BY KENJI SATO
Hundreds of trees were wrapped with blue ribbons on the weekend, marking those which will be cut down to make way for the WestConnex tollway.
The picnic protest on December 6, which took place in St Peters, Haberfield and Kingsgrove, aimed to highlight the environmental devastation that will occur if WestConnex is rolled out in the inner west.
The protest marked the beginning of a campaign to wrap trees in parks, gardens and across scores of hectares of other green spaces that are being acquired by WestConnex.
The bright blue of the ribbons reflects the colour WestConnex uses in its own branding.
The NSW Government has been flooded with thousands of submissions objecting to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the M4 East tollway.
The new M5 EIS has been lodged, allowing the community only until the end of January to comment.
WestConnex Action Group has already sent hundreds of letters to the Minister for Planning calling for an extension.
The government’s proposal is for two new nine kilometre tunnels linking St Peters with Kingsgrove. This will add to the existing M5 tunnel which is already tolled.
Critics of the plan warn that the new roadway will mean unsustainable levels of pollution because of ventilation stacks, tunnel exits at Kingsgrove and a massive interchange at St Peters.
There are also concerns that the years of tunneling and construction works at Kogarah golf course in Arncliffe will threaten one of only two surviving colonies of the green and golden bell frog in Sydney, which lives on the course.
Spokesperson for the WestConnex Action Group, Pauline Lockie, told City Hub that local residents’ knowledge of the road was growing, as was the number of problems they found with the project.
She said that the weekend community rallies involved children who would be affected by how close their school will be to increased pollution, or homes slated for demolition, and the knowledge that they or their friends will be forced to leave the area.
“We have a lot of kids who come up to our information stalls and events who are going to be very deeply affected by the project,” Ms Lockie said.
“We’re finding that people understand that this is a project whose cost is blowing out, is going to involve huge amounts of extra traffic on our streets.”
“It’s going to involve huge increases in pollution, not just from the stacks, but also from the extra traffic and the entry and exits from the tunnels. So that’s been very good to see and that means people have been coming with their own comments to the submissions as well,” she said.
Federal Minister for Major Projects Paul Fletcher said in a statement that the tollway will benefit local communities.
“This will bring relief to hundreds of thousands of motorists battling congestion, including the 100,000 who use the M5 East every day, and reduce traffic on local roads, bringing benefits to local communities,” Mr Fletcher said.
But president of Alexandria Residents Action Group Ben Aveling said he believes the road would wreak havoc in his local area.
He disputes the traffic and time saving figures put forward by the government, and described the project as “political madness, it’s ideology gone mad”.
“What’s proposed is horrific. The volumes of traffic [predicted for inner-west roads] are completely off the scale. They currently carry about 7000 cars per day, but they want us to carry about 60,000.”
He said that the loss of trees and green space was an additional issue on top of congestion.
“They want to wipe out a lot of the trees along the edge of Sydney Park and claim a big chunk of the park. The most offensive bit about it is that they are saying ‘don’t worry, the traffic will dissipate’ which, as far as we can tell, is going to rat run because Euston Road cannot carry that volume of traffic,” Mr Aveling said.
“Euston Road already doesn’t carry as much traffic as it’s rated for and it’s congested because there’s nowhere to go from Euston Road.”
“All of the other roads are congested too. The same thing is true of King Street as well, north and south.”
Mr Aveling said he wondered where the government’s numbers were coming from.
“If you have a look at the EIS the numbers are strange, because under the ‘do nothing’ strategy it becomes less congested, which makes me wonder where their number are coming from.”
He also said there were concerns about the levels of carbon monoxide which would come from the tunnels.
“Traffic will bank back into the tunnel and that will block up the whole tunnel which is a threat to life, because those tunnels are polluted and you don’t want to be in them longer than you have to.”
“There’s a lot of monoxide and it’s just not clear how it’s going to work. You’re going to have to limit the number of cars that go into it. A couple of billion dollars, the whole project’s $18 billion for a road that’s going to carry less traffic than the current road does,” he said.
“They’ll be charging $20 a day to use it – it’s not a good deal for anyone. It goes up at 4 per cent per year, nearly double the rate of inflation. It’s just appalling.”
Community organisations, councils, government departments and members of the public can make submission until January 29, 2016. You can read more about the project at www.m5eis.org.
With additional reporting by Christopher Harris and Wendy Bacon.