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Infrastructure ‘hits and misses’ in Hunter

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It’s a “mixed bag” for the Hunter following the release of an independent strategic review into national infrastructure projects.

The Australian Government has scrapped $1 billion funding for faster train services between Newcastle and Sydney, while the Muswellbrook Bypass also remains under a cloud.

But, on a positive note, $500 million is confirmed for High-Speed Rail Authority priorities, with a further $360 million guaranteed for the Rankin Park to Jesmond venture for the Newcastle Inner City Bypass.

A concrete plan for the Pacific Highway, via the M1 Pacific Motorway Extension to Raymond Terrace, was confirmed, too.

The report, released on Thursday 16 November, revealed the Infrastructure Investment Program (IIP) inherited from the former Coalition government was undeliverable, courtesy of the number of projects blowing out from 150 to 800.

In fact, it stated many lacked proper planning, didn’t have informed costings and weren’t ready for commonwealth outlay.

The review found an estimated $33 billion in known cost pressures across all projects in the program.

“Establishing a high-speed rail network between Sydney and Newcastle remains a priority for the government with a recommitment today of $500 million,” Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said.

“The board has been set up, staging its first meeting in Newcastle.

“It’s a milestone achievement that recognises the lead role our city will play in shaping high-speed rail in Australia.

“Newcastle and our region stand to benefit enormously from the government’s commitment to begin work on it – cutting carbon, delivering better connectivity and creating local jobs and opportunities for industry and business alike.

“It’s time to make high-speed rail a reality in Australia.”

Hawes
Business Hunter CEO Bob Hawes.

Business Hunter CEO Bob Hawes stated there were “winners and losers” across the region, while greater clarity was required on other initiatives.

“While the Newcastle to Sydney – Tuggerah-Wyong faster rail upgrade has been cut, the $500 million commitment for High-Speed Rail Authority Priorities has been maintained, which begs the question are we simply moving straight to high-speed rail?” he asked.

“Before the 2022 Federal Election, Labor leader Anthony Albanese pledged $500 million for a fast-rail project in his first budget.

“The government then established the High-Speed Rail Authority to prioritise the Newcastle to Sydney section of the network.

“Given the strategic importance of this link, we would anticipate this would still be a high priority.”

Mr Hawes said it was pleasing to see a range of strategic projects across the Hunter were still on the list, including the Mandalong Road upgrade.

“Regional growth and development bring with it the challenges of moving people and goods effectively and efficiently,” he explained.

“As the Hunter grows, they will come into greater focus.

“Thankfully, many road projects we have long been advocating for are on the list.”

One, however, that remains in doubt is the Muswellbrook Bypass, which received commitment for planning to continue, with construction funds contingent upon further review.

“This project will improve network efficiency on the New England Highway, particularly travel times for long haul freight movements, which will directly benefit producers in the region,” Mr Hawes said.

Meanwhile, the Northern NSW Inland Port-Narrabri, part of an inland rail system linking the major primary production regions in inland New South Wales and South-East Queensland to major export hubs, was cut.

“Considering the bigger picture, this link is important for supporting and diversifying regional economies as primary producers and manufacturers look to grow businesses into key regional and metropolitan areas, or export markets,” Mr Hawes added.

“By reducing the scope of infrastructure projects on the books, the government should now have ample capacity to deliver on committed projects.

“A significant reduction in the scope of projects should hopefully see those on the list move through without delay.

“Ideally, we’ll also receive some clarity from the state government to confirm all these projects are in frame, given this clarity at a federal level.”

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