City News

New budget growing pains

Sydney CBD construction on George Street Photo: Erika Echternach

by Erika Echernach

Despite the City of Sydney’s projected rapid expansion to over 350,000 residents in the next 18 years, the 2018/19 City of Sydney budget approved at last week’s Council meeting lacks the investment in infrastructure needed to sustain such growth.

City of Sydney Labor councillor Linda Scott has contested the new budget saying: “The City’s budget does not give our community in our growing city bang for our buck. There are so many crucial and desperately needed infrastructure projects and services un- or under-funded.”

Cr Scott’s claim is not unfounded, considering the new budget allots less than $1 million to the development of childcare centres and affordable housing will receive only $5.4 million in total expenditure for the year.

As a small business owner herself, Cr Vithoulkas was inspired to enter state politics and create a party specifically for small business after seeing her cafe suffer because of the light rail construction and witnessing how insignificant small business was to State Government, though it is an integral part of the whole economy.

Cr Scott noted that the flawed budget inhibits the City from cultivating a thriving community.

“Funding for desperately-needed infrastructure, such as more childcare facilities, sporting facilities, affordable housing and skating facilities, is non-existent or not sufficient to meet community needs in this budget,” Cr Scott said.

The massive need for improved infrastructure affects more than just the City of Sydney suburb.

Inner West councillor John Stamolis said that NSW grew by a record 123,000 last year, and with most of that increase going to Sydney, better city planning is needed.

Cr Stamolis explained that Sydney must now absorb one million new citizens in less than half the time statisticians in the 1980s had predicted the population would grow.

“This can be done, but it needs to be done well to ensure that quality of living remains a key priority for Australia’s fast growing cities,” Cr Stamolis said.

Eamon Waterford, the acting CEO of the Committee for Sydney, explained how growth and infrastructure should go hand-in-hand.

“Rapid growth has to be matched with infrastructure,” Mr Waterford said. “So you need to be planning ahead and building schools and hospitals that open when people arrive, not after they arrive.”

But Sydney has long struggled with finding this balance between development and providing adequate infrastructure.

Cr Stamolis said, “In Sydney, too often we see that good planning goes out the door to keep pace with fast population growth.”

Now, the City of Sydney is seeing this pattern perpetuated with the release of its new budget, which leaves little for progressing the City’s infrastructure, though Cr Scott said an increase of 38 per cent investment in infrastructure is more pressing than ever.

“Without strong financial commitment to affordable housing projects, childcare facilities and sports and recreation facilities in this year’s budget, the City risks failing to provide a funded vision for the big issues facing Sydney,” Cr Scott said.

Cr Scott added that providing the funding for the necessary, key infrastructure projects within the City’s budget would enable the City to thrive in the future.

“More needs to be done to ensure that the City of Sydney can truly serve the public good,” Cr Scott said.

Mr Waterford explained that it would greatly benefit the people to plan for more good public places, such as parks, for city-dwellers to spend time in since they typically do not have yards of their own.

Besides having no yards, Mr Waterford said he thinks it’s important to have good, dense places to live close to where jobs are because this could potentially solve some commuting worries for people.

With the longest commute times of the nation’s main cities, Sydney is falling behind in supplying for the high demand behind quality public transportation.

Poor transportation may be the primary factor differentiating Sydney from the world’s other major cities such as London and Hong Kong, which have exceedingly good public transport system.

However, Cr Stamolis said Sydney seems to be scrambling to offer suitable commute options for its workers.

“For three decades, we have provided few solutions to those people who get up at five am and trek to the CBD, North Sydney and a raft of other locations near the CBD; dropping their children off at seven am and collecting them at six pm,” Cr Stamolis said. “It’s time that we thought this through.”

Mr Waterford proposed investing in other means of transportation as well to alleviate the strain on Sydney’s public transport system.

“One area of infrastructure I’d like to see more investment in is cycling infrastructure,” Mr Waterford said. “It’s really important that we actually invest in separated cycle lanes that allow our cyclists to cycle safely.”

Another option mentioned by Cr Stamolis could be attempting to create major centres outside of the CBD.

“A much greater focus on the central coast and even further afield to Newcastle could provide job growth, reduced travel times, better lifestyle and greater productivity,” Cr Stamolis said.

While such metropolitan expansion may be a viable way to address Sydney’s rapid growth challenges in the long-term, a City budget that dedicates its ample resources toward investing in desperately needed infrastructure projects would certainly mitigate some the issues it currently faces.

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