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Off the rails: Gold Coast light rail explodes as election issue, funds cut

Politics

The Gold Coast’s controversial light rail stage being planned from Burleigh Heads to the airport at Coolangatta has exploded as a federal election issue after a local MP said she had pulled her support and barred funding.

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McPherson MP Karen Andrews confirmed she had stepped in to stop federal funding of the stage that would be the final link in the $2.7 billion project because it was “not fit for purpose”.

It is a move that has escalated the dispute between local federal Coalition MPs and Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate, who has campaigned hard for a wish list of major projects for the Gold Coast that has failed to attract funding commitments or even any traction with what he calls “complacent” long-term Coalition incumbents.

It also comes as the heat was also turned up on the Federal Government for failing to release funding it had promised for the Coomera Connector, also called the second M1 project, on the northern Gold Coast.

Inaction and delays in coughing up the money was threating the Gold Coast’s vital road infrastructure project, State transport Minister Mark Bailey revealed today.

As well as the delivery of federal funding for the Coomera Connector and light rail Stage 4, described as essential infrastructure ahead of the 2032 south-east Queensland Olympic Games, Tate wants federal money for a green-heart project in Robina and expansion of the Gold Coast’s Home of the Arts (HOTA).

But moving even further from failing to commit to federal capital spending on the Gold Coast and pouring fuel on fiery exchanges with Tate who is a long-term Liberal member, Andrews revealed that she had written to Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher asking him to block federal funds being directed to light rail Stage 4.

This leaves only Tate, the State Government and local Gold Coast Labor candidates in the upcoming election in support of the light rail, which advocates say is supported by 63 per cent of Gold Coast residents.

Stage 4, however, is hotly rejected by local residents surrounding the proposed tram route, particularly through the booming suburb of Palm Beach, who say it is has negative environmental impacts, will cause traffic chaos, and is designed for people to pass through the suburb while offering no advantage to the people who live there.

Andrews’ McPherson electorate includes the southern Gold Coast suburbs, including Palm Beach, where opposition to the light rail Stage 4 registers most strongly on the Gold Coast.

Andrews said she made the move to pull funding as the current Stage 4 plans were “not good enough”.

“I’ve stood with our community against the proposed light rail extension route for some time and the State Labor government and proponents of the project still haven’t listened or acted on local concerns and objections. It’s not good enough,” she said.

“We cannot risk damaging local businesses, creating long-term traffic issues, and harming our environment with the current proposal. It is not fit for purpose.”

Tate today said her decision was ‘unfathomable”.
“It’s staggering the comment made a senior Morrison Government Minister and from a Minister who lives here, who a month ago celebrated Stage 3 commencement, who now turns around is not supportive of Stage 4,” Tate said.

“What a flip on that one and, you know what, the people of the Gold Coast will remember this.”

A $5 million planning study for the final 13km link from Burleigh to the airport, funded jointly by the State Government and Council, is already underway.
Funding has been committed and work as started on Stage 3 of the light rail to Burleigh.

It was however plagued by cost blowouts and required the Federal Government to tip in an extra $126 million and then the State Government to also reach back into its pocket, as the total cost of the 6.7km tram link edged from $709 million towards $1 billion.

The extra money committed earlier this year took the federal share of the Stage 3 project costs from $269 million to $395.6 million. City of Gold Coast is also funding $91.5 million of the project.

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