Fast rail impacts affordability

Dr Dallas Rogers from the University of Western Sydney explains why he is so concerned about proposed high-speed train lines and what it will do for affordability.
Kevin:  A high-speed rail network joining all the capital cities and linking up all the regions might not necessarily help priced-out first-home buyers but instead cause prices to rise in areas currently deemed affordable. That’s according to some experts. Western Sydney University Institute for Culture and Society’s Dallas Rogers warns speculators and investors would be the first people on the ground in the regional areas benefiting from the infrastructure on the look-out for price growth. He joins us.
Dr. Rogers, I understand that you are a supporter of the high-speed rail but you’re casting some doubt on whether or not it’s actually going to help with housing affordability.
Dr. Rogers:  Yes, I’m a big supporter of high-speed rail. I think that we need intercity high-speed rail, so we need high-speed rail that connects up our major cities in Australia. That would be nodes connecting up Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and places like that. But we also need intracity high-speed rail; that’s high speed rail that connects up the cities within our major cities, as well.
And I think that really to answer this question about housing affordability and possibly pushing the housing affordability problem in somewhere like Sydney out to the regions is really how governments – federal and state – will manage four key assets, and those assets are people, jobs, housing, and transport.
Jobs is an interesting one. In Sydney, we have a changing job landscape. We have a move to a knowledge- and service-based economy and we have young people looking to get into these knowledge economy jobs, so things like the creative industries, working in the financial sector, government jobs, things like that. And of course, these jobs at the moment are CBD-based, typically.
So within our cities we need a transport network that gets people to those jobs. Now the question is will young people and others take up the opportunity to use a high-speed intercity rail network to travel between cities to take up those jobs? And the important part of that question for New South Wales is housing affordability in Sydney. Sydney is one of the most unaffordable places in Australia, and median prices are about a million dollars at the moment. They go up and down.
The question is will the housing market and the job landscape and the high-speed rail actually drive people out west to invest in those areas and then come back into the city? I think that that’s an open question. My comment about the proposal was we need to address the housing affordability problem in Sydney first before we think about transporting that problem out to the regions.
Kevin:  Yes. Well, I agree in one sense. One way to tackle affordability, of course, is to make more supply available, and that’s a difficulty in itself in Sydney. If, in fact, you do look at connecting those regions up to the city, you’re going to have a similar sort of problem unless of course those councils do release more land. Because it’s all about land.
Let’s take an area like Goulburn as an example. Once again, if commuting time from Goulburn to Sydney could be cut down to, say, 30 minutes on fast rail, you’re going to find that a lot of people would in fact want to live out there. But is there going to be enough land available to develop?
Dr. Rogers:  I think the interesting question here is will people want to travel that far from Goulburn to Sydney? That’s 200 kilometers, and of course, high-speed rail will cut down the travel time, but people are increasingly wanting to be closer to where they work.
So I think the question about the high-speed rail is one about is it about moving people from Goulburn to Sydney and back again every day for work or is it about building Goulburn as a regional center with its own jobs and its own economy but being within easy access to Sydney? And I think that they’re two very different questions.
If you compare somewhere like Goulburn to a city on the edge of Sydney – somewhere like Campbelltown, which is about 60 kilometers southwest of Sydney, right on the fringe of Sydney – a place like that stands to benefit far more from a high-speed rail network, and you’re probably likely to see a lot more growth in house prices because Campbelltown is well placed to move a lot of people in and out of Sydney, and people are already actually doing that commute.
A professor, Bill O’Neil, from our university, the University of Western Sydney, has just released some research that shows that 75% of western Sydney-siders use their car to get to work now but they wouldn’t do that if they had public transport options. They’re projecting that in about 20 years, about 820,000 Sydney-siders will be using cars to get to work if alternative public transport options aren’t available.
In this cohort of people we have a lot of young people, a lot of people getting degrees, and a lot of people wanting to take up those knowledge economy jobs. So I think that if somewhere like Campbelltown is connected into this high-speed rail network, it’s likely to see a lot of growth, not somewhere like Campbelltown.
Currently in Campbelltown, about 92% of all the workers travel on public transport to the city. So Campbelltown and Penrith are the two major nodes where people are using public transport to and from the city every day to get to work, and if we connected those nodes up to this high-speed rail, I think that those places would get the biggest benefit.
Kevin:  I’ve often wondered whether people will use fast rail to travel to work or whether the Internet has given them the ability to live in some of these regional areas and work and only have to commute to the city maybe once a week or even once a month. That’s when fast rail could help them cover those vast distances.
Dr. Rogers:  Yes. Somewhere like Goulburn is completely reinventing itself at the moment. They have an open source Internet project there where they’re trying to get free Internet around the city, and they’re really trying to attract treechange economy workers to that space. And I think that that’s the key here.
We need to stop thinking about bringing the regions into the cities and start to think about how high-speed rail can do the opposite, and that is reinvigorate the regions themselves. How do we get jobs to the regions? How do we use these high-speed networks to act as a benefit for the regions instead of outsourcing our own urban problems to places like Sydney out west, out to these places? I think we need to invert that logic a little bit.
Kevin:  Makes a lot of sense.
Dr. Dallas Rogers, thank you so much for your time.
Dr. Rogers:  Thanks a lot, Kevin.

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