Covid lockdowns, the current one among them, have put many things on hold for Sydneysiders, both literally and in the public consciousness. One such issue is that of housing development in Western Sydney. While students Zoom in to school and worktime commutes are scarce, Western Sydney’s infrastructure lags and congestion problems continue to fester.
Housing demand in Sydney has been steadily rising over the past few decades, as indicated by ever-increasing housing prices. In response, the government has poured money into Sydney’s Western suburbs to meet the demand, racing to pump out as many houses as possible.
More than 100,000 new homes are expected to be built in Greater Western Sydney over the next five years, concentrated in the North West Growth Area, and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis. The Aerotropolis is slated to be Sydney’s next metropolitan epicenter, “the beating heart” of Western Sydney, centred around the currently-under-construction Western Sydney Airport.
In the year 2018-2019, 42,400 new homes were built, the highest yearly total in our history. Among the highest growth suburbs – Parramatta, Marsden Park and Rouse Hill.
But the infrastructure needed to keep up with this rapid housing construction is sorely lacking. Communities are often left with over-stuffed schools, poor public transport and significant congestion.
In the suburb of Marsden Park, 10,300 new homes are planned as part of the North West Growth Area project. And yet, Blacktown Council was forced to erect a ‘pop-up’ school, and then to increase its size, due to the increasing population. Community members have taken to opening their backyards to children as pseudo-playgrounds, due to the lack of parks and community centres in the area.
An upgrade of the congested Richmond Road, crucial for the creation of thousands of these homes, was left unfunded. These issues are only exacerbated by the pause on rezoning brought by anxiety over flood-evacuation routes in the area.
Rezoning consequences are a big part of the problem. Rezoning brings massive profits to the state government and its partners – the NSW government is set to reap $80 million after rezoning a chunk of land in Prospect. But resultant infrastructure costs and responsibilities are largely left to local councils and communities.
In the suburb of Austral, it’s the Liverpool Council left responsible for main roads like Qantas Boulevard and Fifteenth Avenue, despite the increased pressure attributable to state government rezoning in the suburb.
The congestion in Austral is so dire that it now endangers lives, with drivers driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid bottlenecks, and many forced to drive on unfinished roads due to indefinite development delays. The suburb currently has about 100 homes finished each week, but council officials are powerless to divert work from housing to roads.
Once the Western Sydney Airport is finished, Austral’s traffic will only worsen. Already highly congested roads are set to be main arteries to the airport. More broadly, research has shown that Western Sydney is set to have more than 500,000 people commuting out of the region over the next decade. With current residents already spending hours in traffic to commute to work, the state government needs to step up if mega-bottlenecks are to be prevented.
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