Strategic Infrastructure Corridors (Strategic And Recreatonal Use) Bill No. 39 of 2016
Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, it is an interesting bill with many passionate people briefing us. I thank the Government and the many community members for our briefings. This legislation has implications for the whole state. Rail trails and disused railway corridors have been successfully created in other Australian states and around the world and have proven to be popular recreational facilities. Within Tasmania, rail trails and cycling tourism have been identified as a positive opportunity to rejuvenate regional areas. It is unfortunate that we cannot seem to have both train and walking/cycle tracks. Sometimes we have to accept what we can have, otherwise we risk having nothing.
While this bill is not specifically about the North East Rail Trail, it is my understanding this is the reason for the urgency behind this bill. Currently it appears Tasmania is running a two-speed economy. While our public service city of Hobart appears to be booming with much development, the north is still way behind with high unemployment and limited development.
We are very fortunate to have both Josef Chromy and Errol Stewart with developments on foot, which will provide employment for many. However, my mind goes back to the 1980s and the CH Smith building in Charles Street, Launceston. At that time, development of that building was proposed but for several reasons prevented. It is now well over 20 years later and the CH Smith building is still a scar on the Launceston landscape.
You may ask why I bring that up. I can certainly understand concerns by many that the rail should not be pulled up in the hope that in the future heritage or tourist rail could commence. That would be wonderful and certainly a tourist blessing for our region and other areas. I note that the Derwent Valley Railway Preservation Society has been endeavouring to have this happen for many years, still without success. My concern is that if we do not take the bird in the hand, we may never have the bird in the bush.
I can fully appreciate the issues raised by those opposing this development, but we are struggling badly in the north and development is desperately needed. Tourists provide bed nights and meals and of course they will not just do the cycle tracks. Hopefully, they will stay long enough to visit other areas. They may even travel south at the end of their northern holiday and visit other areas of our state.
The Government and others have proposed numerous amendments to this bill that will hopefully alleviate the concerns of many. I am pleased to see the Minister for Infrastructure's amendment that tourism rail will also be included in the bill. It is pleasing to see that any use of these corridors will be fully discretionary under LUPA, which provides people with an opportunity to object if they see fit, or alternatively, support it.
In briefings I noted that TasRail stated that none of the rails proposed for these rail trails are currently fit for purpose. In the case of the North East Rail Trail, it would cost in excess of $30 million for light rail and another $60 million for freight. TasRail also stated that many current tracks would need to be pulled up and new tracks laid, including the proposed North East Rail Trail, if any trains were to run on these tracks. If this is the case, then there is no detriment to currently using the corridor for cycles, walkers and horses while there is no proposal for trains to hand.
While it would be lovely to see a heritage railway running with perhaps a cycling track beside it, it is a dream unlikely to come to fruition. In many instances, there is simply not enough room for both. We have heard that to create a new trail is financially unviable. As for freight, any proposal would have to have enormous benefits for this state and realistically be a project of state significance for an outlay of over $60 million to be committed. I note in this case the minister has indicated that the rail would be reclaimed.
Many supporters of this proposal have also indicated the need for weed maintenance and the current lack of it. TasRail stated they maintain the disused rail corridors twice a year and many have stated how pleased they will be to have these areas tidied up.
There was some difference of opinion regarding consultation. I note the Dorset Council stated they wrote to almost 200 people with 13 people contacting council and five landowners and three or four more people contacting council after issues in Lilydale. I also note the considerable list of north-east residents supportive of the retention of the north-east rail line. Everyone would love to see tourist rail and cycling tracks both operating together successfully in our state, as happens in other areas such as New Zealand. It would be such a boon for tourism.
Whilst I do not wish to be parochial, in the north of the state, while we have the world-renowned Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, we are not fortunate to have cruise ships, MONA or Dark Mofo. In 2016-17 Hobart will have at least 47 cruise ships dock with many thousands of tourists. We need our share of these tourists throughout the state and must do all we can to entice them. What we in the north, north-east and north-west of the state have is incredibly beautiful scenery in a relaxed setting. We all have to make the most of what we have and I believe by supporting this legislation we will increase tourism to our region.
It was mentioned by some that, currently, cyclists do not tend to spend a lot of money and that is probably true for those training or locals going for a ride. What we are pitching for is tourists - people who otherwise might not come to Tasmania but are tempted by our beautiful scenery and trails. They have to sleep somewhere and they have to eat somewhere. Hopefully they will enjoy their Tasmanian holiday so much they will return and spread the word.
Last year at the commencement of a cycle tour at which there were several interstate and overseas competitors, it was mentioned that it was felt we had an untapped resource in our wonderful roads for cycling. All over the world cyclists are travelling to places like Tasmania for such an experience. Having said that, I can understand many farmers' concerns about a rail trail. There is a piece of land running through your own property that once might have had a train twice a day and now for many years has been like your own. Of course you would not want walkers, cyclists and horses going through regularly, none of us would. However, change happens and sometimes we have to accept what we cannot change, try as we might.
I hope, as in the speech by the minister for Western Tiers, that people who currently have real concerns about this proposal will come to see the benefit of these trails if this bill gets up. I will read several supportive emails from the General Manager of the City of Launceston; Jan Davis CEO of the Chamber of Commerce; Michael Bailey, chief executive of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Maree Tetlow, the executive officer of Northern Tasmania Development.
