By Wendy Bacon
St Peters residents are angry that the WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA) quietly took possession of a major waste dump in the area without informing the community or requiring the company that owned it to clean it up.
The WDA was set up to build a 33 kilometre toll road from Parramatta through the Inner West for an estimated cost of $15 billion. The Authority took over the Dial A Dump site in St Peters a few days before Christmas, without any public announcement.
A spokesperson for the authority told City Hub negotiations to buy the dump site began mid last year. A compulsory acquisition notice was issued in September, leading to a purchase on December 19.
A couple of days after the sale, Dial A Dump moved out. The WDA did not respond to a questions about how much it paid for the site.
This means that the Government began negotiating with Malouf’s company several months before any public mention that a major WestConnex interchange was planned for the area. Only on November 4 last year did Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Mike Baird announce the interchange project. This was two months after the acquisition notice for Malouf’s site was issued.
St Peters residents Pauline Lockie and Warren O’Brien recently moved into the area. Before buying their home in July 2014, O’Brien asked WDA if the property in Brown Street could be affected by the tollway. They were told that there were no plans that would affect the property.
On November 4, the family received an initial letter stating that WDA wanted to talk with them about how the property might be affected by the project. But on November 21, O’Brien was again reassured by WestConnex that it had no current plans to acquire the property. The couple was shocked last week to receive a letter stating their house was one of 41 to be compulsorily acquired; vacant possession is required by the beginning of 2016.
Ms Lockie is angry at what she believes is unfair and deceptive conduct on the part of the WestConnex Authority. She said there is “absolutely no way” the couple would have bought the home if they’d known an interchange was planned.
She attributes the Baird government’s tactics to being “spooked by rising community opposition” and accused them of rushing acquisitions so that even if the project is unvaible, having destroyed St Peters, the WDA will argue it should go ahead anyway.
Dial A Dump is owned by businessman Ian Malouf who has strong Liberal Party connections. But while the acquisition is a step forward for the WDA, it also raises questions about whether Malouf was allowed to negotiate a deal while the community was kept in the dark about the interchange.
In the years leading up to the election of the LNP government, Malouf and his wife Larissa donated $40,000 to the party, including $5,000 at a Liberals’ fundraising dinner where then Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell and Malouf met.
A spokesperson for O’Farrell told the Sun Herald in 2011 that the Premier was aware that the company was subject to investigation for pollution breaches at the time he attended Malouf’s $500,000 opening party for his mega dump at Eastern Creek facility.
When told about the Dial A Dump purchase, Greens spokesperson for Transport, Mehreen Faruqi told City Hub the Coalition Government’s secrecy on WestConnex is astounding.
“[E]very day we learn more about what they are hiding from the community.” Dr Faruqi said. “They refuse to release a business case for this $15 billion toll road but continue to arrogantly take over people’s homes and waste public money on a project that has no justification.”
She said in December, at the same time the government paid Malouf for the Dial A Dump site, the NSW Auditor General’s report found that the “WestConnex business case was ‘deficient,’ failing to meet basic standards and be put through an independent reviewing process. Faruqi has called on the Baird government to release its full business case and cost benefit analysis before the March state election.
The WDA spokesperson said the “rapid acquisition of the site for St Peters Interchange,” is “another important and tangible step forward in delivering WestConnex.”
The residents are also concerned that the site was acquired without an environmental impact assessment, though it is known to have asbestos and other toxic contamination issues. City Hub asked WestConnex what budget had been allocated for the clean-up of the site. The WDA spokesperson did not reply to questions on the matter but said the site was being assessed by the Waste Asset Management Corporation and the Environmental Protection Authority. It is not known whether the government or Dial A Dump will pay for the clean up.
Work on the first M4 tollway section is due to begin this week. but the NSW Greens and No WestConnex action groups are calling on the Government to stop work.
On Sunday, WestConnex Action Group and Reclaim the Street will hold a ‘crawl’ down King Street, Newtown to highlight the potential impact of the huge volume of cars that will flow into the Inner West from the interchange. The protest will end at Sydney Park, part of which will be sliced off for the project. No one from Dial A Dump was available for comment at the time of the article.
Wendy Bacon is a Professorial Fellow at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and a long-term resident of Newtown.