Rail Catalyst for Effective Regional Expansion

Rail Catalyst for Effective Regional Expansion

Published 2 November 2018, The Courier, Ballarat

After many years of advocacy, there have been a number of significant announcements concerning investment in regional rail. This is hugely positive for our region. The Minister for Transport, Jacinta Allan, released the state government’s early plans as to how an improved regional rail solution may be achieved for not only Geelong but also for Ballarat and the other key regional centres in Victoria.

The government is looking at an “inclusive” planning and delivery model that, in addition to involving local government and the relevant state transport authorities, will also include key community groups, such as Committee for Ballarat and other regional organisations, as important elements of the major drivers to deliver a successful outcome.

The government has committed $100 million to undertake the necessary planning and pre-approvals work for the Geelong and Ballarat links.

This declaration from the government coincides with the recent announcement from the state opposition of its intention to provide European-style high-speed rail to Ballarat and reduce the travel time to Melbourne to 45 minutes, should it win the election. It is a plan to connect all of Victoria.

This is all great news for Ballarat and the region, and never before have we been in such a position as to have bipartisan support for regional rail where the proposed investment is massive.

So, what is driving this level of investment? Quite simply it is population growth and the prospect of fast regional rail services easing the population pressures currently on Melbourne by providing commuters living in Ballarat with a comfortable journey to the CBD. The state must decentralise. Population intensification of the regions must occur. Melbourne now has a population of five million; it’s added over one million people in the past 10 years, which has placed enormous stress on housing affordability, schools, hospitals, road and public transport, and infrastructure in general. Over 2700 people per week are calling Melbourne home. At that rate by 2050, it will be home to an additional three million people. That is adding the equivalent of the current populations of Brisbane and Hobart. Unfortunately, liveability is becoming something of the past.

Genuine fast rail is a catalyst to regionalisation. We do need population growth and Melbourne quite simply can’t deal with it. We are the solution and the only solution to Melbourne’s growth woes. “We must focus on our cities and regions evolving as part of one master plan for Melbourne and Victoria,” states Martine Letts, CEO Committee for Melbourne. The provision of high-speed regional rail will be transformational for the major centres of Ballarat, Geelong, Bendigo, Shepparton and Gippsland. However, with it comes many challenges and opportunities.

It is imperative that we work with the other regional cities and that we take control of our destiny. By 2050, Ballarat will be a city of 250,000 people. That is more than double our current population. We must re-imagine our city not with the thinking of yesterday but the thought leadership of tomorrow. We must be bold, we must be collaborative, we must be focused on economic development and we must take control before population growth controls us.

The government does have a role in servicing our region, but it will not lead the region. That is our role. We know our region better than anyone. If we are waiting for the cavalry to come and lead us to the answers for what our City and our region will look like in 2050, we are mistaken. We are the cavalry and our voice and thoughts must be heard. It is our role to create the economy that fits our region, and one that is sustainable and forward thinking.

Government will provide the enabling incentives for population growth and investment in fast rail will provide critical infrastructure for our region. The necessary thought leadership and driving of our economy must come from within the City. The time is now and, alongside others, Committee for Ballarat stands ready to take on the challenge.

Melanie Robertson
CEO, Committee for Ballarat