Janet’s Westconnex Journey – “we’re fighting to save the community we love”

Sydney Park Photo
Janet, Michael and their son, Fred in Sydney Park – 14,000 square metres of which will be taken by WestCONnex. Photo by Martin Brady

( Ed: Janet Dandy-Ward is a founder and key member of the WestCONnex Action Group WAG). She lives in Roberts Street St Peters, a suburb that will be devastated by WestCONnex . She is a friendly and familiar figure in the streets of St Peters, Newtown and in Sydney Park, squeezing the organisation of weekend campaigning stalls  into her busy life.  In this edited version of her submission to the New M5 EIS she describes why she is fighting WestCONnex and her observations of the planning process and impacts the project will have on her community and the rest of Sydney. You can help the WAG campaign by using their site to send your own submission to NSW Planning or go direct to NSW Planning site.  These will be open until midnight Jan. 29.)

My husband and I emigrated to Australia in 2011 (leaving all our family back in the UK) and we moved into this house in Roberts Street deciding that it could be a base whilst we think about what area we might want to move to. We fell in love with the street, our neighbours, our community, the community pre-school and our surrounding green spaces such as Sydney Park, Tilman and Simpson Park – all will be affected by WestCONnex. Incidentally, the neighbour I mention above is like a surrogate grandparent to our son. It is likely that she and her 80 year old husband will move from the street if this project goes ahead.

We have decided that St Peters is where we want to live and have already invested so much in the community – this is something that is worth fighting for; for my family, for our neighbours who are potentially losing their homes due to forced acquisitions, for those older and vulnerable residents who are now feeling uncertain about their future in this and other suburbs. Sydney deserves better.

As a social worker, I have a deep sense of social justice. I believe that this project will not meet its key objectives including reducing traffic congestion. This is a fundamental flaw. The social and environmental impacts briefly described in the EIS are unacceptable and far outweigh any benefits of the project. There are so many aspects of the traffic modelling that as a mum and a full time trainer in a large children’s charity, I have not had time to address in my submission. I have read the research about traffic inducement and I firmly believe that if you build more roads then more traffic will come, I saw this back in the UK with the development of the M25 London Orbital Motorway.

I just feel that I should say something about why I personally feel so strongly that WestCONnex should not go ahead and why I am a founder member of the WestCONnex Action Group.

In early  2014, I attended a community meeting in Marrickville with one of my neighbours and another friend. We were in shock about the size and scale of the proposed WestCONnex project but had very little detail about the project and how it would affect us directly. I was keen to find out about the project and how it would affect me, my husband and young son. I looked on the WestCONnex website, joined a community Facebook group and attending a few more meetings but there was very little information forthcoming and I embarked on my own research.

Finding out more about the project was a very slow, painful process. I spent long evenings, after my full time day job, delving into old infrastructure projects (F6) and trying to work out what exactly the WDA website was proposing. The broad maps and plans were unclear and gave no detail. Finally in September 2014, we heard via our local Councillor that there were exploratory drill sites planned for the project, one of which was at the end of our road. I called WestCONnex Delivery Authority to find out more about these drill sites and what they actually meant. I had a very detailed conversation with one of the community liaison team and she asked me how I felt about a tunnel going under my home? I asked her “if there’s a tunnel then there must be a ramp?” “Yes, that’s right there will be a ramp somewhere in St Peters and a stack”. So I asked what if individuals or the community object, she said “we can only work with people who will work with us”

It was that conversation that inspired me to try to build on the campaign in my suburb to Stop WestCONnex and to enable people across the development area of WestCONnex to be active members of their communities, that in my view, were about to be shattered by WestCONnex.

The subsequent community consultation process is a complete insult. In fact, 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. This extensive opposition and community concern relating to social and economic impacts is not noted in the report.

Gaps in report

Of  22 community groups concerns identified surrounding the construction of the New M5 project (no source for these is acknowledged) five concerns relate to property, nine to accessibility and parking, four to amenity and four to community facilities. None are addressed in detail regarding their management or mitigation within the report.

