We can fix unfair cost of living

A long journey ahead: With long commutes for drivers, boosting the rail network would help produce a real transformation in outer Western Sydney.
A long journey ahead: With long commutes for drivers, boosting the rail network would help produce a real transformation in outer Western Sydney.

As a mayor in western Sydney, hearing the state’s new premier say housing affordability and local infrastructure investment will be priorities for her government has been music to my ears – but I’m not putting on my dancing shoes just yet.

These two issues may seem unrelated, but for two million residents living in western Sydney they are very much connected and front of mind. Politicians, industry groups and developers may debate the merits of reduced taxation, new incentives and increased supply as the panacea for housing affordability. But those who live in the traditionally “more affordable areas” on the outskirts of metropolitan Sydney are already paying a heavy price - at the petrol pump and through tolls, and health, social and lifestyle costs through some of the longest commutes in Australia.

If you don’t live in western Sydney, it’s easy to assume this situation doesn’t affect you. But the truth is, western Sydney isn’t somewhere else, or even someone else.

Take a look around – whether you’re in a Sydney office or out grabbing a coffee, chances are you’re surrounded by western Sydneysiders. Ask a colleague where they travelled to work from this morning and chances are you’ll hear the name of a suburb in western Sydney. And that’s because more than 300,000 people travel out of the region every day for work.

In 2036, two out of every three new Sydneysiders will make their home in western Sydney – that’s three million people living west of Parramatta within the next 20 years.

The Bureau of Transport reported that our congested roads already costs NSW $5.1billion each year in lost productivity.  In the end, what’s good for the west is good for Sydney.

In Penrith, we have experienced the effect of significant population growth. Between 1971 and 1981, Penrith’s population almost doubled, from 58,000 to 109,000. Today, it is 205,000 people. Our participation in the workforce is high – Penrith’s unemployment rate (four per cent) is lower than Greater Sydney, NSW and Australia. Meanwhile, investment in infrastructure, particularly in public transport, has not kept pace with this growth. Our city is still reliant on one railway line (that opened in 1863) running east-west to Sydney’s CBD.

Penrith sits on one of Australia’s most significant future north/south economic corridors and crosses the east-west connection, meaning our community travels in many different directions, across the region to get to work. This is not a luxury of choice; 75 per cent rely on private motor vehicles to get to their jobs, the increasing congestion and time spent getting across the region is an enormous burden.

The City Deal concept offers western Sydney a great opportunity. It gives us the chance to move beyond short political cycles, old east-west thinking and local parochialism on priorities. Three levels of government working together to boost productivity and prosperity of a city or city region. Creation of a city of the future - leveraging the western Sydney priority growth area employment lands and a second Sydney airport.

Such a bold approach, in a high growth area at the edge of the metropolis, has never been attempted before in Australia. It opens the door to game changing, region shaping opportunities.

One such opportunity is the development of a connected rail network; a lynchpin in realising economic, social and environmental progress in Western Sydney.

Building a north-south rail link would create a new, connected 30-minute city and, according to research commissioned by the Western Sydney Rail Alliance, add $44.7 billion to the economy (from 2024 – 2040) reaching $3.6 billion per year by 2040 (Deloitte). We’re calling on our state and federal leaders to reserve this rail corridor immediately and look at how we can work together to deliver rail in our region – before all the land is taken up for housing that we can’t really afford.

- Penrith Mayor John Thain