Inner West Independent

Cowboys are pushing for Westconnex, says researcher

Jodi McKay and Jenny Leong among the July 4 WestConnex rally crowd Source: Wendy Bacon

Standing in Goddard Park at Concord on the edge of Sydney’s inner west on Saturday, it was hard to imagine how a green swirl of intersecting threads on a sketchy motorway map of nearby streets could be the exit from six lanes of toll way tunnels within a few years.

But for residents like Amanda Bull, who lives with her partner and two children in a nearby street, the potential Westconnex exit is frighteningly real.

As she put it at a July 4 “Independence from Westconnex” community rally, if the plan goes ahead, the tunnel exit will be “up my bum”.

City Hub first met Ms Bull at the Burwood RSL in May, after residents near Concord’s Cintra Park had just been given only hours warning of a public announcement that the park would become a constant drilling point for removal of rock and soil for the M4 tunnel.

On that night, Ms Bull tried unsuccessfully to find out more about the rest of the M4 East route. She declared the information evening to be a bureaucratic “tick and flick” exercise.

It is anger at this lack of transparency that led Ms Bull to organise her second community rally last Saturday. The first rally was in early 2014 when residents got their first inkling that houses in the immediate area could be acquired.

For more than a year, all went quiet again. But in June, the motorway planners reemerged with plans to acquire scores of houses and businesses for a route across Concord to Parramatta Road in Haberfield.

Like many residents that City Hub has interviewed this year, Ms Bull is scathing about the lack of openness and consultation in the planning process.

Some residents and businesses have now been told they will be forced to move, while thousands of residents along the route are being told their communities, including schools and childcare centres, must absorb the impacts of the toll way.

Meanwhile, the project’s cost has already blown out from $10 billion to $15.4 billion without a business case being released.

Westconnex Delivery Authority (WDA) had previously said the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the M4 tunnel would be released in mid 2015. But instead, the project contract was awarded to Leighton Contractors, John Holland and Samsung, before an EIS report had even been lodged with the NSW Planning Department.

This is the second contract awarded to Leightons Contractors, who were also part of the consortium selected to the WestConnex M4 widening between Parramatta and Homebush.

Residents and community groups say they have not yet heard from the EIS team, although some are aware that global engineering company AECOM is the main company responsible for M4 tunnel EIS. AECOM is currently being sued for inaccurate traffic predictions for RiverCity Motorway in Brisbane.

“I do love it when the Chairman of the Westconnex Authority Tony Shepherd says we do really well on community engagement. Well we are an engaged community and we do not want this,” Ms Bull told the 200 strong Concord rally.

Earlier this year, the City of Sydney commissioned an independent report from SGS Consulting that found that Westconnex would not be a solution to Sydney’s crippling traffic congestion.

Michelle Ziebots, who is a senior transport research consultant at the University of Technology, Sydney, told the rally that the reason why no one had yet been given the detail is that the project does not add up.

She said that Sydney transport planners are “shocked key decision makers are not listening to professionals who are working on these projects”.

Ms Ziebots said that it was “really serious” that those supporting the project “carry on like cowboys and cowboys is a word that is being used by a lot of (transport) people at the moment”.

Ms Ziebots said that it was important to focus on why billions of dollars of public money was not being spent on public transport instead.

Shadow Minister for Roads Jodi McKay disagreed and told the crowd that they should concentrate on getting the tunnel shifted to align with Parramatta Road and filtration for the pollution stacks.

“If the project worked it would reduce traffic on Parramatta Road,” Ms McKay said.

The crowd booed as many know that in fact the WDA’s own data shows that the project will increase traffic on Parramatta Road, Victoria Road and the M2 motorway as cars and trucks avoid motorway tolls.

MP for Newtown and Greens Westconnex spokesperson Jenny Leong struck a chord when she urged residents to link with others across Sydney to stop WestConnex.

“We don’t want this toll way in this community or any community. I am sick and tired of arrogance of successive NSW state governments who have proceeded to make decisions and spend public money not in the community interest. I am over it and have had enough.”

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