AECOM cut and paste ‘Social and Economic impact study’ fails basic task

Ed: The lives of many thousands of people would be negatively affected by the New M5 project. Many have already been disrupted and experienced the severe stress of the threat of losing homes and community. Some renters in St Peters have already been evicted from their homes , forced to leave the friends and the community they loved,  long before the EIS was even lodged. Homeowners have been notified that they have less than three months to negotiate a settlement with RMS before their property is seized. Others are living in fear of the intense noise, dust and large-scale construction that will surround them for years or are worrying about what it would be like to be live beside a massive tollway. As Kathy Calman told a packed meeting in Erskineville last night, she and her neighbours have watched in distress as the vegetation they grew to protect themselves against the noise and visual impact of the old M5 being ripped down. Gone too are the old noise walls exposing her community once again to months of  road construction near the entrance of the New M5 project. 

The Planning Secretary’s EIS required Westconnex to include in its EIS  

  • a description of the existing socio-economic environment;
  • impacts on directly affected properties and land uses, including impacts related to access, land use, settlement and subsidence associated with tunnel excavation, property acquisition (including relocations and expenses for those properties acquired) and amenity related changes;
  •  social and economic impacts to businesses and the community within the vicinity of the proposal, with associated property acquisition, traffic, access, property, public domain and open space, and amenity and health related changes (including the broader regional impacts associated with the closure of the Alexandria landfill site should this be part of the proposal);

For the M4 East, AECOM conducted an economic impact study ( criticised as inadequate by local Councils and residents) but hired a consultant to do the social impact study. This study was inadequate but did at least acknowledge the significant  stress and psychological impacts on residents of  loss of community, the psychological impacts of  being forced to move away from your social networks and the stress of living with years of construction and loss of social and visual amenity.  However for the New M5 AECOM did not even bother with that and simply rolled the social and economic impact into one  It claims to have carried out out a cumulative assessment of direct, indirect, and cumulative social and economic impacts of the project on communities, residents, businesses, users of education, health, open space and other community facilities and road users and to have identified means of mitigation.

Transport researcher Anthony McCosker provided these comments on the AECOM study

Given even a fleeting inspection of the social and economic impacts listed in the EIS report (under “Appendix M: Technical working paper: Social and economic”), it is clear that the significant economic and social impacts that will arise from the New M5 project are only superficially covered.

The report exaggerates the potential positive aspects of the project, while the negative aspects are either downplayed, insufficiently detailed or omitted altogether. Where negative economic or social impacts are identified in the report, they are inadequately addressed in terms of management or mitigation actions to be taken. Whereas the previous M4 – East EIS report included separate (yet still insufficiently detailed and inaccurate) Social Impact Assessments and Economic Impact Assessments, this report claims to deal with all social and economic impacts of the project in a single, 76 page report. The following is a brief critique of some of the major social and economic assessment flaws of the New M5 EIS.

The Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) are not met

The SEARs are a list of direct requirements of the Department of Planning & Environment that must be successfully addressed in the EIS report. A description of the existing socio-economic environment and an assessment of the impact of the proposal on community facilities are included as SEARs for the New M5 EIS, yet the report does not meet these requirements successfully as community facilities (such as St Mary Church, 21 Swanson Street, Erskinville and Erskineville Town Hall, 104 Erskineville Road, Erskineville) in close proximity to the interchanges are omitted, and therefore do not form a part of the subsequent assessment of the proposal’s impact on nearby community facilities. In addition to these two social and economic SEARs not being met successfully, the third, an assessment of impacts to businesses and the community within the vicinity of the project assessed against a number of impacts from the project, is also severely compromised in terms of accuracy given the error.

 Not based on community consultation—community sentiment ignored

The report states that it is not based on direct community consultation (p. 9), but rather based on “research” undertaken by the community consultation team—however this consultation would have been undertaken before specific components of the project were finalised, and economic and social impacts regarding such an extensive project warrants specific and targeted consultation. Community concerns and sentiment surrounding the project are overlooked in this report.

Further, the strategic planning statements of local governments are assessed under the heading “Consultation and community values”, however community values cannot be determined solely through the proxy of community strategic planning documents—these documents are not formed in response to the creation of a large road project. Community sentiment regarding the project would be better gauged through an assessment of media articles and letters to the editor relating to WestConnex, the firm opposition of local councils including City of Sydney to the project, the number of protests and petitions, including the number of submissions opposing the M4 – East EIS, and the formation of numerous community groups including WestConnex Action Group (and WAG Beverly Hills/Kingsgrove and WAG Haberfield and Ashfield), Cyclists Against WestConnex, Save Sydney Park, NoW (No WestConnex) and Save Newtown from We$tConnex (see http://westconnex.info/resources/ for a full list). This extensive opposition and community concern relating to social and economic impacts is not noted in the report.

