Verity Firth, former member for Balmain and a candidate in Labor’s community preselection for the seat, said she will consider supporting the light rail station under Gladstone Park that was rejected by Leichhardt Council.
Ms Firth will meet with advocacy group EcoTransit Sydney on Friday to discuss the issue. She described herself as a fan of light rail, citing its low carbon footprint and high passenger capacity.
“It is important to encourage inner-city residents to use public transport,” she said.
But while the old light rail infrastructure at White Bay is “waiting to be used”, Ms Firth said she had concerns about preserving “good quality open space” such as Gladstone Park.
Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne, who is also contesting Labor preselection for Balmain, was more definitive. He said the costs would be “astronomically expensive” and could destroy the park and playground that is used by Balmain Public School.
“It may be an engineering possibility, it doesn’t significantly increase public transport capacity and it would involve turning one of Sydney’s most beautiful parks into a construction zone for years,” Cr Byrne said.
The plan was the brainchild of Nathan English of EcoTransit Sydney, who has received the support of incumbent Balmain MP Jamie Parker. The Greens representative has made an official submission to the NSW government calling for the station’s construction.
Mr Parker insisted that the location was perfect for Balmain residents to have a light rail stop and claimed Labor is failing to deliver public transport amenity.
“A stop in Gladstone Park will make a significant difference, the location is right next to a hospital, right next to a school, it is right in the heart of the community,” he said.
“This is reminiscent of NSW Labor all over again – they are not interested in innovative ideas, they just want to build more roads.”
That accusation was flatly rejected by Ms Firth who said roads were not the solution to Sydney’s problem, but the enemy. Cr Byrne has also been a vocal opponent of the WestConnex motorway. But Mr English lashed out at Cr Byrne for engaging in what he calls “political opportunism” on the proposed light rail station at Gladstone Park.
“We see this as purely political as Darcy is very ambitious and going into preselection he needs to polarise the electorate and shore up Labor’s certainty,” he said.
Cr Byrne said expert advice ruled against the station’s feasibility. He is instead pushing ahead with plans to build light rail into White Bay.
“We are fighting to get light rail into White Bay where the line already exists. We have also introduced a new community bus in order to make sure elderly people are able to picked up and dropped off for short trips,” Cr Byrne said.
The mayor also suggested groups such as EcoTransit should focus their attention on transport issues in areas that are currently under-serviced.
“To be totally frank, the people at EcoTransit are well-intentioned – however, as public transport advocates or advocates for NSW, I think they need to start putting intellectual energy into how kids in Campbelltown can get a bus to a job interview,” Cr Bryne said.
“Public transport is about social justice.”
Ms Firth echoed those sentiments, telling the Inner West Independent: “We need to get serious about providing good transport to people in the outer suburbs [and] we need to get serious about master planning for our city.”
[Editor’s note: The print version of this story incorrectly said Ms Firth and Cr Byrne engaged in a public debate on March 26. The error was made in production.]