The Inner West is set to undergo a colossal 12 months of construction with work on the Western Harbour Tunnel beginning while Sydney’s Gateway and M6 Motorway development is tipped to start early next year.
The Western Harbour Tunnel, an infrastructure project promising a western bypass of the CBD, began excavation work last month after 60 per cent of the Rozelle Interchange’s tunnelling had been completed. Excavation will allow the road to be connected to the harbour tunnel, with the three-storey underground interchange connecting a spaghetti junction underneath the Inner West.
Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance understands the project and its adjoining Beaches Link motorway to be a critical piece for Sydney’s future.
“The Western Harbour Tunnel will … revolutionise transport capacity in and around our city,” Constance said.
“This city-shaping piece of infrastructure will deliver a vital boost to the NSW economy, with the tunnel and freeway upgrade, along with Beaches Link, expected to support around 15,000 full-time equivalent jobs.”
Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne worries the construction will continue to disrupt the lives of his constituents.
“The impacts are going to be terrible for the construction of the Western Harbour Tunnel,” Byrne told the Independent.
“Residents have been living under extraordinary conditions for several years now in which the roadbuilders have basically taken over their neighbourhood … so to compound that by then bringing in this enormous industrial tunnelling operation just up the road will mean that the impact on their lives is painful and prolonged.”
Inner West danger
With the NSW Government’s seven-year compulsory acquisition of the former Balmain League’s Club this year, Byrne is concerned that compounding noise and air pollution tied to the construction of the Western Harbour Tunnel may become a legitimate danger to the Inner West community.
“There [will be] a huge number of vehicles and lots of heavy vehicles that are moving in and around that precinct and that’s going to result in very poor traffic conditions for a long time to come,” Byrne said.
“The Balmain League’s Club site is directly across the road from Rozelle Public School, so putting a small mine in the middle of Rozelle Shopping Centre, adjacent to a primary school will … make conditions quite potentially unsafe for parents and kids who are travelling to and from school every day.”
State Member for Balmain Jamie Parker condemned the treatment of Inner West residents in direct proximity to Western Harbour Tunnel construction.
“We’ve seen in places like Rozelle, now for well over a year, people are made prisoners in their own homes by the excessive noise, dust and impact from the construction,” Parker told the Independent.
“While some people have been offered hotels, some alternative accommodation, not having to be able to leave your house because your community has been made unlivable is absolutely unacceptable.”
Parker understands the stay-at-home orders that have been applied to Inner West residents as part of Greater Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdowns have amplified discomfort for residents struggling to find respite from the construction.
“The Government is bending over backwards to facilitate even more development by expanding the hours of operation on these projects, even during the lockdown,” Parker said.
“When COVID-19 happened, the Government introduced emergency laws to allow for the extension of operation for construction projects.
“So rather than helping residents, they were actually extending the periods when this incredibly noisy and intrusive construction can begin.”
Inner West community organisation group Leichhardt Against WestConnex (LAW) expressed their disappointment with the State’s treatment of residents in lockdown.
“The projects were approved on the basis that the impacts on residents and the environment could be appropriately managed – this occurred well before COVID,” a LAW spokesperson told the Independent.
“It is not acceptable for residents to be forced to live with impacts on the basis of such approval conditions … in circumstances where residents cannot leave their homes to escape and are forced to work at home and homeschool.”
$4 billion miscalculation
The beginning of works on the Western Harbour Tunnel comes as a miscalculation of the true cost of the WestConnex project was revealed last month.
An NSW Government Auditor-General report from June found the true cost of the WestConnex to reach closer to $21 billion, rather than the originally slated $16.8 billion.
The audit office found that the State had failed to include WestConnex-related projects within the previously projected $16.8 billion project, misjudging the planned spend by over $4 billion.
Mayor Byrne found the news rather predictable.
“We’ve known for years that they have been fudging the figures on WestConnex,” Byrne said.
“It’s important to remember that the original cost when the project was first proposed was 11 billion dollars, so the fact that it’s going to essentially cost double that demonstrates just how poor the planning has been.”
LAW expressed similar sentiments to Byrne.
“We [are not] surprised that the information as to the true cost is only now coming to light,” a LAW spokesperson said.
“The decision of the NSW Government to deliver WestConnex via a never-before-used private entity meant that the activities connected to this project have been out of reach of the usual scrutiny of Government bodies.”
The Gateway project
The State’s miscalculation stems from its exclusion of the Sydney Gateway project, which connects WestConnex to Sydney Airport, from the previous budget, with auditors finding there to be no justification for the project’s place away from the WestConnex projected spend.
The Gateway project was awarded $585 million from last month’s NSW Budget, as part of an unprecedented $30 billion infrastructure allocation.
With works on the Gateway now expected to begin within the coming months, there is increasing concern that residents near the St Peters Interchange at the north end of the project will be subjected to similar discomfort stemming from construction in the Inner West.
“I expect that the same disrespectful approach that’s been taken at every other step of the project towards the residents in Haberfield, St Peters, and now the residents in Rozelle, Leichhardt and Lilyfield, will continue with each stage,” Byrne said.
“The truth is, the Government has calculated that they don’t really care very much about the Inner West, they’ve antagonised people here, and they want to get on with the project at any cost.”
A failure to introduce meaningful mitigation conditions for residents at previous stages of construction has disillusioned hope for better treatment for the Gateway project.
“We’ve seen that the piecemeal measures the Government claims that they’re introducing have been manifestly inadequate,” Parker said.
“The contractors are the ones who undertake the project, and the Government seems unable or unwilling to ensure that these works are undertaken in a way where they’re good neighbours.”
Further work is expected to begin next year in the Inner West, with the State set to construct twin four-kilometre tunnels linking Kogarah to the WestConnex M8 toll road at Arncliffe.
With the transport sector accounting for 61.7 per cent of the State’s building projects in the next year, Inner West residents are worried that the investment into roads will force longstanding adverse effects onto the community.
“The construction impact is significant, but a profound impact of this project is that it’s locking Sydney into car dependency, fleecing the people of Western Sydney for tolls, and continuing to exhaust unfiltered pollution and smoke stacks all along the route of the tunnel,” Parker said.
Residents continue to feel discomforted by broken lines of communication that have stripped the community of any meaningful avenues of feedback.
“The Government chose to abolish the only formal community consultation forum, the WestConnex Community Reference Group in February this year and therefore there have been no formal meetings with the community representatives since December 2020,” a LAW spokesperson said.
“We are very concerned about the precedent this creates for residents impacted by future works such as the Western Harbour Tunnel, as this abolition occurred without notice or consultation with community representatives.”