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Billions for metro lines in asset sale

12th December 2007

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THE Iemma Government is finalising plans for as many as five metro subway lines to criss-cross Sydney, to be funded from the sale of further state-owned assets.

The Treasurer, Michael Costa, has told the Herald the Government is reviewing the state's $86 billion in property holdings to lift returns and to help fund infrastructure spending plans.

His comments follow the Government's announcement that it plans to tap funds from the $15 billion sale of part of its electricity assets to help pay for the first subway line - almost certain to be a metro from the Sydney CBD, running under Parramatta Road towards Olympic Park - to be announced next month.

This line would be cheaper than the other subway lines proposed as it would not require a harbour crossing, and would be a trade-off for building the M4 East motorway extension, which is subject to strong local opposition.

Parramatta Road, Victoria Road, Anzac Parade and the northern beaches have a serious shortage of fast transport links and there have been long-term proposals to give them all a European-style metro subway system - on which trains are shorter, stations closer and services much more frequent.

Details of the metro lines being studied by the Government are unclear. But the Premier, Morris Iemma, said yesterday: "It's not if Sydney gets a metro, but when."

The new funding source is the state's $86 billion worth of property holdings, which are the subject of a review by Treasury, to be finalised in the next few months.

"We don't have the luxury, with pressures on budgets, to have assets sitting around earning nothing," Mr Costa told the Herald. The Government has considered selling other state-owned businesses such as WSN Environment Services, known formerly as Waste Services, and NSW Lotteries. But they would raise a fraction of what could be gained from selling surplus property.

The former co-ordinator general of rail Ron Christie proposed to cabinet in 2001 that three metro lines needed to be built by 2020. One would run from Cronulla, through Miranda and Sydney Airport, then to Glebe and Sydney University, crossing the harbour to Willoughby and on to Dee Why via Chatswood.

A second line would start at Parramatta and pass along Victoria Road and then through the city to the University of NSW before terminating at Sydenham. His third line was to run from Hoxton Park to Parramatta, then on to Northmead and Baulkham Hills and on to Castlereagh.

A Treasury review of state property assets in 2005 found more than half of so-called "generic" property holdings such as offices, depots, car parks and unused land holdings were underperforming or "non-performing".

It indicated at least $100 million a year in revenue from selling surplus property, along with annual savings of $80 million from using property assets more efficiently.

Unions will meet next Wednesday on their campaign opposing power sell-off. Their call for a special state Labor conference could still derail the sale.

The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, said the Government had promised many rail lines - from Hurstville to Strathfield, the Bondi link, one from Chatswood to Parramatta, and now a subway system - but delivered little. "Morris Iemma sounds like Carl Scully without the sparkle," he said.

Government sources say they are working to finalise the first metro subway route so they can go to the 2011 election with a signed contract to proceed with it.


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