City News

Fight for light rail info ramps up

People Unite Surry Hills founder, Venietta Slama-Powell / Photo: Edwin Monk

A lack of transparency behind the decision to run Sydney’s new light rail lines through a steep, narrow street in the heart of Surry Hills is spurring campaigners to step up their quest to obtain the modeling used to determine the route.

After months of uncertainty, NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian confirmed last month that the CBD and South East Light Rail project would include a surface route between Central Station and the Centennial Parklands via Devonshire St, and that all other possible avenues had been excluded.

The route will see two parallel railway tracks laid along Devonshire St, and light rail carriages pass within metres of people’s living rooms and bedrooms as frequently as every three minutes.

At the top of the hill, where Devonshire St ends, an undetermined number of homes will be demolished to allow the lines to continue east.

Community activists such as Venietta Slama-Powell, spokesperson for People Unite Surry Hills (PUSH), say they are not against light rail per se, but are upset that the State Government will not release the studies Ms Berejiklian has cited, which apparently show Devonshire St to be a better route than alternatives such as Oxford or Cleveland Streets.

“We understand why people might suggest we’re NIMBYs but as taxpayers we’ve seen too many white elephant transport projects in NSW,” said Ms Slama-Powell, citing the Cross City Tunnel and Sydney Monorail as examples.

“We want to see the independent studies which demonstrate the benefits before we’re happy to sacrifice our neighbourhood, and in some cases our homes.”

Ms Slama-Powell added: “These supertrams will be 2.65 to three metres wide and 45 metres long – the largest in the country – running in a street that’s between 7.5 and 8.8 metres wide. And there’ll be two tracks in the street, meaning they’ll take up about six metres.”

Charmaine Jones from the Surry Hills Public Tenants Association agreed that local residents weren’t against light rail.

“We’re sick of being told we’re against light rail,” said Ms Jones. “We’re not. We’re concerned about how all this will work. The Transport Minister says studies show Devonshire St is the best route – well, show us the studies.”

Ms Jones feared that with the State Government owning public housing along much of Devonshire St, the government might sacrifice it to accommodate light rail.

“We’re concerned they might have chosen Devonshire St because if they need more room, they own a lot of the housing and can easily demolish it.”

Private homeowner Robyn Koster, who lives on Devonshire St in a Victorian terrace house, said: “This is an old house in a narrow street and our windows rattle even when large vehicles go past – so we really want to know why Devonshire St is the best option, and how the government intends to mitigate the problems if Devonshire St proceeds.”

But Ms Berejiklian failed to provide the information by press time, while the Government Information Public Access (GIPA) unit was rebuffing Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

“We requested the relevant documents, only for GIPA to write back asking us why this information is in the public interest,” said Ms Slama-Powell.

PUSH is now lodging a complaint against GIPA, with the backing of Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich.

“I’ll continue to push for the modeling to be released,” said Mr Greenwich.