Of nine community concerns listed surrounding the operation of the project, three relate to property, one to accessibility and parking, three to amenity and two to community facilities. None are these are addressed in detail regarding management or mitigation within the report.

Further, this list of community concerns has serious omissions. For instance, local concern surrounding “accessibility and parking” extend 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 and loss of parking severely reducing accessibility to the neighbourhood. In the fact, an obsolete road project is being implemented that in many instances won’t improve congestion and will in many cases will worsen it.

Janet at Reclaim the Street Anti Westconnex rally at Sydney Park Feb. 2015
Janet Danby-Ward at Reclaim Streets Stop WestCONnex rally at Sydney Park, Feb. 2015. Photo by Martiny Brady

Fundamental flaws in process

Aside from the poor consultation process, 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 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 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.

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.

I recognise there is pressure on several NSW Departments, including yours, to approve this project. I 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 in the interest of those pushing the interest of private companies that have commercial interests in the project.

I very strongly object to the release of  the M5 EIS in November with comment open only during the December /Christmas / New Year / January holiday period. It is a disgrace and must have been a deliberate attempt to prevent community engagement especially given the growth in strength of community and residents groups like the WestCONnex Action Group.

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. It is an active attempt to limit the opportunity for the community to have its say, or for proper considered analysis to take place. It is exactly what I feared would happen, that the community and its most badly affected members would not have the opportunity to raise their concerns.  

The community consultation report stated in the EIS is misleading. Even in my conversations (and there were many) showing the lack of community consultation, staff at WDA have constantly refused to answer the communities sensible questions about WestCONnex often stating that these answers would be provided “within the New M5 EIS”. Yes, there are 8,000 pages but there are errors and misinterpretations. As a member of the community directly impacted by WestCONnex, I had to wait a long time for the EIS and then there are errors littered throughout.

Prior to becoming actively involved in the WestCONnex Action Group, I had been experiencing sleepless nights and stress because I felt hopelessly worried that there was nothing I could do about this seemingly poorly thought through plan to offer a solution for the whole of Sydney’s traffic congestion by building a very expensive tunnel under my home. However, by realising that St Peters as a suburb needed to stand up for itself was liberating and scary all at the same time. Along with my neighbour who attend the original community meeting with me, people in St Peters formed the WestCONnex Action Group to raise awareness, as I felt that there was a definite lack of information and transparency surrounding the project.

St Peters is a very small suburb (pop.2,871 at 2011 census) with a population of people with young families and some older people who have lived in the suburb for a long time. Often described as the poor sister of Newtown, my street in St Peters seems to reflect a typical slice of that St Peters demographic but I know that my street is not unique. There are many people like me willing to fight for the community in which we live.

In all my objections to this project, as above, it is now clear that St Peters is not the only suburb that will be wrecked by the St Peters Interchange. The “remediation” (or rather development) of Alexandria Landfill, the prospect of two unfiltered poison stacks, a large section of Sydney Park taken for a ‘works compound’ that we “will be likely to have returned” and a high volume of additional traffic dumped on already congested local roads are of major concern across the suburbs of Alexandria, Erskineville, Newtown, Enmore, Camperdown and beyond.

The EIS fails to address the noise of 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. This will have a massive social impact – this area is already effected by airport noise. I believe this additional noise will affect the quality of residents’ lives.

But most of all, the social impact of WestCONnex will be felt in a community where people are very uncertain of their future. I have two very good and personal examples of this;

  • The local public school, a small school which my son will attend next year (St Peters Public) has in recent years been growing and hopes to attract students from the surrounding suburbs but with safe access to the school now in doubt because of the footprint of WestCONnex which extends into the Campbell Rd Road Widening Scheme. This part of the project is already adversely affecting  people, some because of the property acquisitions and some because of WestCONnex uncertainty. A number of young families and older members of the community have chosen to move away from the suburb before the planning process is even complete.
  • When I asked an older neighbour of mine, who has lived in Roberts St for 30 years what she thinks WestCONnex will do to our community, she said “there is a sense of dis-connectivity now, we all feel very unsettled. We have a unique community (looking out for each other and sharing celebration together) WestCONnex will ruin it and it will not solve the problem.” She added that she and her husband are getting older, they rely more and more on public transport and feel that this is being neglected for a toll road that the citizens of NSW will be paying for long after she has gone.

