By Emily Contador-Kelsall.
In a show of opposition against WestConnex the City of Sydney hosted a public meeting in an almost-full Town Hall on Monday.
The meeting comes after the majority of councillors openly denounced the project upon receiving the findings of the council-commissioned SGS report. The report was the first independent review of WestConnex and found it was not appropriate infrastructure for Sydney.
The WestConnex Action Group staged a pop-up rally on the Town Hall steps before the meeting.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore was the first speaker. She said WestConnex’s usefulness as a transport option was not its prime purpose but that it was designed to maximise toll collection.
“The process is a sham and it’s as though we don’t matter and the project is going ahead whatever,” she said.
“This is vandalism on a government scale,” Moore said in relation to WestConnex’s impact on Sydney Park.
The WestConnex project aims to link people with jobs, improve freight transport and permit urban renewal.
Numerous politicians and councillors across the inner city and western Sydney have called for improvements to the public transport network in place of road projects.
Currently, 90 percent of western Sydney workers use public transport to get to city centre jobs.
Terry Rawnsley, principal and partner at SGS Economics and Planning, said it was very difficult to correctly predict the outcomes of new toll roads.
“Toll roads in the past in Australia have proved a very uneven investment,” he said.
Mr Rawnsley presented various alternatives to roads as viable transport infrastructure for Sydney, including road pricing and more investment across the public transport network.
Mark Ely from the Newtown Business Precinct Association thanked Clover Moore and the City of Sydney for giving the public the opportunity to “stand up and say we don’t want this toll road”.
Mr Ely said the limited information on how traffic will be managed presents a “life-threatening impact” to businesses along King Street.
“This change and the St Peters interchange have the potential to kill business in Newtown,” he said.
NSW Shadow Minister for Transport and Labor candidate for Newtown Penny Sharpe said there was no policy justification for the St Peters interchange and Labor would not build it.
Ms Sharpe defended Labor’s position on WestConnex at the meeting despite her party’s stance on the project coming under fire on the night from several speakers, including Professor Wendy Bacon and audience members.
“Labor is very clear in relation to WestConnex and my leader Luke Foley has said that WestConnex is a brand and we’re not buying the brand,” she said.
Green’s candidate Jenny Leong, who is running against Ms Sharpe for the seat of Newtown, said the Greens oppose WestConnex and support the redirection of public funds into public transport and cycleways.
Prof Wendy Bacon, journalist and popular speaker on the night, supported Ms Leong’s stance and said the question that confronted the public was why both major parties supported WestConnex given the volume of community opposition.
“The WestConnex project is a 33 km dirty tollway disaster that encapsulates the short-sighted, vested-interest, anti-community, unsustainable culture that has infected politics in NSW for too long,” Ms Leong said.
Ms Leong received support from the crowd with her strong anti-WestConnex stance while Labor’s Ms Sharpe was booed by a few audience members as she exited the stage.
Professor Peter Newman, an Infrastructure Australia board member, also spoke against WestConnex on the night via a video address.