Vanessa & Gary from Alexandria: We want infrastructure that moves people not cars

( Ed: Vanessa Knight and Gary Speechley live in Alexandria, which is close to the proposed St Peters Interchange and Sydney Park. Their suburb is in the thick of the push for development that will bring more residents into inner Sydney. Some developments are well planned but some are not, so there is plenty of work for their local Alexandria Residents’ Action Group to do.  Last year the group put up a great fight to save the heritage Alexandria Hotel. After a huge community campaign, they saved the building but not the hotel itself. Now they are faced with the possibility of 71,000 cars pouring out of  WestCONnex into their already congested suburb. Vanessa and Gary have been at the forefront of those struggles. Below, we have published their strong submission objecting to the New M5 EIS. We asked Gary how why they became involved in the fight to stop WestCONnex.  

Gary :

Vanessa and I got involved in ARAG because we love where we live and want to contribute to our community. We endorse ARAG’s goal of not dictating opinion, but putting information before our residents so that they can formulate their own views on issues and make up their own minds.
We like to be doing something positive and pro-active for the area – the Alexandria Sunday FunDay will be held in Alexandria Park on 20th March from 11am to 3pm.
But we spend most of our time fighting over-development and hare-brained schemes from governments: the sale of ATP; WestCONnex; council amalgamations; pro-developer changes to planning laws (which we helped, through BPN and many other groups, to overthrow); the Central-to-Eveleigh redevelopment; the “privatisation” of the Bankstown railway line; the sale of the Alexandria Hotel; dodgy building certifiers; the Ashmore Estate development; lifts for Redfern and Erskineville stations; adequate bus routes; . . . Sadly, the list is a long one!
We just want government to deliver evidence-based, open and transparent decision-making, and to leave us alone to live our lives normally!!!
WestCONnex is a joke of a project that has no valid business case – despite the spin from government and the redacted text from the “revised” business case. We need alternative proposals to be costed and compared to the purported “benefits” of WestCONnex. $16.8 billion, blowing out more and more each day – WITHOUT considering the unfunded third stage to link the M4, M4 and the Airport – can buy a hell of a lot of public transport, public housing, schools, childcare, hospitals, …
Vanessa and Gary Speechley
Vanessa and Gary Speechley

Here is Vanessa and Gary’s submission to the M5 EIS consultation process which closes at midnight tomorrow January 29th. It provides lots of ideas for other submissions.

Submission

How appropriate that we make this submission on Australia Day.

We strongly object to this project and the entire WestCONnex of which this is part, and ask that you reject this proposal on the basis of this environmental impact statement (EIS).

Experience and research from independent experts here in Australia and overseas has shown that these kinds of toll road mega-projects are hugely expensive and do not ease congestion over the long term. If anything, such projects make congestion worse by increasing overall traffic volumes as the new road capacity quickly fills up – a process known and recognised internationally as “induced demand”.

Even the EISs produced for the various stages of WestCONnex show it is not a long-term solution to Sydney’s congestion problem.

WestCONnex will also divert billions of dollars of NSW and Federal taxpayer money into a tollway that only 1% of people in NSW, most of whom are based in Sydney, will use.

The currently estimated cost of $16.8 billion invested across the state would go a very long way towards improving existing regional and city roads, public transport, schools and hospitals. Spending it on a tollway that so few people will use is both wasteful and deeply unfair.

The whole westCONnex project has also been characterised by corrupted processes, and a lack of transparency and accountability. This is unacceptable for any project funded by taxpayer money, especially a massive project that would see communities and endangered species destroyed, thousands of people evicted from their family homes and businesses, and billions of dollars of public money diverted from projects that would offer better benefits to NSW.

We also strongly object to a number of specific aspects of this EIS, and we expect you to publish this submission and send us a written response to each of the objections we have outlined below.

This project will result in residents of western and south-west Sydney being forced to pay large tolls to use this road, rather than being provided with the additional public transport capacity and connections they need. Further, these are tolls that will be put in place on roads that we, as taxpayers of NSW, already have paid for in full.

It also has been stated that these tolls are to be in effect for 43 (forty-three) years! We will not see these roads untolled in our lifetimes. Nor will western Sydney or rural and regional NSW see any investment in their communities to create employment opportunities that would circumvent the need to commute long distances by car to jobs in Sydney’s CBD, eastern suburbs and inner city.

The government’s recent sale of the Australian Technology Park to a consortium of a property developer and a bank will see thousands of workers, currently de-centralised in Sydney’s west, forced to drive to the inner city, or commute to inner city Redfern on rail infrastructure that already is over capacity.