 

Corrupted Processes

I am dismayed by the way the whole WestCONnex project has 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, 100s 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.

Whole communities along the route will be disastrously impacted by this project and the M4 project that will have a massive impact on Haberfield. 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.

As a local resident and taxpayer who will be severely impacted by the proposed New M5 and St. Peters Interchange, I ask that my objections are specifically and properly answered in the Response to Submissions report. This process really should be halted to allow for scrutiny of the entire decision making process.

Specific Objections

Janet Dandy-Ward also raises many specific objections including the following:

  • The New M5 EIS does not adequately address the Secretary’s Environmental AssessmentRequirement Section 115Y of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 in relation to application SSI 6788 that the EIS make:an assessment and modelling of operational traffic and transport impacts on the local and regional road network (in consultation with affected councils), … and the impacts of potentialshifts of traffic movements to alternative routes outside the proposal area (including as a result of tolls);- or adequately addresses the impacts on property and business access and on parking provision, including permanent and temporary (construction) changes to access and parking, and traffic management measures such as clearways on EDGEWARE Road and surrounding roads.
  • The proposed traffic changes to Campbell Street, and to Bedwin, May and Unwins BridgeRoad Intersections with the construction of the St. Peters Interchange are designed to direct the flow of traffic from the Interchange to Edgware Road and environs. This will mean that this whole area will be gridlocked right up to the Enmore Road intersection. This situation will not improve even with the unfunded M4-M5 link and the EIS makes that point clearly that the traffic volumes will increase on Edgware Road and surrounding streets right up to 2032 and  to the proposed finalization of the M4 m5 tunnel.  This is completely unacceptable.
  • It seems inevitable that EDGWARE road will be to be turned into a clearway to attempt to mitigate the impact of funneling this amount of increased traffic volume into the existing 2 lanes of traffic. This is completely unacceptable. This is a residential street which cannot be turned into a clearway without significant loss of amenity for all residents. The EIS has a requirement to adequately address the severe economic, social, health and environment impacts of the proposal on all the residents of Edgeware road and surrounding local roads including the scenario of implementing clearway restrictions on this road
  • Clearway restrictions on Edgware Road will not solve the increased congestion issues as there are traffic lights at Alice St and Enmore Road and the traffic would back up right down to the Princes Highway and then onto the proposed St. Peters Interchange regularly. This is a completely unacceptable scenario.
  • The EIS also states that the expansion of the Marrickville Metro Shopping Centre will likely increase traffic volumes in the area, but claims that the major approach routes to the centre are not ones that will not be part of the WestConnex construction routes and that traffic volumes will be satisfactory if the Metro makes significant changes to key intersectionsin the area.  This is unacceptable and an incorrect assessment of the severe impact that any additional traffic volumes will have on the whole area. I demand that Westconnex address all of the local traffic impacts of its projects that must be considered cumulatively along with the known impacts of other developments in the area.
  • The EIS does not include Edgeware Road as one of the listed major approach routes to the Metro which it is.  Any comprehensive traffic modelling would indicate that Edgeware Road is a continuous major approach route to the Marrickville Metro
  • The New M5 will have similar devastating impacts on local traffic and residential suburbs throughout all affected local communities and destroy local amenity along the route.
  • The New M5 will be a massive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, while destroying important habitat and greenspace. 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.
  • WestConnex and the New M5 is financially unviable and will take funds away from major public transport infrastructure and will not solve Sydney’s traffic congestion.
  • The WestConnex project comes with no proper and extensive evaluation of alternative options such as world class public transport which was also required by the SEARs.
  • WestConnex project and the SMC lack any form of public scrutiny. SMC does not have any social license to continue with this project without some open inquiry. There needs to be an NSW Upper House Inquiry and a Federal Auditor General’s review due to the lack of transparency and accountability in the business case and  numerous irregularities in the planning and EIS processes.
