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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Route and heritage concerns over light rail stage two

The ACT Government will pursue the proposed light rail stage two route from the City to Woden via Barton, despite concerns raised by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories.

The Committee, comprising federal MPs and Senators engaged to inquire and report on approvals for the proposed stage two, released their report on the project on Monday, citing concerns over the proposed route with regards to heritage impacts in the Parliamentary Zone and a route that is not consistent with the National Capital Plan.

The Committee made a series of recommendations to the ACT Government, including a two-stage Commonwealth approvals process for a “route that is only partially consistent” with the National Capital Plan.

Committee Chair Ben Morton MP said routes for rapid transport were already provided for in the National Capital Plan, and the project could “quickly and easily move forward through other approval processes” if these routes were to be used.

Mr Morton said if the ACT Government chose to pursue a route that is only partially consistent with the National Capital Plan, it would “unavoidably add further complexity, time, and cost to the project”.

The National Capital Authority (NCA) told the Committee it does not support the proposed route through the Parliamentary Zone, citing inconsistencies with the National Capital Plan.

The Committee also made recommendations around the design of any light rail bridge, placement and design of light rail stops, landscaping and signage through the Parliamentary Zone, replanting and landscaping and the removal of heritage trees.

Minister Fitzharris said while the ACT Government will pursue its preferred route, the Committee highlighted a number of sensitivities around a route through the Parliamentary Triangle. She said the ACT Government would work closely with the NCA on any possible changes to the National Capital Plan.

“The planned route attracts more passengers, creates less impacts and provides critical connectivity for more national attractions, universities, residential areas and employment centres.

“The planned route has been informed by extensive consultation with the Canberra community, with around 75% of respondents supporting a route that travels through Barton.”

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) welcomed the report, which PTCBR Chair Damien Haas said contains “common sense recommendations” that mean the NCA and the ACT Government can work on a route through the Parliamentary Zone that serves the people of Canberra and national institutions, while satisfying heritage concerns.

The Committee also recommended the light rail be wire-free when travelling on, or crossing, a number of main streets including Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra Avenue (to Manuka Circle) and Adelaide Avenue (to Kent Street), as well as some in Barton and the entire Parliamentary Zone.

The ACT Government have expressed some concern with wire-free running to the Committee, citing current limitations with available technology for energy storage.

ACT Shadow Minister for Transport Candice Burch expressed “significant concerns” about making a financial investment decision based on technology that does not currently exist.

Ms Burch also called on the ACT Government to release detailed costing of the desired route, and other considered routes, to the public so that “a reasoned assessment of the costs and benefits of the project” can be made.

Minister Fitzharris said the ACT Government will consider the details of the recommendations.

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