That the government considers this model of the city as a hub, with roads as spokes transferring commuters into and out of the city during peak periods has been discredited over many years. Indeed, government policies have sought to decentralise its own operations and to encourage businesses to do likewise, but WestCONnex trashes that policy goal.

Fundamentally flawed projects like WestCONnex do not account for changing work practices supported by technologies such as teleworking, or flexible office spaces, or that car journeys are dropping as workers elect to work closer to home or use public transport, bicycles or car sharing.

This project will lock Sydney into greater reliance on inefficient and unsustainable road freight instead of investing in freight-on-rail alternatives. It also ignores the development of regional freight hubs in Sydney’s west that would reduce the need for this project.

The government has actively sought to avoid scrutiny, by transferring responsibility for this project from a government body, the WestCONnex Delivery Authority, to a privately-run government company called the Sydney Motorway Corporation. So now, WestCONnex is now being built by a private company that does not even have to publish its contracts. This is unaccountable government at its worst.

This is yet another shameful act to hide information about the project and the actions of the Sydney Motorway Corporation and government from proper and rightful public scrutiny. It is a disgraceful political tactic.

The government has actively sought to avoid scrutiny, by transferring responsibility for this project from a government body, the WestCONnex Delivery Authority, to a privately-run government company called the Sydney Motorway Corporation. So now, WestCONnex is now being built by a private company that does not even have to publish its contracts.

This is unaccountable government at its worst. This is yet another shameful act to hide information about the project and the actions of the Sydney Motorway Corporation and government from proper and rightful public scrutiny.

It is a disgraceful political tactic.

There has been no noise assessment for any buildings above two stories, despite the fact thousands of residents are already living in apartment blocks in Alexandria and St Peters.

The proponent will not release the full assumptions on which its traffic modelling is based so that Councils and independent experts can test its predictions. This has implications for other key parts of the EIS that rely on these traffic figures, including the air quality, social and economic impact, and more.

The health affects of high levels of noise on local roads over a three year construction period have not been sufficiently assessed.

 This EIS admits that dangerous dust pollution will be created during construction at St Peters. It proposes to water the site to avoid this. The community can not accept this when the proponent itself (via its contractors) has failed to water the site during current asbestos removal, and has also failed to ensure this waste has been watered down at its destination sites in western Sydney.

It is not clear whether massive proposed increases in population in inner and south-west Sydney have been taken into account in traffic congestion predictions. The entire area along the project footprint will be subject to massive increases in density over the next few years. There is no indication that this EIS has taken any of this into account.

 Construction traffic will continue throughout the night which will disturb the sleep of residents located along local road networks. However, this EIS does not outline what mitigation plans would be put in place for affected residents.

There is NO safe level of fine particle exposure. Through this project and the entire westCONnex of which it is part, the NSW Government is consciously building a project that it knows will worsen already high levels of pollution in parts of the inner west and south-west Sydney.

It is not acceptable for a government to jeopardise the health and safety of its citizens in this way.

The business case that was finally released by the government has so many redactions that it can not be interpreted by independent analysts. It should go without saying that a project costing almost $17 billion, much of it funded by taxpayers, should be transparent.

We demand an independent audit of the proposed business case, both at a state and federal level.

More funds for public transport in Western Sydney rather than legacy of unaffordable tolls

We support an appropriate injection of funds into public transport for the Western suburbs rather than a legacy of unaffordable tolls. If $16.8 billion was spent on public transport and effective road management, a toll road project like westCONnex be even less necessary than it is now.

Indeed, the suite of proposed alternative public transport options are costed well below the (current) blow-out figure of $16.8 billion

The positive case for the full westCONnex rests on pie-in-the-sky plans that are not funded or as yet defined. What will happen if these plans never come to fruition? The probability that these extra projects will either never be built or will remain unbuilt for many years to come is a very real one, yet this EIS fails to consider the impact of this on the areas surrounding the New M5, which would be left to cope with a crippling amount of traffic.

This relates directly to the unfunded and uncosted “Stage 3” that is supposed to link the M4 to the M5 and to create the gateway to the airport.

When complete, the New M5 will dump tens of thousands of extra cars into suburbs along the route, much of which will end up on local streets. This is not by accident – it is intentional. It is outrageous that Euston Road in Alexandria alone will be expected to handle 60,000 cars per day, or ten times more than it does now.

When complete, the New M5 will dump tens of thousands of extra cars into suburbs along the route, much of which will end up on local streets. This is not by accident – it is intentional. It is outrageous that Euston Road in Alexandria alone will be expected to handle 60,000 cars per day, or ten times more than it does now.