  • The outsize St Peters interchange dumped into a century-old inner city suburb forcing heavy volumes of vehicle traffic into local roads never designed to carry it. The M5 EIS admits the completed tollway(s) will generate worse congestion on the Princes Highway at the junctions with Railway Road and Campbell St and the junction at Campbell and Euston Roads.
  • The psychological and social distress and monetary loss caused by the forced acquisition of dozens of homes and business premises in St Peters, which will break up communities established for decades. There is no assessment of this in the Social and Economic Impact study and barely any mention in the health impact study.
  • The failure to provide detailed plans so residents can see and assess what are the real, proposed changes to Campbell Road and St, intersections with Burrows Rd, with the Princes Highway, with Church, St Peters, Hutchinson and May Streets and Unwins Bridge Road and environs. This is a dereliction of the statutory duty of providing an accurate Environmental Impact Assessment. I reject this form of broad brush planning in which companies are given contracts and then request approval before any detailed design to inform the community on the actual nature of impacts is completed.
  • I object to the  loss of over 170 parking spaces in the May st and Simpson Park “triangle” plus competition with construction workers to make residents’ parking a nightmare where street parking is already a source of tension.
  • I object to the removal of the right-turn access from Campbell St into Hutchinson St and access to Lackey St, leaving only left-turn access from May and Campbell Sts.
  • The future threat of losing right-turn access from the Princes Highway into May St which will severely limit car access to Hutchinson and Lackey Sts, noting the 80+ new units (all with underground parking) In Hutchinson St which will be completed and occupied by the end of 2016.
  • The failure of the flood and water quality assessment to consider localised flooding from heavy rain down Lackey and Hutchinson Streets into Campbell St despite evidence of more severe rainstorm events as a consequence of climate change. The elevation of Campbell St and the new median strip’s effect on local flash flooding in Campbell St is not mentioned.
  • The failure of the EIS and evidently of the St Peters Interchange design to assess accurately the impact on the pedestrian and cyclist traffic in the streets either side of Campbell St and travelling over Bedwin Rd and the railway bridge, e.g. people with children in strollers or afoot or shopping trolleys walk across the bridge to Edgeware Rd (school and childcare centres, or to the Marrickville Metro shops). Straightening the intersection to enable large vehicles to travel at 60km over the bridge with its narrow footpaths is a frightening prospect.
  • Plans to widen Euston Rd to take increases of up to 60,000 vehicles, which will bring this traffic close to windows of homes, destroy 100s of trees and so reduce the capacity of Sydney Park to mitigate the heat, noise and pollution of the massive increase in traffic, reducing the quality of life of the neighbourhood.
  • Plans for unfiltered ventilation stacks, located close to residences and parks which do not meet best international practice.  I am aware that there are experts who believe the stacks should be filtered. I do not accept that emissions from stacks are negligible and am as concerned about the impact on residents in South West Sydney as I am in St Peters.
  • The proposal to operate excavation and construction 24 hours a day so St Peters will have to put up with 5000+ vehicle (2000 heavy vehicle) movements a day for the duration of the project. Exposure of residents including children at St Peters School and the child care centres to diesel fumes day and night when diesel exhaust is classified as a carcinogenic pollutant is an outrage.
  • 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. SMC and previously WDA did not respond respectively of properly to residents concerns about illegal removal of asbestos from former dial a dump site. It has been recently revealed that the costs “clear up” of this site has been over budget again costing the tax payer even more money.
  • 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.
  • I object to the selection of tunnelling methods that may damage houses at the surface.
  • I object to the loss of trees and space in Sydney Park.
  • I 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.
  • I 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. I have been actively involved in my P&C (Australia Street Infants) to request support 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.
unnamed
Janet discussing Stop #WestCONnex protest at Alexandria Land Fill with local police.

 

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