South Coast line commute must be cut to unlock economic potential, says Laing

Train of thought: Senior planner David Laing says  rail upgrades must be the way forward.
Train of thought: Senior planner David Laing says rail upgrades must be the way forward.

Fast rail infrastructure is the key to unlocking value for a regional economy, one of the Illawarra’s most senior planners has said.

Cardno senior principal David Laing said the benefits of speedy rail linkages to major cities were seen in boosted property prices, greater productivity, urban and a healthier, happier workforce.

Mr Laing, former chief of the Property Council Illawarra, said the upside of rail outweighed anything motorways could deliver.

Rail was able to transport many more people per square kilometre on a daily basis, and was much easier for planners to work with.

“Rail gives rise to wealth and property value increases,” he said.

Rail gives rise to wealth and property value increases

David Laing

“Rail allows you better plan communities as opposed to road. Rail talks to existing hardwired infrastructure. The benefits of rail can then be increased densities around railway hubs.

“The road benefit is more diffuse; people will live in all different parts of an urban area. But with rail people will live around railway nodes.”

He said a dramatic cut in the travel time between Wollongong and Sydney would spark a boom for Helensburgh, Thirroul, Corrimal all the way to Fairy Meadow. As housing boomed in these suburbs a levy or state infrastructure contribution could be charged on the now-more-valuable new developments, and go towards paying off the rail investment. He called this “clipping the ticket”. 

Mr Laing was lending his voice to the push to focus infrastructure spending on major cuts to the rail commute time between Wollongong and Sydney.

This was after the NSW Government said it would spend $15 million on planning to extend the F6 in southern Sydney. But Fairfax Media revealed the Transport department was considering demolishing 460 houses, or carving off 60 hectares of the Royal National Park, for the F6 extension.

On Thursday unions and business joined forces, with South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris and Illawarra First executive director Chris Lamont both urging significant rail upgrades needed to be the “number one” priority.