 

We reject the idea that a busy, polluted road should be widened to within several metres of existing homes, including children’s bedrooms.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay was interviewed on radio 2GB on 15 January 2016 and in relation to Alexandria and surrounding suburbs stated that:

“There’s a problem there now. To put your head in the sand and say everything’s fabulous in Alexandria Erskineville Waterloo Zetland is just rubbish. The thing is congested, that area, great area, I live near there in Redfern myself, like you. It’s a great area but the increased housing that’s already there plus the industrial, the place is already gridlocked.”

 

 

IMG_0337
Alexandria home on corner Euston Rd and Sydney Park Rd. The trees would go and a 7 lane highway carrying 71,000 extra cars would pour by child’s bedroom

This ignorance of the simplest laws of physics shows just how ridiculous this road project is, and how absurdly our politicians are ideologically wedded to this critically flawed project.

The EIS ignores the published work of independent traffic and planning experts who have presented evidence based arguments that the westCONnex will not meet its goals. It should be rejected on that basis alone.

Objection to Aecom

We object to the decision by AECOM to do no serious traffic modelling outside the project area; it is absurd to suggest that the impacts will stop at the end of the project. In many cases the modelling does not go further than two intersections past the end of the project, even in instances where ten times the current number of cars are expected to flow onto roads past that point.

Instead communities will be left to deal with traffic and unhealthy pollution and the additional financial and social costs that will result from westCONnex.

As an example of AECOM’s incompetence in this project, they were engaged to conduct a traffic study by Golden Horse Developments, a Hong Kong based developer looking to develop the Asmore Estate in Alexandria bounded by Mitchell Road, Coulson Street, Ashmore Street and the East Hills / Illawarra / Bankstown railway line.

 When asked about traffic modelling for the Ashmore Estate, AECOM’s representative said that they had not modelled traffic more than one or two streets from Mitchell Road.

 When further asked about the impact of traffic from westCONnex, the representative stated that they had tried to talk to the westCONnex Delivery Authority but could get no information from them.

And yet, many of the westCONnex EIS documents are authored by AECOM.

Further, AECOM cannot be considered a trusted and independent contractor in the westCONnex project.

“being sued by the receivers of [Brisbane’s] RiverCity Motorway for making overly optimistic traffic forecasts in a landmark damages claim worth up to $2 billion”.

The article further states that:

“AECOM’s Australian subsidiary has been accused of “misleading and deceptive conduct” and “negligent misstatements” in preparing the forecasts, according to the claim filed in the Federal Court by Korda Mentha this week. The forecasts were published in the offer documents for the company’s [RiverCity Motorway’s] initial public offering in 2006.”

Noting that AECOM and others such as Booz Allen and Arup have also conducted failed forecasting studies for Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel (a failure), Westlink M7, the Lane Cove Tunnel (also a failure), and now westCONnex, what hope do we have that any figures provided by AECOM are true and accurate?

To what extent is the government assessing patronage risk in reviewing the estimated traffic flows?

 Again from the Australian Financial Review, 16 August 2014 in an article by Marianna Papadakis titled “Traffic Forecast Trouble: ‘I feel another loss coming on’”2 it states that:

“Failures like the one at Lane Cove have prompted a new financial model for building toll roads. The new model means the government wears the risk of inflated traffic forecasts and taxpayers are on the hook for losses.

And taxpayers have good reason to watch the Lane Cove case. Parsons Brinkerhoff is advising on WestConnex, while Booz Allen has gained numerous contracts from state Coalition governments.”

Forecasting road volumes in Australia, as evidenced by the projects cited above, have not been an accurate basis on which to invest – either by private investors or governments. Again, from the Australian Financial Review, 30 May 2012 by Vesna Poljak “Blown-up traffic estimates take their toll” :

“A 2005 global study led by the Danish academic Bent Flyvbjerg found forecasts have not become more accurate in the 30 years he studied them and that half of road projects overestimated demand by more than 20 per cent and 25 per cent of road projects overestimated demand by more than 40 per cent.”

So now, after 30 years of failures, wesCONnex will get the numbers right? History and bitter financial experience suffered by both investors and taxpayers alike says otherwise.

We object to the fact that AECOM, who we have shown to have a record of failed traffic modelling, has been paid $13 million to complete this EIS while it has other contracts which depend on the project going ahead.

 We believe that the involvement of AECOM in the westCONnex project represents a conflict of interest in the process, whereby AECOM are likely to present the project in a far more positive light than will result in practice.

We object to the failure of the EIS to consult with business owners and managers in King St Newtown and other parts of inner and south-west Sydney. These businesses are part of a thriving economy and street life that would be destroyed by increased traffic.
Assurances from politicians and bureaucrats that that they will not create clearways or further widen roads are worthless.

