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The Sunshine Rail ‘Super Hub’ Debacle

A case study that underlines the need to understand the future we must plan for and a planning process that reflects this.

As reported by Timna Jacks in The Age 11th April, after much hype by the State government to redevelop Sunshine Station as a “super hub” that would in the words of the Premier “include retail, housing, all sorts of different options .. that can create one of those brand new spaces — a real boom for this area from economic activity” –that would fuel an economic boom in the working-class suburb, state and federal governments have now removed references to Sunshine station being a “super hub” and councillors have been advised that Sunshine and Albion stations would be “relegated to secondary priority”.   

Council is most unhappy ofcourse as are developers who have called for more transparency on plans along the rail corridor, where nine major developments are being proposed, including nearly 2500 residential units, two hotels and $230 million in construction activity.  

So perhaps all the fantasy and hype was simply another dream without foundation based on business as usual projections, creating the illusion that government was getting on with the job. it is time to take a reality check and look at some of the lessons that should be learnt from all of this.   

There is little doubt the impact of Covid has been profound and will have lasting impact although the extent remains unclear and it has yet to run its course. In the short term we might expect some recovery but what are the prospects for the longer term? Despite government declarations that covid has been a one in a hundred year event, we must expect more events like this in an increasingly uncertain world, and that these will be driven increasingly by environmental change and the social and economic impacts that follow.  

It is critical that government planning reflect this otherwise we will see more and more examples like this in which local communities are deceived by grand plans that at best will be short lived, a waste of money and do little to enable communities to adapt to the changing world around us.  

Fortunately the Sunshine Hub is a relatively small project and is dwarfed by mega infrastructure projects in the government’s Big Build program, all of which assume business as usual to continue within current planning horizons. Few have a soundly based business case. A business case for airport rail has been under way since 2018 and was supposed to be released last year, but is not yet complete. The largest, the Suburban Rail Loop has yet to be accurately costed and no business case has been carried out for it, but this has not stopped this government committing to it and already committing hundreds of $millions to it. The financial risk associated with all these monumental projects is huge. It is time the business case for all projects in the Big Build program are properly evaluated at the outset before any commitment is made for them to proceed. Once approved, all projects must be subject to proper planning and development processes before undertaking any works. It seems proper process has been abandoned on these projects. 

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