As General Manager of the City of Launceston, I am broadly supportive of this initiative in establishing more tourism infrastructure in the region which provides a diversified series of attractors to retain tourists in the region longer. The repurposing of rail trails has been successful in many other regions in the State in attracting large numbers of hikers and bike riders to traverse the trails, enjoy all the wonderful natural attractions of amenity and, of course, become high-yield spenders in food, wine and accommodation. This is a 'hand in glove' fit with the branding of Northern Tasmanian as a region of high amenity with magnificent natural attractions and sensational food and wine. Interstate and overseas this model has been enormously successful at quite low cost to establish the trails.
The issues with the adjoining landowners need to be worked through but adjoining landowners should not be unreasonable in their demands. These trails have been established on disused rail corridors in rural areas throughout North East Victoria, which I am familiar with, and in many other regions with great success for communities, offering increased employment through growing the tourist sector in adjoining towns.
Robert Dobrzynski, General Manager.
From Jan Davis, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce:
The Chamber welcomes investment in infrastructure that promotes tourism and other businesses in the region. Investment like this will encourage people who want to move to the area, people who are already here and who want to expand existing businesses and those that want to start new ones. Rail trails in other areas have proven to attract many people to an area and the north-east rail trail is ideally placed to capture a growing market for recreational cycling. Not only can people explore this beautiful area, they will be able to sip, savour, stay, spend, and that is what it is really all about.
However, as with any new project we need to recognise some constraints. There are issues with funding for completion of the last length of the track into Launceston. Obviously, it will be more attractive with that bit completed. Some farmers along the track have expressed concerns about the risks to their businesses in terms of biosecurity, animal welfare and safety and privacy. These are real risks which must be dealt with in a respectful manner.
At some stage in the future there may, again, be demand for rail lines in areas like this. Ideally, this needs to be recognised in the development of this or other trails, and care should be taken to ensure essential and expensive infrastructure should not be unnecessarily destroyed.
Jan Davis, CEO, Chamber of Commerce
A media report from Michael Bailey, chief executive, TCCI, 22 September 2016 -
Converting Tasmania's disused North East rail trails into cycling tracks will open the region to a potential tourism avalanche. 'The Derby line which would connect Launceston to Scottsdale and Derby will cover some of Tasmania's most picturesque scenery and provide a world-class trail which will no doubt attract a plethora of national and international cyclists', said the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, Michael Bailey. 'The economic development benefit to business in these North East regions will kick-start a sector which is crying out for investment and strategies to lower the dangerously high unemployment rate, and to provide a pathway for business growth.' The TCCI strongly supports conversion of these rail trails into cycling tracks and urges the Legislative Council to vote in favour of the proposal.
Finally, a letter of support from Maree Tetlow, executive officer of the Northern Tasmania Development, dated 30 August 2016.
I write in support of the expansion of the North East Rail Trail from Scottsdale to Launceston, and for access to trails more generally for tourism and recreational purposes. Northern Tasmania Development - NTD - is an organisation established in 1992 to facilitate and coordinate economic and social development in Northern Tasmania. We have seven council members that fund the organisation, and NTD supports tourism in our region as a priority economic sector identified in our Northern Tasmania Regional Futures Plan 2016.
The North East Rail Trail was first identified in 2004 and has since been mentioned in a range of research documents and strategies as a project of high potential. NTD has been a keen supporter of this project and initiated the preparation of a Preliminary Demand and Economic Benefit Assessment back in February 2014 by TRC Tourism to highlight the significant socio-economic benefits that this type of project would bring to the region and state. We are keen to ensure that this project comes to fruition to allow public access for cycling, walking and horse-riding. Importantly, it will further expand our activity-based offering to build on the North's reputation as a cycling tourism hub as a result of the success of the Hollybank Mountain Bike Park, the Blue Derby and Blue Tier mountain bike developments.
NTD also acknowledges there is an opportunity of accessing other old road and rail reserves for potential new trails in the future. This will allow for creative linkages beyond our main highway and road network to further develop our reputation as an activity and nature-based destination for visitors, potential new residents, and as recreational assets for our community. The North East Rail Trail and other trails more generally could better physically link small regional towns and points of interest similar to those experienced by ramblers, for example, in the UK and other locations throughout Europe.
The North East Rail Trail in particular will re-establish this corridor as an asset for the region, and after 10 years of inactivity it is clearly time that the rail corridor is freed up for alternative use. Irrespective of what that use might be, the passing of legislation is a necessary first step. I urge Legislative Councillors to pass this legislation without delay so that key economic development can take place in the north-east, a region which is keen to improve its future and build on its current momentum.
Executive Officer NTD.
It was also interesting today when we had briefings by some of the north-west mayors. One of the comments I particularly noted was how they said in the past they have often competed, but in this case they are actually working together. That was really interesting, and particularly good to see people working together rather than feeling the need to compete.
In closing I am very sorry we cannot satisfy all sides of this debate and it is not financially viable to keep the rails in place in the hope one day tourism, passenger or freight may be possible. If we had many millions of spare dollars how good would it be to have a passenger train from Launceston to Hobart? Our wish list could go on. Unfortunately, we do not have a large bucket of money, but what we do have are proposals on the table now that hopefully will bring some benefit to our state, particularly the north in this instance. I support this bill into Committee.