In the NSW Hansard for 11 November 2014 Roads Minister Duncan Gay states:

In relation to Clearways on King Street Newtown, “I can assure the Hon. Penny Sharpe that we have no such plans at the moment.” Note the caveat “at the moment”.

Further,

“I indicate to the Hon. Penny Sharpe that King Street is pretty ordinary. Members opposite complain about traffic blockage, et cetera. At some time in the future a conversation needs to be had with the community to see if parts of King Street can be improved by providing off-street parking. Wherever we put clearways first we go to the local council and get its support, and we look at replacing at least the number of parking spaces removed from the street with the same number of parking spaces just off street.”

In other statements, he states that westCONnex will make King Street Newtown a “nirvana” and that he should be regarded as a “deity”.
We object to the superficial consideration of alternatives that consist of little more than bald claims rather than presenting analysis of alternatives including public transport and traffic management that could reduce road freight and car use.
Thousands of diesel trucks will carry spoil at all times, including peak times, leading to great disruption of local and regional road networks. We object to thousands of trucks a day for years transporting millions of cubic metres of soil including contaminated waste through southwest and inner Sydney roads to the western suburbs, where it will be dumped without any clear plans for ongoing management or for information for communities affected.

There is already insufficient parking in the inner west. We object to hundreds of parking spaces being removed, some permanently and some for several years of construction.

The RMS was given approval to build the old M5 on condition that it protected endangered flora and fauna. Now it wants approval to destroy those communities for a new tollway because its old project has failed to solve congestion. This makes the system of conditions meaningless. This proposal should be rejected.

We object to removal of most of critically endangered Cooks River Castlereagh Iron Bark Forest at Kingsgrove. We note that scientists have observed that its value has been deliberately minimised in the EIS.

We object to the removal of seven hectares of habitat of one of only two surviving colonies in NSW of endangered Green and Golden Bell Frogs for a massive tunnelling site.

We object to the selection of tunnelling methods that may damage houses at the surface.

 We object to the loss of trees and space in Sydney Park.

We object to the use of an air quality model that has not been used in Australia before and which cannot be verified by the NSW EPA.

We particularly object to tollway portals and increased traffic being so close to local schools. It is known that fine particle pollution can cause lung cancer and is particularly dangerous for the lungs of growing children.

 We support the parents of local schools who have requested an extended period of time after school returns at the end of January 2016 in which to seek independent advice.
The whole westCONnex system will increase greenhouse gas emissions in Sydney at a time when we should be doing all we can to reduce them. We are not convinced by a method of analysis which does not look at alternatives but instead compares the New M5 project against a ‘do nothing’ scenario to claim a reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

How does the M5 proposal stack up against any of the alternatively-proposed public transport options?

THAT comparison is the one on which business plans must be proposed and assessed – not just the single “take it or leave it” option that is westCONnex.

We object to a planning system that awards billion dollar contracts to tollway construction companies when local government staff and many experts are convinced that westCONnex will not deliver on its objectives. This places unreasonable pressure on planners to approve the project, and on consultants to present the project in glowing terms.

There was no serious community consultation for the New M5. Public meetings where senior executives lecture hundreds of residents, or stalls in shopping centres staffed by poorlyinformed casuals may tick a box, but it does not amount to community consultation. The Community Feedback report is misleading.

Whole communities along the route will be disastrously impacted by this project. The social impact study – which is even less detailed than the substandard one done for the westCONnex M4 East – should be rejected as it ignores well-established evidence of the significant negative impacts on people of loss of community identity and social connections. The study is little more than a cut-and-paste job and is insulting to residents, both those who are being forced to sell and those who will stay.

Many residents will experience noise during construction and operation at unsafe levels that can damage health. We object to the lack of information about mitigation and the suggestion that those above a second story may not be mitigated at all.

The fact that the NSW Government has already signed multi-billion dollar contracts for WestCONnex before this EIS was even placed on public exhibition undermines community confidence that this is a genuine consultation process.

We recognise there is pressure on several NSW Departments, including yours, to approve this project. We remind public servants of their obligation to the public and to the potential social, health and economic costs of spending $16.8 billion on westCONnex when it provides no solution to Sydney’s transport needs.

Public servants are required to provide “frank and fearless advice” to departments and politicians. Politicians need to take heed of this advice and act responsibly in the public interest – not the interest of their developer mates. We therefore ask you to reject this proposal, publish this submission, and provide a written response to our objections.

Fundamental Flaws in Process

This westCONnex project has been a joke from the outset.

