By Wendy Bacon
The battle to stop the 33 kilometre WestConnex motorway is intensifying, with two major protests in the last week. Distraught residents in Haberfield demonstrated outside their local school in Sydney’s inner west last Friday June 5, while a crowded meeting in Kingsgrove Catholic Parish Hall protested the second M5 motorway through Sydney’s southern suburbs on Tuesday June 9.
The Baird government’s strategy for bedding down the project has been to divide it into segments and tackle them simultaneously by awarding contracts and forcing people out of their homes. This has been done before a business case justifying the project or environmental impact assessments are completed or released.
Following the announcement of the M4 design, residents in Haberfield were incensed by the scale of the Haberfield interchange and the closeness of the ventilation stack to thousands of residents. Scores of people in the neighbourhood who did not expect to lose their homes have been ordered to sell to NSW Roads and Maritime Services and move out by next year.
Many residents were also shocked that the Baird government could announce a $2.5 billion contract to a Leightons Samsung consortium before the business case or an environmental impact statement is complete. While this is not illegal, it severely undermines the legitimacy of the process.
The M4 East design released last week leaves Haberfield Public School sitting about 400 metres from an unfiltered ventilation stack and only 250 metres and 450 metres respectively from two tunnel portals.
Rachel Davies protested with her children outside Haberfield Public School, saying she was concerned about the impact of ultra fine particulate matter from the portals and stack on her children’s lungs. She said her sign, ‘We all love Dinosaurs not just for planning transport’ had been deliberately designed to convey her frustration with a government that is blindly pressing on with the tunnel without being prepared to consider public transport alternatives that independent experts argue would do more to solve congestion problems.
Secrecy for Residents, Special treatment for business owners
The surprise tactics that leave residents feeling locked out from any genuine consultation compare unfavourably to special treatment afforded to commercial owners. For example, the Briars Hockey Club at Concord negotiated for months in secret until it agreed with WDA that it would move from its current field at Cintra Park to another field specially constructed for it nearby. Only after that agreement had been reached were Concord residents delivered the dismaying news that they will be left living on the edge of a noisy tunnel construction site for two years.
Similarly, as revealed in earlier City Hub reports, the NSW government negotiated with Dial-a-Dump owner Ian Malouf secretly for months before taking over his property in December. Further City Hub investigation of the NSW government tender database shows that now the massive asbestos ridden dump is costing the public millions to guard and manage while it sits unoccupied. WDA has paid $250,000 for a six-month contract to Squires Tunnel Pty Ltd to manage the site and approximately $357,000 to Abacus Security to guard the site. These contracts both expire well before the end of the year so are likely to be renewed.
Last week, both the Shadow Minister for Roads Jodi McKay and Greens MP Jenny Leong called for a halt to all compulsory acquisitions until the business case has been released and an EIS for the motorway is undertaken. They also both raised concerns about revelations in New Matilda that the same company AECOM that has been awarded the contract to do the EIS for the M4 tunnel has deep commercial interests in the WestConnex motorway proceeding through contracts for other stages of the project. AECOM has not responded to any questions about these contracts.
While the WDA policy of awarding contracts before the business case or EIS is leading to accusations of secrecy and corruption of the planning process, it also makes it hard for anti WestConnex campaigners who are trying to stop the project from becoming a fait accompli. Campaigners are responding by forming alliances across Sydney.
Member for Newtown Jenny Leong spoke at the Kingsgrove meeting, telling City Hub afterwards that the community movement against WestConnex was growing.
“Investors will be taking note of the growing opposition,” she said.
“While the WDA and Duncan Gay are doing their best to keep communities in the dark, it’s clear that residents will not stand for this lack of transparency. Instead they are taking on the role of informing the community of the risks this out dated road, and how it will not only waste public money but also fail to meet Sydney’s transport needs.”
Convenor of the Beverly Hills No WestConnex group Kathy Calman organised the Kingsgrove meeting. She said the motorway was “irresponsible” and she is “appalled that any responsible government would propose a transport solution that involves nine unfiltered exhaust stacks through the middle and inner suburbs of Sydney. That is one for every 3.6 kilometres.”
Following the meeting, residents queued to sign a petition calling for an immediate halt to the project, a parliamentary inquiry and the release of the full business case.
WestConnex Action Group spokesperson, Pauline Lockie said, “the Baird Government is desperately trying to paint opposition to WestConnex as an exclusively inner-city thing, but last night’s packed-out meeting was yet more evidence that this is simply not true.”
Wendy Bacon has attended anti-WestConnex protests.
The No WestConnex Annandale group will hold a public meeting at Leichhardt Town Hall on June 16 at 7 pm and on June 18, Politics in the Pub at Harold Park hotel will cover Westconnex.