Wells plans to fix projects dilemma

From the Age 27 Jun 2011 – http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/wells-plans-to-fix-projects-dilemma-20110626-1gltm.html

A TUNNEL from the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway will be considered by the Baillieu government as part of an infrastructure plan ordered by Treasurer Kim Wells, following widespread criticism that Victoria is not planning major projects.

Mr Wells has ordered his department to urgently get to work on an infrastructure plan for Victoria after being warned the state is at risk of losing billions of dollars of investment and thousands of skilled workers to New South Wales and Queensland.

The Age believes the government will reconsider a range of transport projects flagged by the previous government, including an east-west road tunnel from the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway, a metro rail tunnel from Footscray to St Kilda Road, and a ”missing link” connection between the Metropolitan Ring Road and the Eastern Freeway.

Infrastructure Australia chief Sir Rod Eddington is believed to have recently told the Baillieu government to consider following the NSW government’s lead, which has announced a new body headed by former premier Nick Greiner called Infrastructure NSW to aggressively pursue major projects.

But Mr Wells said he had decided against such an agency because the role could be performed more cost effectively by the Department of Treasury and Finance. After being warned that inaction on infrastructure could threaten the state economy Mr Wells, six weeks ago, ordered his department head Grant Hehir to develop what he called an ”infrastructure pipeline” – providing detailed proposals for short, medium and long-term major projects.

It is unclear when the major new plan will be released or how it will be funded, but the department is working with the Department of Transport and other agencies to develop it.

“My view is that we need to make this body as efficient as possible and at the moment I’m satisfied that the Department of Treasury and Finance are the right people to be pulling it together,” Mr Wells told The Age.

”We have spoken to nearly every single very large contractor in this state but the message is very clear: this is about targeting the investment in tough economic times to make sure that we are able to boost productivity.”

The decision represents a belated acknowledgement by the government that Victoria is in danger of losing its reputation as an innovative state when it comes to procuring major projects.

The Age has spoken to senior Melbourne business figures who are worried about the lack of action, warning they are now looking to NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Asia because of the long lead times associated with major projects.

“People are nervous about what happens next,” a Melbourne-based business figure closely involved with high-profile major projects told The Age.

“Six months, 12 months, 18 months, I don’t know. It’s a pain in the arse sitting here waiting for a whole lot of work that we were doing before and we don’t know whether it is going ahead or not going ahead.”

Mr Wells said he was determined to make rigorous decisions to avoid mistakes of the former Brumby government. But he refused to be drawn on when or if the plan would be released.

“When I talk to the contractors in Melbourne, they are looking for certainty,” he said.

“The issue of the pipeline is an important part of addressing their concerns and we believe this will be an incredibly positive step forward for the state and to give certainty to those large contractors.”Business and transport lobby groups are also getting tetchy.

RACV general manager Brian Negus said Melbourne needed a long-term transport plan to address the ”frustration” being felt by road and public transport users. Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Mark Stone said he understood the government’s immediate priority was implementing election promises, but a long-term blueprint for Victoria was needed.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/wells-plans-to-fix-projects-dilemma-20110626-1gltm.html#ixzz2JzrvwCHY