ALTERNATIVE ADVOCATE: Southern Gold Coast Tweed solicitor Jim Wilson.
ALTERNATIVE ADVOCATE: Southern Gold Coast Tweed solicitor Jim Wilson.

Light rail to come under spotlight of seniors

SENIORS are being encouraged to seriously consider how the proposed extension of the Gold Coast light rail to Burleigh Heads and then on to Coolangatta airport will affect their way of life.

The issue has arisen once more following Prime Minister Scott Morrison's November announcement of $112 million Federal Government backing for the next 6.4km $670 million stage from Broadbeach to Burleigh to be completed by 2023.

Known as stage 3A, the 16-minute trip proposes eight new light rail stations and an upgraded bus interchange at Burleigh, with council committing about $73 million and the State Government to find almost $500 million.

At the announcement, LNP Member for McPherson Karen Andrews said the issue remains where the rail will terminate at Burleigh, and called on the State Government and council to "consult properly with the community" to meet the needs of residents as well as tourists.

While the light rail has its supporters, particularly among tourist-related businesses, Facebook and other online comments questioned how extending the light rail would help the larger problem of M1 congestion, calling instead for greater investment in the M1 and improved heavy rail services, and querying the sustainability of light rail, especially without dedicated parking.

Others pointed to existing slowing of traffic between Broadbeach and Southport due to the light rail, how small business would be affected and fears for the environment.


'It's not the only answer, especially for Seniors'

These are all issues also raised by Southern Gold Coast -Tweed solicitor and businessman Jim Wilson, who believes residents have been conned into believing light rail is "the only answer" because they haven't been presented with other alternatives.

"I'm not anti-development and progress, I believe there should be a mass transport system, but not on dedicated tracks," he said.

He believes electric buses can better service the population, provide flexibility to a changing demographic, and a more integrated system at a fraction of the price of light rail, without the associated parking crunch of people trying to access a single line service.

It's a plan considered in regard to Stage 2 back in 2015 when Karen Andrews told ABC Radio, "We need to be alive to opportunities that present with rapid bus, so it doesn't have to be light rail as an extension as we know it's expensive, at this stage it's unaffordable".

Cost is just one aspect of concern to Mr Wilson, who believes introduction of the light rail is a case of "social engineering", with high density high-rise development along the light rail strip, necessary to make it financially viable, pricing Seniors and others of more moderate means out of the community.

"High densification brings a massive change in quality of life and we and our kids value our present lifestyle, amenity and connectivity," the 66-year-old said, pointing to the different character of the more commercial northern Gold Coast to the more laidback lifestyle of the south.

"This is going ahead at a massive rate and it's all about money and private developers; the people that really made this town, paid their taxes and rates, are being given very short shrift.

"I believe the light rail is unsympathetic to a lot of people, but distinctly Senior Citizen-unfriendly."

There is currently an over-10,000-strong online petition against the extension. Google No Light Rail in Burleigh, Koala Park and Palm Beach to access it.


Council Response

Mayor Tom Tate, in response, said light rail had been "a massive success since 2012", eliminating "millions of car movements".

He pointed to a November 2015 city-wide Council survey to which 3606 responded and "the vast majority" wanted the light rail to take "the shortest possible route" along the coast direct from Broadbeach to the airport.

Cr Tate said the State Government had also recently consulted on the Broadbeach to Burleigh stage (again over 3000 people) and "the majority supported that stage".

According to the 2016 census, the resident population of Gold Coast City was 555,721.

With 12,000 new residents to the Gold Coast per year, "planning and managing growth while retaining what we all love" was council's biggest challenge, Cr Tate said.

"As for people's concerns that southern area roads will be closed, residential densities will increase and the environment will be destroyed ... I can only deal with facts, not emotional rhetoric.

"The next stage (after Burleigh) has not even been designed ..."

He argued a light rail bridge crossing at Tallebudgera would have no more impact on the environment than an additional vehicle bridge, which would be necessary if car numbers continued to climb.

"By placing the light rail spine along the coast means more people can live along that strip, and commute freely without needing a second or third car in their driveway," the mayor said.

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