Of the 22 community concerns that are identified surrounding the Construction of the New M5 project (no source for these is acknowledged), including five concerns relating to property, nine relating to accessibility and parking, four relating to amenity and four relating to community facilities, none are addressed in detail regarding management or mitigation within the report. Of the nine community concerns raised surrounding the operation of the project, including three relating to property, one to accessibility and parking, three to amenity and two to community facilities, none are addressed in detail regarding management or mitigation within the report. Further, this is a severely incomplete list of community concerns, for instance local concern surrounding “accessibility and parking” extends far beyond the implementation of a toll on the New M5, the only concern given in the report, to issues of local parking (691 car parks will be lost in the St Peters/Mascot area alone due to construction), local street traffic severely reducing accessibility and the fact that an obsolete road project is being implemented that in many instances won’t improve congestion and will in many cases will worsen it.

Property values excluded—despite significant social and economic impact

The report states that because property values are of a “temporary nature” (p. 9) they are not included in the report, despite the fact that property acquisition, the valuing of property and subsequent relocation that is affected by property reimbursements will have significant social and economic impact on those relocated. The report ignores this significant consideration.

Social impacts of compulsory acquisition excluded

Compulsory acquisition of properties and forced relocation has significant social effects on those required to relocate (whether businesses or residents) and also on the social cohesion of the community from which they move, at the street, local and wider community levels. No consideration of these impacts to “the local community’s sense of connectedness and community cohesion” is given, nor to the loss of this sense of community experienced by those relocated.

Impacts on freight and commercial movements excluded

Further evidence of selectivity of issues covered is provided relating to impacts on freight and commercial movement that would “occur beyond the scope of the study, at a state-wide or national level” (p. 6), yet if these impacts are not assessed as part of the EIS project that they will likely go unassessed—and the project approved without scrutiny of them. The EIS should arguably include all potential impacts of the project.

 Simplistic economic model assumes only benefits of project

No cost-benefit ratio is used to assess the potential economic viability of the project, and no consideration of the opportunity cost of an alternative project is given.

The use of Economic Multipliers as the economic model indicates assumptions of economic success, and allows for the benefits of the project to be given in more definite terms than the costs (making them seem more “real” and more likely). A more accurate model would weigh this assumed economic stimulus against the overall cost of the project, the risk of installing a toll road given such projects’ recent failures, and the societal costs of the new road (including induced traffic demand and congestion resulting from the project). Whereas congestion is ascribed a cost to justify the project, it is not costed here when it is caused by the project. A more detailed assessment of the costs and economic benefits is essential to rationally evaluate the project.

Large numbers of child care, education, health and emergency, aged care, sport, recreation and community facilities left uncertain about how they will be affected by the project

29 child care facilities, 10 primary schools, 6 high schools, 2 tertiary education facilities, 13 emergency, health and aged care facilities, significant open space, 20 sporting facilities, 2 libraries, 4 community halls and 20 places of worship (an incomplete list, see above) are identified as being in the study area, yet no methodical summary of the impacts of the project on each of these facilities is given in the report. This has raised questions among the community over the impacts the project will have on their community facilities, with few answers provided in the report.

This list is not even complete as Erskineville Public School. St Mary’s School and St Pius school are all missing although they will be as much affected as Newtown Public School which is included. At least two parks near Beverly Hills are missing.

The St Peters community held a history work at which residents talked about their neighbourhood and its history. The impact of Westconnex plans on the potential loss of place is ignored in the EIS
The St Peters community held a history walk at which residents talked about their neighbourhood and its history. The impact of Westconnex plans on the potential loss of place is ignored in the EIS

Overall economic effects of project left ambiguous and unclear

In summarising the key economic findings, the report states that local businesses will benefit from increased expenditure by locally made purchases, and through improved economic vitality, yet in the same section acknowledges that access arrangements and parking impacts will negatively affect local businesses. So even after reading this report, business owners in the areas affected remain unsure whether the project will improve or negatively affect their business. Stakeholders are then unable to make informed submissions on the EIS as it relates to their specific situation given this ambiguity.

The report does not address a final design

The report, when addressing the number of parking spaces to be lost as a result of the project, states that “The final numbers would be confirmed during detailed design”. Why has the EIS been published for public review if the final design remains unknown? How can complex matters such as traffic modelling have been undertaken, and their results used, without knowing the final design?

No mitigation or management measures relating to economic or social impacts are actually given in the report

Despite the significant economic and social impacts that will undoubtedly result from this project, no measures are outlined under “Mitigation and management measures” to address them. Instead, the response to each issue refers to another chapter of the EIS.

Ed: The People’s EIS is very concerned about the slapdash nature of this study. It almost reads like something thrown together quickly at the end of the EIS to tick the relevant box.  There are many more problems which overlap with our critique of the M4 East Social Impact study.

To read more about the actual social impact on the St Peters community read Emma Pierce’s story. Also read Kathy Calman’s post on the impact on the community at Beverly Hills/Kingsgrove and Dr Victor Storm’s post on m4eis.org .

One of the best loved and known people around St Peters and a key organiser of Reclaim the Streets helped organise the history march
One of the best loved and known people around St Peters and a key organiser of Reclaim the Streets Chris Lego helped organise the history march
December 2015. Reclaim the Street was about the importance of creating liveable cities - a contemporary planning concept that is barely mentioned in the EIS
December 2015. Reclaim the Street was around the importance of liveable cities – a contemporary planning concept that is barely mentioned in the EIS

 

 

 

 

 

 

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