NSW

Mike Baird the deciding vote as cabinet chooses housing over university

Mike Baird kyboshed​ the hopes of four of his most senior ministers in casting his deciding vote against a Sydney University rail station in favour of his social housing agenda at Waterloo.

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New rail station at Waterloo

Instead of Sydney University, a new station will be installed at Waterloo according to Sydney Metro. (Vision courtesy Sydney Metro)

The decision to build a station at Waterloo was made so the rail line could trigger the development of thousands of new apartments in the area, which would in turn pay for the reconstruction of low-cost housing.

At the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee meeting organised to make the decision, which was announced on December 16, the Premier sided with three other ministers who supported a Waterloo station, sources told the Herald.

The Premier's vote over-ruled the position of four ministers who supported a Sydney University station, which would have been used by many more people than a Waterloo station.

This decision also meant rejecting the idea of trying to build another station at Waterloo on the existing Airport rail line, between Green Square and Central. The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, had been backing proposals to retrofit a station to the Airport line.

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According to accounts of the meeting, the Treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian​, the Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, the Roads Minister, Duncan Gay and the Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, all backed the Sydney University option.

Because of higher expected patronage, the Sydney University station would have ensured a better initial business case for the metro line between Chatswood and Sydenham, expected to be open in about 2023 and cost about $10 billion.

The position of the ministers reflected the advice of their departments. The Sydney University station would have been about a 10 minute walk from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, explaining the Health Minister's enthusiasm.

But the decision was ultimately carried by the concerns of three other ministers: the Deputy Premier and Police Minister, Troy Grant, the Planning Minister, Rob Stokes and the Social Housing Minister, Brad Hazzard​.

Mr Grant is said to have surprised those at the meeting by speaking in favour of the Waterloo option. But that position reflected the enthusiasm of NSW Police for re-making the Waterloo estates.

UrbanGrowth​ NSW, which falls under Mr Stokes' authority, had been pushing for the Waterloo option as a trigger for the construction of thousands of apartments. Those new dwellings could pay for the rebuilding of about 2000 social housing dwellings in the area.

Mr Baird is said to have been swayed by the opportunity of improving the housing conditions of people in the area. Contacted for this story, a spokesman for the Premier declined to comment.

When Mr Baird announced the alignment of the new metro rail line through Waterloo, he said it would be the "catalyst" for another 10,000 homes in the area. He said there would be no loss of social housing dwellings in the area. The government says it will release a business case for the line early this year.

The rejection of the Sydney University station was a blow to the institution, which also missed out when the government in 2012 stumped for a light rail line to the University of NSW. Sydney Uni has since started lobbying for its own light rail service.

Mr Hazzard​, meanwhile, announced this week a much larger program of dismantling and rebuilding public housing. The plan involves building 6000 new dwellings and rebuilding 17,000 old dwellings, to be paid for by allowing private developers to build mixed public-private projects.

This program will require between 23,000 and 27,000 public housing tenants to relocate, at least temporarily, over the next decade.

"Achieving this scale of tenant relocation successfully will be a major challenge," a deputy secretary of the Department of Family and Community Services, David de Carvalho​, told a meeting of housing providers this week.

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