ACT News

Light rail critical to a smart city: international cities expert

Canberra's 12-kilometre light rail line will help protect the city's education edge, bringing young people and driving business growth and innovation. 

That's the upbeat message from Committee for Sydney chief executive Tim Williams, who said the $800 million tram line will "future-proof" Canberra and reduce  road congestion. 

Dr Williams, a driving force behind the redevelopment of East London as head of the Thames Gateway Partnership, visited Canberra on Monday as a guest of the ACT government.

The former policy and strategy adviser on the construction of the athlete's village for the London Olympics addressed a breakfast organised by the Canberra Business Chamber and spoke in support of light rail as "an international phenomenon". 

He served as a special adviser on urban development, city strategies, local government and planning to five successive British cabinet ministers between 2005 and 2010 and worked on Europe's largest construction project, the $25 billion Crossrail underground link tunnel. 

"Given that Canberra has got such a beautiful structure, I think that the light rail will be very successful here in attracting new investment and new people to live in the city centre," he said. 

"Sometimes, people think projects like this are on their own, as if Canberra is the only city doing it. The most important thing is light rail has become a very important mode of transport internationally and something like 70 cities in the United States are pursuing light rail products." 

Rejecting claims Canberra won't shake its status as a driving city, Dr Williams said US centres including Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix had proved light rail would make drivers rethink their transport modes. 

"It is an international lesson.

"You can't decongest roads by building more roads, it just doesn't work. You have to build more public transport and everywhere we've built light rail we've seen a reduction in car congestion." 

The visit comes weeks after Danish expert and architect Henriette Vamberg was put forward by the government to speak about the benefits light rail could bring to Canberra. Both experts agreed increased density in the Northbourne Avenue corridor will bring benefits to the whole city. 

Expressions of interest from business consortiums bidding for the city-to-Gungahlin line close on December 19. The public-private partnership is expected to have tram services commence by 2019. 

Dr Williams said overseas experience had shown people moved to live and work near light rail lines, meaning government could reap value from rising land prices and productivity boosts. 

Take-up of the 25-minute service from Gungahlin Place to Alinga Street will "change habits and behaviour". Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell has said the government will also consider an extension to the Russell precinct. 

"You need to attract the skilled people, the educated classes to stay in your city, and everywhere light rail has been useful in attracting the very kind of people who help you reinvent your economy," he said. 

On the contested political and community response to the project, Dr Williams urged the ACT government to win support from the business sector and young people to help sell its case. 

"When you get younger voices in, they'll say they want the jobs, they'll want the housing and they'll want the connectivity from the density that a city brings. Getting younger people involved is pretty critical." 

The Liberal Opposition is yet to outline its public transport policy but has vowed to stop the line's development if it wins the 2016 election. 

"In five years' time when you start seeing the results, you'll wonder why there was a controversy in the first place," Dr Williams said.