BY WENDY BACON
Wendy Bacon is an ex Professor of Journalism at UTS. She has signed the Open Letter.
If Premier Mike Baird had hoped this week’s announcement that tunnelling and home demolition are beginning at St Peters would quell protests against his 34 kilometre Westconnex tollway project, he will be disappointed.
On Wednesday morning, protestors lined Princes Highway holding aloft a giant Baird’s Big Lemon. Other signs highlighted ongoing corruption allegations against Westconnex’s main contractor CIMIC.
Not long afterwards, Premier Mike Baird and the Minister for Roads, Duncan Gay, arrived for a PR conference to celebrate the tunnelling.
There is no doubt that this is a blow to anti-Westconnex campaigners, but there are no signs they are going away. Previously, campaigners managed only one protest against drilling a day, yet now they’ve managed two or three a day in Newtown, Annandale and Leichhardt this week.
The Save Sydney Park protest camp is now in its third month and more than a hundred trees have been adopted by Sydney residents who have pledged to help save them from destruction by WestCONnex.
Within hours of Westconnex’s announcement that tunnelling would begin, the WestCONnex Action Group (WAG) issued a statement labelling the move to begin tunnelling as “disgraceful when so much of the project’s design and impact remain unknown.
“It is disgraceful that they’re now gearing up to destroy large parts of St Peters and waste even more taxpayer dollars on expensive tunnelling when they are still making WestCONnex up as they go along, ” said WAG spokesperson Pauline Lockie.
“The Baird government still hasn’t released a final design for the WestCONnex New M5. And the recent removal of the WestCONnex Camperdown interchange means that the traffic, air quality, noise and financial projections for the New M5 must be wrong.
“The effects of this are going to be especially severe for the St Peters Interchange, as drivers who use WestCONnex will have to enter and exit there if they want to go to and from the CBD and south west.
“That’s going to have a huge impact on traffic congestion and pollution on St Peters and the surrounding suburbs, and threatens the vibrant businesses in Newtown. But the Baird government hasn’t released any updated information about how this will affect residents or road users.”
Ms Lockie said the community would not stand by and watch another part of Sydney destroyed, especially given the intensity of the destructive impacts already being experienced in Haberfield, Ashfied and Concord.
On Tuesday evening, a broad coalition of campaign groups released an open letter addressed to Premier Mike Baird, Roads Minister Duncan Gay and Planning Minister Rob Stokes to halt work on the St Peters Interchange and conduct an urgent review into WestCONnex.
As City Hub went to press, signatories to the letter included Westconnex Action Group, No Westconnex Public Transport, Nature Conservation Council, Total Environment Centre, Save Newtown, Rozelle against Westconnex, the Newtown Business Precinct, Ecotransit and the Alexandria Resident Action group.
Significantly, the Labor Shadow Minister for Roads Jodi Mckay has joined Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong, Balmain Greens MP Jamie Parker and Labor Summer Hill MP Jo Haylen in signing the letter. Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi, Senators Lee Rhiannon and Janet Rice are also supporting the open letter as has City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. More politicians, current and ex Councillors are expected to join key signatories in coming days. Within hours of the letter’s release, hundreds of members of the public had signed the online version.
The open letter highlights the out of date modelling for the New M5 following the cancellation of the Camperdown Interchange.
The letter states, “significant changes made recently to the proposed M4-M5 Link mean that the traffic and air quality modelling, financial projections, and other key elements of the environmental impact statements for WestConnex Stages 1 and 2 will now be incorrect.”
“The effects of these changes will be felt across the route, especially around the proposed St Peters Interchange. Even the current figures for the New M5 show this interchange would significantly increase traffic and pollution in the surrounding area, which is the most densely populated in Australia and growing rapidly.These and other impacts will be even more severe due to the removal of the Camperdown off-ramps, as the St Peters Interchange will now be the closest entry/exit to many parts of the city for drivers travelling to and from the south west.”
The letter calls on the NSW government to halt the construction of the St Peters Interchange and associated works before the widespread destruction of properties, parks and trees in this area takes place, and provide updated traffic, air quality, financial and environmental studies for this section of WestConnex.
“We believe it is a dereliction of your duty of care to actively increase the toxic pollution that so many residents, particularly children, will be exposed to with this section of WestConnex.
“We also reject the proposed location of the Interchange next to Sydney Park, the inner city’s largest green space, and the assertion that green space under a massive interchange can be considered an acceptable ‘replacement’ for trees that will be destroyed there.”
Following an occupation of NSW Parliament by residents two weeks ago, Premier Baird has agreed to meet with Newtown MP Jenny Leong and representatives of WAG and NoWestconnex PT on Thursday this week. City Hub will report the results of the meeting next week.