Firstly, to release the M5 EIS in November with comment open only during the December / Christmas / New Year / January holiday period is a disgrace.

To release thousands of pages of complex (and contradictory) material for analysis and comment during the summer holidays is evidence enough that government has something to hide – that government wants to “tick the box” in relation to public consultation, but limit the opportunity for the community to have their say, or for proper considered analysis to take place.

How many of our state’s politicians know what these thousands of pages contain? Not a single one!

How, in all honesty, can they be expected to make informed voting decisions on such complex issues and such an outrageously expensive project, for which, due to continuing cost blowouts, a final construction figure remains unknown?

The economic benefits – the return on investment – has been queried by both Federal and State Auditors. Clearly, this advice has been ignored, and the consultants told to vary their  figures to match a desired outcome driven by politicians’ flawed ideologies and business’ interests.

This practice of fudging figures to obtain a desired outcome was highlighted brilliantly in an episode of the Australian comedy series “Utopia” that aired recently on ABC Television. It was a classic example of art imitating life, in which the consultants reworked their studies to conform to a desired view of politicians’ and businesses’ interests.

Sadly, that is not in any way funny.

Learned papers in whatever field are open to review and scrutiny by a panel of independent reviewers BEFORE they are accepted for publication. This is not the practice with these EIS documents – the errors, omisisons and contradictions are numerous and obvious, and yet government expects the community to accept these documents as truthful and accurate. What complete and utter rubbish.

The real joke of this project is that the third stage – the “gateway” to Sydney Airport and the link between the M4 and the M5 – remains an UNFUNDED and UNCOSTED “Stage 3” of the project.

This is an outrage.

We’ve seen the estimated cost of this project grow from $10 billion through $12 billion, $14 billion and now $16.8 billion without major works such as tunnelling having commenced – and that doesn’t include, of course, an UNFUNDED and UNCOSTED Stage 3.

Then again, the National Party has a history of confusing millions and billions when discussing matters of economics.

The WestCONnex project fails to deliver its most fundamental objective – a link to Sydney Airport.

Political parties when elected claim “mandates” from the community – approval to sell public assets such as poles and wires; the sale of historic public buildings and facilities such as the Australian Technology Park; a mandate to build a dodgy road project that costs tens of billions of dollars and yet fails to deliver its most fundamental objectives.

The ONLY mandate political parties receive at the ballot box is to manage the affairs of the State in a professional, open and transparent manner for the benefit of the community – not to serve the business interests of private enterprise.

The ONLY way they can achieve professional management of the affairs of the State is to make decisions through evidence-based, rigorous assessment of projects, INCLUDING ANY ALTERNATIVE PROPOSALS. We have had NO comparison of the benefits that even a modest investment in public transport infrastructure would have in terms of a cost-benefit analysis.

Indeed, all such alternative proposals, many of them costed at only a fraction of this WestCONnex project, have been IGNORED by government in their blind ideological (idea-illogical) desire not to be shown to have made another dud decision to build a road.

We have politicians prepared to waste billions of dollars in taxpayer funds rather than accept that road projects such as these are doomed to failure and that much cheaper and better quality alternative projects exist, based on public transport and appreciation of future technologies and transport needs.

Alternative projects will employ just as many people in their construction and management, so any argument that westCONnex is a job-creation project is just smoke and mirrors.

Accountability for contracts already let to companies is hidden behind the convenient phrase “commercial in confidence”. ALL contracts entered into by government in the name of its citizens must be gazetted and terms and conditions disclosed so that the public understand what agreements have been entered into in their name. Government MUST NOT be allowed to hide behind the façade of a bogus “public company” to deliver projects.

Failures in this regard are well documented – the failure of the airport railway line; the vastly over-estimated traffic densities quoted to justify the Cross City Tunnel; the Clem7 in Brisbane; the Lane Cove Tunnel.

Yet governments fail to learn from these mistakes and blindly sign up to more ill-considered projects and public-private partnerships. This represents the worst possible outcome in the abrogation of politicians’ responsibility for proper, considered public administration.

Infrastructure that moves people not cars

We are not against development and the building of infrastructure per se. But it has to be infrastructure that moves PEOPLE, not CARS!!

An independent audit

We call on an independent and open audit, at both State and Federal levels, of this westCONnex project before any further work is allowed to proceed. We make this submission on the understanding that you will publish a list of submitters including our names, our suburb and our submission. Indeed, we DEMAND that these details be published.

( There are some references in the submission that are not reproduced here. You can down load the document here )

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Vanessa and City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott at Uprooted picnic in Sydney Park. Blue ties are for trees that will be chopped down if WestCONnex goes ahead

 

 

 

 

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