By Lauren O’Connor.
WestConnex could be Sydney’s most contentious transport project of recent years and this week St Peters residents took to the streets to fight it.
Exploratory drilling for tollway smoke stacks began last week, just two hundred metres away from St Peters Public School and it drove locals to stage a protest. Spokesperson for the subsequent street festival Chris Lego was devastated and disgusted by what he considered a lack of concern for community, in favour
“The whole project is so badly thought out … we’re talking about 40,000 and 100,000 car a day exiting at St Peters and there has been no extensive traffic management, planning or forecasting,” he said.
The family and community street festival included a live music line-up, art and politics, with Aria award winning DJ and producer Paul Mac headling the festival.
The street blockade was held on Saturday on Campbell Street, St Peters one area where 80 homes will be compulsorily acquired for a traffic intensive interchange.
Lego described it as the union of a whole suburb, possible because ‘everyone’s on the same page for once.’
“We’ve got nine sound systems, we’ve got a kids space with … a bouncing castle, giant bubble machines, street chalking contest, we’ve got local artists and sculptors coming to show their work.”
Despite the focus on culture and entertainment the intention of the event, which was run in co-ordination with ‘Reclaim the Streets,’ was clear: the community would not welcome WestConnex.
“We’re going to fight this every inch of the way, Sydney Park, St Peters are not for sale and we need to heavily invest in public transport instead. How do you compensate people for the loss of a community that they grew up in?” said Lego.
The development is intended to connect the CBD with rapidly growing Western Sydney and solve congestion issues on industrial and freight routes bound for the airport and harbour. Construction is due to start next month as part of $20 billion dollar NSW infrastructure plan.
The transition from a tunnel into an above ground highway at St Peters the M4-M5 Link could dramatically change the suburb and encroach on green space. As reported in City Hub on December 11 a 12-metre length of Sydney Park owned by the State Government will be subsumed during the M5 extension.
When approached Lego said the WestConnex Delivery Authority did not provide clear answers about the impact of the interchange on the suburb and the larger Inner West. A government release the ‘M5 Project Overview’ assured they would engage with community about the interchange situated on a junction with Canal, Burrows, Campbell Roads and the Princes Highway.
“The St Peters interchange will be constructed to integrate with existing and future surrounding land uses,” it said.
The State Government remains positive about the plans, which were previously unsuccessful under Labour. During a press conference on Saturday Premier Mike Baird described the construction, which is scheduled for completion in 2019, as a ‘Christmas present for the people of the south west’.
“This government is all about delivering infrastructure, making a difference to peoples lives on a daily basis and getting home and to work 25% quicker, well that is a great thing for communities,” he said.
Duncan Gay, Roads and Transport Minister said the focus was firmly on those commuting to work and for an ‘easy run’ from suburbs such as Bankstown and Parramatta.
The project is scheduled for completion in 2019.
“It’s all happening in the south west and the west of Sydney, we will deliver infrastructure right across the city and right across the state.”
As reported in City Hub’s extensive coverage of WestConnex: compulsory acquisition of inner city housing, protests, loss of green space and the overview drew the ire of politicians, transport analysts and community alike.
Campbell Street Blockade and festival organiser Stewart Rimes said the day was a success and estimated over one thousand people turned out in protest. He was positive about coverage from mainstream media and hoped it would encourage the public to re-examine the WestConnex plan.
“With larger news media picking up the story we got our message across, the success is if starting to get people to recognise that this is a problem. I personally had a fantastic day, we got great feedback from the different residents that we’re working with, who said they enjoyed themselves. “
City of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore told Fairfax in November that amongst other criticisms, the city is decades behind and chronically short of transport infrastructure. She since passed a motion to demand more information about the St Peters Interchange and the potential ‘health risk’ of tunnel smoke stacks.