The Perth City Link

The large area of railway lines and sidings that had separated Perth city centre from the inner suburb of Northbridge for over 100 years created a ‘great divide’. The Perth City Link aimed to sink the railway line and use the newly-released land to create areas of private housing, office space and nightlife, as well as a renewed transport infrastructure.

The challenge

The city of Perth began its major period of growth during the late nineteenth century. One of the main engineering enterprises was the Fremantle-Perth-Guildford railway, connecting Perth with other parts of the state of Western Australia. By the early 1900s, partly as a result of the Australian gold rush of the 1890s, the demand for passenger and freight rail transport was so great that the central railway precinct had expanded and the railway lines separated the centre of Perth from the suburb of Northbridge.

“The ingenious engineering solution to the difficulty of crossing the mass of rail lines was the 1903 construction of horseshoe-shaped bridge ... In 1911, the then Government Architect, George Temple-Poole, produced a sketch using the railway reserve land for a series of civic buildings to create ‘Perth as it should be’, relocating the railway further north, but the plan was not implemented.” [1] It remained, though, on the agenda of the citizens of Perth and Western Australia.

The initiative

Today, the Perth City Link provides the opportunity to reconnect the city centre with Northbridge.

The planning process for the project began in 2003 with the city of Perth’s document entitled ‘Realising a new vision for Perth’. It advocated sinking the rail line from the Horseshoe Bridge to the Freeway. In 2004, Alannah MacTiernan, the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure in the state government, announced that the local planning authority would develop an Indicative Development Plan (IDP) and business case assessment the plans.

In early 2005, the Premier of Western Australia unveiled the proposal to sink the Fremantle rail line and redevelop the whole area. The city of Perth agreed to contribute AUD25 million to the project, along with land holdings. Later that year, the planning authority engaged a consortium of planning, design and engineering consultants led by Taylor Burrell Barnett to develop a.

In January 2007, MacTiernan officially launched the detailed draft masterplan for the area, which was to guide development for the next 20 years. A three-month period of community consultation followed, after which the masterplan was finalised and .development began. Construction work began in 2011 and is due to be completed later this year.

The public impact

The City Link project is ongoing, but the initial phases have been successful. “The City Link involved the creation of a new transport hub and reconnected the CBD with the Northbridge district of the city for the first time in 100 years. The project also created more than 14 hectares of new space for residential, retail, entertainment and commercial opportunities and is expected to attract billions of dollars of private investment into the local economy.” [2]

The Rail link was the first part of the project to be completed and opened in December 2013. The second phase, the Perth Busport is due to open in June 2016. Major building works on King-Lake Street housing companies such as Shell-Australia were completed in 2015,

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Public Confidence Strong

Before finalising the masterplan, there was a consultation period on the draft version to get input from the people who were to be affected by the project. For example, the government facilitated workshops to engage with students, professionals, community and groups, businesses and residents. This consultation attracted strong community interest and the masterplan was amended on the basis of the feedback received from the many respondents.

Stakeholder Engagement Fair

The main stakeholders of the project are the Western Australian government, the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority (MRA), the Public Transport Authority (PTA), and the city of Perth and its citizens. The other stakeholders include the state police service, the Northbridge Business Association, and the local utilities companies. All these stakeholders took part in the preliminary consultation where they discussed their issues and provided their recommendations in the light of the project masterplan.

Political Commitment Good

The fact that the project is being developed as a collaborative effort of the Western Australian government – with positive interventions by the Premier and the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure – and the city of Perth gives a strong indication of political commitment, as does the scale of the state funding.

Policy

Clear Objectives Fair

The objective of the project was stated, in marketing terms, as being to: “Link the city centre and Northbridge with vibrant urbanism that embraces the city’s lifestyle and character, and distinctly reflects Perth’s 21st century aspirations.” However, they are not quantifiable and there is no information on whether they remained same throughout or not.

Evidence Strong

Before preparing the masterplan for the Perth City Link, examples from a number of analogous projects were studied and analysed, in three types of review:

  • “Literature Review relevant statutory, strategic and technical policies and documents relevant to the site [of the Link]. [3]
  • “Case Studies a review of current ‘best practice’ development principles and practices relevant to the study area was conducted. The review researched project examples from Europe, the US and Australia:
    • The Big Dig, Boston (US)
    • Potsdamer Platz, Berlin (Germany)
    • Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane (Australia)
    • Transbay, San Francisco (US)
    • The Elephant and Castle, London (UK)
  • “Concept Options and Sustainability Assessment in order to establish the most appropriate land use and built form ... a range of preliminary concept options were identified for The Link Study area. Three land use and urban form options were investigated and interpreted in concept plans. Each option was analysed, and also assessed under a sustainability matrix, with the positive and negative attributes identified.”
  • Sustainability Impact Assessments were used for all the development proposals, which are based on a number of sustainability indicators and targets in regard to social, economic and environmental issues.

Feasibility Strong

The examination of the evidence in the preparation of the masterplan addressed issues of technical and environmental feasibility as well as making it compatible with the aspirations of the existing residents by seeking their views. In addition, “the study examined relevant statutory ... policies and documents relevant to the site.” [4] This covered the legal transfer of planning powers from the existing planning authorities to the East Perth Redevelopment Authority (latterly the MRA) through the repeal of the operative schemes in accordance with the East Perth Redevelopment Act 1991, s.38.

Action

Management Good

The Perth City Link is a long-term investment requiring ‘decisive’ leadership from the state government in association with the federal government of the city of Perth.

The Perth City Rail Link was delivered as an alliance between the PTA, John Holland (an engineering company) and GHD (an engineering and architectural consultancy). The PTA successfully managed the project to form one team, ‘sharing the project’s benefits and challenges.” [5]

GHD received a National Award for Excellence for its role in the railway section of the Perth City Link, indicating this section of the project was well managed. [6]

However, not all areas of the Perth City Link have been managed as favourably. The MRA manage the land redevelopment in the urban redevelopment, which has recently received negative press and claims of wasting taxpayers’ money as deals with private contractors have fallen through. [7]

Measurement Fair

The cost of implementing the project, and whether it is in line with the allocated budget, can be measured. The total estimated cost for the rail works and underground bus station is AUD609 million.

It is harder to measure the direct benefits on citizens regarding more qualitative measures such as ‘better access and connectivity, more residential retail, entertainment and commercial opportunities’ and these measurements will not be available until after the major infrastructure of the  project is completed.

Alignment Good

The Perth City Link is a large collaborative project which requires alignment of multiple major stakeholder. The state government, local government, the MRA and the PTA are all behind the project, either helping with the implementation or sourcing  the funding. Furthermore, there is a necessary alignment with the private companies that are delivering on the contracts.

Finally, the public is generally supportive of the need for the link (see Public confidence above) and  consider that it outweighs the cost to taxpayers and the inconvenience caused by the building works.