BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS
Two hundred people attended a public meeting at the Three Weeds Hotel in Rozelle on Sunday 3 April for what was supposed to be a small planning session for a new resident action group.
WestConnex Rozelle Action Group was set up in response to an announcement that the third stage of the controversial WestConnex will affect Rozelle and surrounding suburbs.
Projected to commence in 2019, its design features a spaghetti style interchange on the current site of the Rozelle Goods Yard. The overpass would connect the M4 and M5 motorways, the ANZAC Bridge, as well as a subsequent tunnel that will run under the Balmain Peninsula and connect to a second harbour tunnel.
Residents fear that a plan to forcibly acquire homes is imminent, as convener LJ Loch noted, “It would appear the Rozelle interchange is going to go through heritage listed homes and […] would drive a stake through the Balmain Peninsula”.
She told the meeting that Leichhardt Council has had an initial briefing from WestConnex but that information about the overall plan was minimal and light on detail.
Residents expressed concerns about disruptions to their area during the construction phase, as well as the possibility of homes being acquired.
Ms Loch said that the new action group was about informing locals about the project because “just about everyone we spoke to has no idea what was going on.” She said locals were angered by the project because it threatened other projects in the inner west such as the renewal of the Bays Precinct.
Letterboxing about the project had been restricted to a small amount of houses. “I don’t know what the WestConnex rationale is for that. Given the short timeframe, there are a lot of concerns,” she said.
“It is very clear that this is an as yet unfunded and unclear bulldozer through our suburb, the way WestConnex has approached community consultation to date, and the approach to compulsory acquisition gives me goosebumps.”
Fellow convenor Peter Hehir said, “this will drive a concrete stake into the heart of Rozelle”
He said it was likely that the project would result in pollutions levels exceeding maximum World Health Organisation.
“The five portals & their five exhaust stacks will distribute pollution all over Glebe, Annandale, Lilyfield & totally drench Rozelle”
The group aims to conserve heritage houses in the neighbourhood from demolition as well as the habitat of the Striped Marsh Frog and Bibron’s Brown Toadlet that live in the neighbourhood.
There was consensus at the meeting that the WestConnex Delivery Authority was not paying fair market prices in other inner west suburbs. This was because home values had dropped dramatically once rumors of compulsory acquisitions hit a neighbourhood, in turn reducing the amount offered by the Delivery Authority for homes. Residents have had little chance of buying another equivalent house in a similar area for the money they received for their acquired home.
Nathan English from EcoTransit spoke at the meeting and told locals that the government had other plans for more roads in the area. He said that the road has been earmarked as a new port access road by RMS and the Sydney Motorway Corporation.
“This corridor is the most cost-effective way to guarantee an off-road light rail and cycling corridor into the Balmain Peninsula from the rest of the inner west. It must be protected and needs as many eyes watching it as possible in case something changes,” Mr English said in a statement following the meeting.
He said it was concerning that Sydney Ports Corporation had torn up tracks of rail as recently as Saturday at the White Bay Cruise Terminal to extend James Craig Road all the way to the cruise terminal.
Greens Leichhardt Councillor Rochelle Porteous, who has campaigned against the WestConnex for the past two years, told the meeting that the community had a real chance to halt plans to bring WestConnex to Rozelle, because money to fund the entire project is in doubt.
Clr Porteous said the state government would need billions of dollars in federal funds.
With a federal election predicted to take place in early July, Clr Porteous said residents had to make WestConnex a federal campaign issue.
State Greens local member for Balmain, Jamie Parker, told the room that they needed to pressure Labor MP Anthony Albanese, whose newly redistricted seat of Grayndler takes in Rozelle. He told the meeting that during the last federal election, Albanese promised that Labor would spend $1.5 billion on Westconnex, if elected.
Speaking to City Hub, Mr Albanese said most federal money for the project had already been handed over, and only $250 million remained which will be transferred this financial year, before any federal election.
“If the Greens are serious at all, why are they pretending that a state government project is responsibility of the Federal Parliament?”
“I have made representations on behalf of constituents, because the planning and impact hasn’t been properly considered, and will continue to do so, and point out that the project fails to meet its objectives, as I have pointed out in parliament on no less than 19 occasions.”
Following reports earlier this week of record infrastructure spending in marginal electorates, Mr Albanese said in January “we called for an audit of the entire infrastructure program, across the board they have been funding projects before business cases.”
In early February, Federal Labor along with the entire Senate supported a motion moved by Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon calling on the Auditor-General to investigate the Commonwealth funding approvals for the WestConnex.
The M4 and M5 projects that will affect Rozelle is yet to be funded at all and is already listed as a possible project for further Federal funding
Mr Parker said the NSW state Liberal Party may call on the Federal Government to commit more funding for the project.
Mr Parker said: “while the ALP and the Liberals support the project but may argue about the route and the process it’s important the community makes it clear to both of them – support a halt to the project and no more public funding.”
Mr Parker said funding for the entire project depended on the private sector contributing, but after the collapse of the Cross City Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel projects, following inflated traffic projections, no private corporation wants to do business with NSW. The future of the entire WestConnex project is very much in doubt, according to Parker.
Parker told residents that Sydney Motorway Corporation had been put in charge land at the Rozelle Goods Yard.
Parker encouraged locals to attend the first WestConnex public meeting to discuss plans for Stage Three of WestConnex. The forum is being held on Saturday 30th April from 2 to 3pm at the Hannaford Community Centre in Rozelle.