BY WENDY BACON
The NSW Government has backed down on its promise not to introduce clearways along Newtown’s King Street.
Last week’s announcement by the government that weekend clearways would be introduced in King Street has upset many in the community. Clearways are designed to remove parking whilst speeding up traffic, but are known to kill street life and small businesses along the route.
WestConnex CEO Dennis Cliche assured residents in 2015 that there would be no King Street clearways.
Community campaigning group Save Newtown evidently did not believe him at the time as its stickers appeared on hundreds of local businesses.
When WestConnex brings its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) roadshow to Newtown on Tuesday, September 12, it will be the first time it has visited the heart of Newtown since it received a unanimous and hostile reception at a packed Enmore Theatre meeting, nearly two and half years ago.
Its reception is not likely to be any warmer this time as WestConnex Stage 3 EIS includes a tunnel from St Peters to Haberfield under hundreds of Newtown’s oldest homes including heritage-listed buildings. Thousands of school children and Inner West residents will be affected by noise and dust during its five-year construction period, which even WestConnex’s own EIS finds will have a negative socio-economic impact across the region.
The end result is likely to be more, not less traffic.
The first Enmore Theatre meeting was held in Feburary 2015, just a few weeks after 3000 people marched down King Street, Newtown, demanding a stop to WestConnex. The imminent destruction of scores of St. Peters’ homes, thousands of Sydney Park trees and the introduction of clearways on King Street were incendiary issues for protesters.
Two and half years later, the trees and homes are gone but the community is still fighting. Thousands of submissions have been collected opposing WestConnex’s Stage 3 which depends on the revived road toll on the widened M4 from Parramatta to Strathfield for funding, also proving very unpopular.
In December 2015 while the local campaign against the New M5 EIS was in full swing and a Federal election looming, Federal MP Anthony Albanese arranged a meeting between himself, the then Minister for Roads Duncan Gay, and the Newtown Business Precinct Association.
After that meeting, Mr Albanese issued a press release stating the “Minister gave an absolute commitment that there would be no extension of clearways on King Street, Newtown.
Consideration is also being given to altering the intersection of the Princes Highway and King Street, near St Peters’ Station, to encourage traffic away from using King Street as a thoroughfare.”
This idea became known as the King Street Gateway.
Consistent with Labor’s WestConnex policy, Mr Albanese did not oppose Westconnex but said he would continue to work to mitigate its worst aspects.
Many campaigners remained skeptical, claiming it was hard to see how thousands more cars can pour out of the St Peters Interchange without flooding the Inner West with traffic. They questioned whether it was feasible to steer even more traffic a block east to where 60,000 extra vehicles were already predicted to travel.
Save Newtown continued its campaign against WestConnex and clearways, anticipating that the clearways promise could not be trusted. Thousands of New M5 submissions including ones from the City of Sydney and Marrickville Council raised complaints about the clearway threat.
The WestConnex EIS was prepared by AECOM, a global engineering firm, which City Hub has previously reported has a commercial stake in the design and building of WestConnex.
In its Response to Submissions report published in March 2016, AECOM was clear on King Street clearways. It stated: “The NSW Government has made clear public statements that there is no intention to extend clearway hours through King Street. The NSW Government position remains unchanged…”
The report was less certain about the Gateway, stating that NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) was committed to working with Councils on the King St Gateway, but that as a separate project it would have to be assessed on its own merits. This includes undertaking traffic modelling and a full analysis of access and parking implications, as well as liaison with all relevant stakeholders and a detailed cost benefit analysis.
Since it is clear that WestConnex will have impacts on traffic in the Inner West, City Hub wonders why AECOM had not done traffic modelling for King Street during its own EIS process.
NSW Planning accepted the Response to Submissions report and approved the project. Jump forward to the AECOM’s Stage 3 7000 page EIS that was lodged three weeks ago and you find that the clearways and King Street Gateway provides a strong example of why the EIS for projects planned in completely separate stages cannot be relied upon.
The EIS includes an assessment of ‘cumulative impacts’, in other words an assessment of impacts that flow from all projects near and including WestConnex over five years of construction. There is no mention of the King Street Gateway.
It’s only if you dig deep into the EIS appendices, you discover that a number of projects including the King Street Gateway were screened out of the ‘cumulative impacts’ analysis, because there was ‘Insufficient public information available,’ or the timing of the project was unknown.
The screened out developments include several public transport projects that have strong community support. This either means these projects are on hold until after 2023 or that the actual cumulative noise, traffic and pollution impacts could be far worse than assessed by AECOM.
When I visited one of WestConnex’s five Stage 3 public EIS sessions last Saturday, I was keen to find out why AECOM, which works extremely closely with RMS, could not find out about progress with the King Street Gateway. I was told that AECOM had received no information from RMS that could be made public.
If you were planning clearways all along, why have a project to steer traffic away from King Street?
It seems apparent that the politically convenient ‘no clearways’ promise was designed to reduce the temperature of the Stop WestConnex campaign. Duncan Gay, who promised King Street would be a ‘nirvana’ if Westconnex went ahead, cannot be held accountable because he retired three months ago.
The Newtown Business Precinct have predicted ‘instant death’ for King Street if the clearways go head.
Despite their criticisms of WestConnex, neither the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and local MP Anthony Albanese nor NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley have ever called for a stop to the project. Nor have they told the public how they will deal with the mess of WestConnex if they are elected to government in the next two years.
There will be a rally at 5.30 pm outside the EIS session at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre on Tuesday, September 12.
Wendy Bacon is a supporter of Save Newtown