BY LANIE TINDALE
Residents have slammed WestConnex’s consultation and complaints processes at a NSW parliamentary inquiry.
A key concern raised in the inquiry is the effectiveness and sincerity of the consultation process conducted by the NSW Roads and Maritime Services [RMS] and private company Sydney Motorway Corporation [SMC] that owns WestConnex.
RMS told the Inquiry into Impacts of WestConnex that it has “always been upfront” in dealings with communities and that “there has been extensive community consultation” on WestConnex.
NoW [No Westconnex] Annandale told the Committee that they were totally dissatisfied with the consultation process because the EIS was released only 10 days after the submissions on the M4-M5 concept design closed.
There were at least 1500 submissions some of which were detailed. “There is no way that all these submissions could have been read, considered, their arguments integrated into the EIS and then for the EIS of 7200 pages to be put together, printed and released 12 days after the closing date for submissions to the Concept Design,” said NoW’s written submission to the Inquiry.
“There needs to be an investigation into this flagrant abuse of the way NSW planning laws have been flouted for the whole of Westconnex and particularly Stage 3.”
NoW Annandale representative Kelvin Riordan told the Inquiry RMS also failed to disclose in the EIS that 4000 trucks would use Johnston Street in Annandale travelling to and from construction sites.
At a community meeting, a WestConnex staffer revealed to NoWestConnex members Parramatta Road would no longer be used as the truck route, and instead Johnston Street would be used.
This was first officially disclosed in a Preferred Infrastructure Report after the deadline for EIS submissions had passed.
NoW Annandale told the Inquiry residents “had no chance to make submissions opposing this.”
“This is one deception of the community that has taken place and needs investigation,” Riordan told the Inquiry.
RMS told the Inquiry “there has been extensive community consultation” on WestConnex, including 2075 face-to-face meetings; 180 community information sessions and forums; responded to 17,473 phone calls and 33,565 letters.
The planning department told the Inquiry it “undertakes comprehensive community consultation” including exhibiting the EIS and “direct consultation” with residents.
But Newtown Residents Against WestConnex [NRAW] representative Merilyn Fairskye disagreed.
“There has been a systemic failure of communication,” Ms Fairskye told the Inquiry. “The consultation process for the M4-M5 Link has been cosmetic and a joke.”
NRAW told the Inquiry they formed after finding out about drilling sites through the media in late 2016.
“There had been no prior community consultation,” Merilyn Fairskye told the commission.
As has previously been reported, in late 2016 only a few residents received letters about a proposed tunnel route in Newtown.
“We have repeatedly sent questions to SMC that have not been answered, or have been answered incompletely,” said Ms Fairskye to the Inquiry.
“Newtown residents’ questions at the two SMC hosted information sessions during 2017, promoted as one on one meetings between residents and SMC, were met with either ignorance, lack of clarity, or outright hostility.
“SMC cancelled its appearance at the eleventh hour at a community meeting we organised that had more than 200 attendees.”
The RMS told the committee construction for the M4-M5 Link mainline tunnel through Newtown will start before the end of the year.
The Newtown Residents against WestConnex [NRAW] told the Inquiry “residents have only had access to ‘indicative’ plans” and do not know where the tunnel will be going.
In Haberfield, an Air Quality Community Consultative Committee [AQCCC] was established to advise on air quality issues along the M4 East. Instead of the intended three, only two Haberfield representatives were appointed.
Haberfield Association representative Malachy Ward told the Inquiry he asked a SMC staff member why only two people were appointed.
“I wanted to know why I was rejected,” Mr Malachy told the Inquiry. “All she said was, “Are you a known protestor? That is all she said.”
The Haberfield Association’s written submission stated:
“Feedback from some representatives would suggest that the Independent Chair [of AQCCC, Stephen Lancken] does not appear to act independently, but serves the party that pays for his services – ie RMS/SMC, resulting in the Community having no confidence in the AQCCC.”
City Hub contacted Mr Lancken and he responded: “It is not my role to, nor will I, be commenting.”
When Kathryn Calman, a member of the North Beverly Hills Progress Association called a WestConnex hotline to complain about truck’s blasting their horns at 3.30am, it was answered by an overseas operator.
After connecting with then-community liaison officer for WestConnex contractor Fulton Hogan, the compliance report was “watered down to a single car horn blasting for five minutes,” Ms Calman told the Inquiry.
“Who would complain about that? This was a small convoy of trucks,” Ms Calman said. “We all went and viewed it from the bridge. You could see there were half a dozen trucks sitting there blasting their horns.”
Ms Calman made a formal complaint to the planning and environment department.
“Shortly after that, I recall, that the current Fulton Hogan community liaison person left her job,” said Ms Calman. “I do not know if it is related, but she did.”
SMC’s complaints procedure has also been criticised by St Peters’ residents.
WestConnex Action Group [WAG] secretary Rhea Liebmann told the inquiry SMC refers complaints to sub-contractors.
“If you send an email, you get a response that says they’ll reply within 21 days” said Ms Liebmann. “They never do. They never ever, ever respond.”
St Peter’s resident and WAG member Janet Dandy-Ward told the inquiry she was told by WestConnex staff to send “photos and videos” of nightworks, but “still had staff members state there is no work happening.“
This is one instalment in a series on the Parliamentary Inquiry into WestConnex.
Edit: This article was altered to include the full statement from Haberfield Association’s submission regarding Stephen Lancken and include his response.
This article is supported by WestConnex Action Group but independently reported.