An exciting vision for central Sydney – will it become a reality?

A long promised plan to make central Sydney more friendly for pedestrians and public transport got a step closer this week with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) being signed by Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Premier Kristina Keneally.  The MoU contains plans for a light rail extension to be built through the City, a number of streets transformed into pedestrian/car shared zones and other streets to be closed to cars at peak times to make more room for buses.

This is just the kind of plan we need for central Sydney to become the sustainable, people friendly city we all want it to be.

However as it currently stands the plan is nothing but a public relations stunt.

It’s all very well to sign up to a lovely vision like this, but the bulk of the initiatives included in the plan aren’t slated to begin until “early 2011”.  In March 2011 there will be a state election at which Keneally’s Labor government will almost certainly be thrown out of office, meaning nothing from the plan will get done.

The Premier and the Lord Mayor are both well aware of the political realities we currently face so if they are serious about reforming transport in the City they need to make sure that there are measures in place for the best aspects of this plan to happen no matter who holds Government.  It’s time for the “new paradigm” of inter-party negotiation, briefly heralded as the way forward for the new federal government, to be embraced in state parliament.

When Clover Moore asked for Council endorsement to sign the MoU I moved that she also negotiate with Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell to secure his co-operation on the plan.  Sadly, he seems to have been pressured by nebulous claims from the business lobby about how less cars on city streets will mean less sales (a foolish claim given the very low proportion of patrons to City businesses who drive to these places), so is sitting on the fence but leaning towards the side of opposing the plan.

The plan can now be seen as a test of how serious the Lord Mayor and both major parties in state parliament are on real reforms.  If Clover Moore and the Premier are serious about the plan and would like it to be more than a public relations exercise they will engage in genuine negotiations with the Opposition to secure a commitment to retaining what aspects of the plan they can, or maybe even developing some new, better aspects that they hadn’t previously thought of.

The test for the Opposition will be to see whether or not they are prepared to make solid commitments and tell the people of NSW what they would do in government.  Currently the Liberals expect to be handed government simply on the back of Labor’s unpopularity and have a general strategy of opposing things just to be different.  While the Labor government has had many failures the opposition needs to see past the political bickering and embrace positive ideas, like this one,  no matter where they come from.

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