and] it goes through an area with lots of businesses.”
Calling an Oxford St route a “no-brainer”, he added: “It’s just got to happen. The political pressure will just build up for that to happen. The decision will quite probably be made before they finish the [Devonshire St] line.”
But not all participants were as keen on the mooted Oxford St line.
Kane Kelfkens, President of the Paddington Business Partnership, expressed concerns about light rail on Oxford St, opining that a protracted construction period could spell ruin for businesses.
City of Sydney Councillor John Mant said he could understand why the State Government chose the route they did, adding that the City’s main focus was George St in the CBD – not Oxford or Devonshire Streets.
“The City’s interest has always been George St and getting that exercise underway,” said Mr Mant. “The decision as to what to do after that is very much a State Government matter.”
Mr Mant’s comments were labeled “really concerning” by Darlinghurst business owner Stefan Gyory.
Meanwhile, Venietta Slama-Powell from People Unite Surry Hills (PUSH) told the meeting the new light rail project wasn’t light rail at all, but rather a heavy rail project in disguise.
“The trams are 45 metres long, they are the biggest trams we’ve got in this country, they’re six metres wide by two, and you need to allow a gap in between. They are more than 60 per cent bigger than [the] Haymarket trams. It’s not light rail,” insisted Ms Slama-Powell.
Ms Berejiklian did not attend the forum, and did not respond to requests for comment.
A Transport for NSW spokesperson reiterated that modeling showed Devonshire St was a better route than Oxford St, but would not release the modeling.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore could not attend the forum but urged the State Government to consider light rail for Oxford St.
“Extending light rail to Oxford St would reinvigorate local businesses and provide a long-awaited rail link from the city to Paddington, Centennial Park and Bondi Beach,” said Ms Moore.
“I have strongly encouraged the NSW Government to consider this option.”
– Additional reporting by Marcus Braid