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Opinion: Heritage bulldozed

Development has created traffic problems. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

By Peter Hehir

The development infrastructure has waged war on New South Wales’ heritage for decades.

Whenever the Liberal Party gains power, the bulldozers are turned loose and destruction is unleashed on a grand scale.

In its 1999 oral history Development of the Pacific Highway and the Sydney–Newcastle Freeway, Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) says ‘Within our own walls we determined what we’d build, and when we’d do it, and we just went and did it. We told people that we wanted their land, and that we’d take it…We developed a very bad reputation’.

It’s obvious not much has changed.

If you painted a picture of the ongoing WestConnex saga it would depict the bulldozers lying in wait at the doors of heritage listed homes with the developers lurking behind them clutching their high-rise plans.

One only needs to look at the havoc wreaked on Haberfield with Stage 2 of WestConnex to understand that under the conservative manifesto developers always win and roads trump residences.

The National Trust has reported at least 60 Trust classified homes have already been bulldozed to make way for the tollway and its portals.

The City West Link is bumper to bumper in peak hour and on weekends, and the additional traffic disgorged onto it by WestConnex will only increase the chaos.

The recently approved Stage 3 will see the White Bay area gridlocked in extended peak hours, with traffic banking up in the heavily polluted tunnels for kilometres, all at the expense of not only residents but also the areas of historical significance which will be razed in the name of progress.

While the rest of the world has abandoned inner city tollways as an abject failure, the NSW Government and the RMS blunder on, hell bent on proving history isn’t important and that tollways don’t induce traffic.

That they can adopt a thoroughly discredited approach and anticipate success is either arrogance of the highest order or a practical demonstration of the axiom that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

When the evidence from similar projects shows worsened traffic, it bears asking what exactly is the connection between the RMS and its former employees, current and former members of the NSW Government and the multinational toll companies?

A recent article published by the Daily Telegraph examines this web of relationships and comes up with some startling and disturbing connections.

Former NSW Premier and Liberal Party leader Nick Greiner’s appointment to a senior position with Transurban was only the beginning of the migration from Government to Development.

The investigation by the Daily Telegraph reveals consultancy firm MU Group has been awarded Roads and Maritime Services contracts worth more than $4.46 million since hiring retired Minister for Roads Duncan Gay as an “executive adviser” in August 2017, just weeks after he quit parliament.

Mr Gay said he had nothing to do with the deals, but the Daily Telegraph confirmed of the six contracts, none went to open tender, with three designated ‘non-tender’ and three ‘limited tender’ meaning only selected parties were invited to apply.

The MU Group has at least 11 former RMS employees on its staff, including both of its Directors and three out of the four members of its Advisory Board.

Our community’s history and heritage is quickly swept away by the Government’s entanglement with developers and their money.

Heritage preservation is seen as a bar to development, an inconvenience, of no value, outdated and perhaps an uncomfortable reminder of a less sophisticated time.

But in order to know where we are going it is essential to know where we have been.

Organisations like the National Trust here and overseas recognise this truth and place great value on history, because history is not only our story, but shapes our future.

Residents of the Inner West and the ring of Victorian-built suburbs know only too well the value of the architecture and urban design of streets lined with terraces and cottages.

Such homes strike a brilliant balance between efficient use of land, the built form and architectural art.

They are pleasing to the eye and wonderful to live in – but anathema to the developer.

In March of 2016 the leaked publication of plans for the Rozelle Interchange, published on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, showed much of Rozelle on the western side of Victoria Road earmarked for demolition.

Once the interchange is built, what’s left will be flogged off to the developers for high rise apartments, ensuring that the character of what is at present a stunning place to live, is lost forever.

Glebe was only saved in the 70s by the actions of hundreds of residents who performed heroic acts of civil disobedience and it will take the same to save Rozelle.

As the owner of a late Georgian sandstone cottage built around 1864 and afforded the protection of ‘an item of the environmental heritage’, I asked how the Sydney Motorway Corporation dealt with such properties.

I was told, in what I can only assume was meant to be in a reassuring tone ‘Oh, we don’t bulldoze them, we demolish them by hand’.

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