People’s M5 EIS editor Wendy Bacon reports:
‘Stop Westconnex’ flags fly from City of Sydney poles in Newtown
City of Sydney’s “Save Newtown Stop WestCONnex flags” have appeared in King Street, Newtown, just in time for the Easter crowds. As thousands of visitors from outside the Inner West flow into the famous street, the City of Sydney Council and local campaigners hope they will take the message home.
This is just the latest sign that City of Sydney, Newtown Business Precinct and Save Newtown Westconnex Action Group (WAG)are continuing to campaign hard against the Baird government’s WestCONnex tollways that will dump thousands more cars into already congested local roads. They’re not convinced by a promise made by Minister for Roads Duncan Gay that however bad the congestion gets, clearways that would kill off businesses and street life will not be created on King Street.
There is no doubt that the NSW government is troubled by the scale of the campaign in Newtown. WestCONnex has recently indicated that it may also consider plans for a new ‘Gateway’ to steer cars away from King Steet. But this would only happen after the NSW Planning Department has approved the New M5 and would not form part of the current project.
WestCONnex opponents are sceptical of these suggestions. They are at best only promises aimed at deflecting WestCONnex critics. They know from experience that when traffic is pushed onto other local roads, it usually finds its way back back to its original destination. The main problem is that rather than solve traffic congestion, WestCONnex will dump more cars on many roads in Inner Sydney.
This week was also the Green Cities Conference – celebrating ‘disruptive ideas’.
Of course there could be nothing more disruptive that a massive motorway carving through our suburbs but that wasn’t a topic that found favour with the conference program organisers. You would think the biggest transport infrastructure project in Australia’s history might have been on the agenda but while many planners privately acknowledge that WestCONnex is a poor idea, most prefer to play safely by keeping quiet. But City of Sydney’s Mayor Clover Moore was not going to let the conference pass without a little disruption of her own.
The Fifth Estate reports that the City of Sydney Mayor was seated on the stage between NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes and Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission, previous Mayor and partner of the current PM, Lucy Turnbull. The Mayor raised the WestCOnnex issue twice The first time, she objected to the government’s “ramming” the motorway through some of Sydney’s best loved suburbs. The room was silent apart from a solitary clap. But she returned to the topic at the end of the session:
“The highway would dump 50,000 vehicles in the city,” she said.
“We think that’s a very un-21st-century project. We believe the focus should be on public transport.”
She said demographics were changing, with 20-30-year-olds turning away from cars for public transport, where they could use their devices.
“That’s why we shouldn’t be spending billions on WestConnex. And I’ll keep saying that because I’m really very anxious about the impact it’s going to have on the city. I’m really, really anxious about that because I think it will be a disaster and in the future people will say, ‘Why did you let it happen?’
Clover Moore ended, “I don’t apologise for going on about this… That’s what’s going to be very disruptive: WestCONnex.”
And so the session ended with a big clap. But the applause for Moore was nothing compared to the massive support for her position across the WestCONnex route, evidenced by the a record number of more than 12000 submissions opposing the Stage 2 of the WestCONnex the New M5. Many of these submissions come from residents affected by WestCONnex across a large swathe of Sydney. But there were also hundreds of submissions from residents in outer Sydney and regional NSW, a danger signal for NSW Premier Mike Baird who knows the project has lost its initial gloss even for Western Sydney residents who are waking up to a future of poor public transport, car dependency and expensive tollways.
Baird’s cake joke falls flat in Haberfield
Celebrating one year since last year’s election, Baird was on the defensive this week acknowledging he was losing political capital over WestCONnex and other issues but still insisting his government had made the ‘right’ decision. He found himself expending a bit more political capital when he was confronted by protesters at an opening of a renovated patisserie in Haberfield. During his speech, Baird joked about the protesters suggesting that they were there because they were interested in getting some ricotta cake. This did not go down well in an area that will be devastated by WestCONnex.
“The $16.8 billion WestCONnex toll road will devastate Haberfield, Ashfield and the surrounding areas,” said WestCONnex Action Group (WAG) spokesperson Sharon Laura later that day.
“Hundreds of family homes and businesses here are set to be destroyed, and our suburbs will be choked with traffic and pollution – all for a road that would see western Sydney drivers pay huge tolls to drive straight into inner-city traffic jams.
“When Premier Baird arrived in Haberfield, he was confronted by dozens of residents holding anti-WestCONnex signs. Many, including me, told him we found it insulting that he’d come to our community to eat cake as he was preparing to send in the bulldozers to destroy it.
“But once he was inside the patisserie, Premier Baird’s response was to tell the gathering: ‘They know what they don’t want. But I know what they do want: ricotta cheesecake!’
“Residents who were inside at the time told me they were shocked Baird would dismiss the pain he’s causing to so many people with a glib ‘let them eat cake’ joke.
“When I spoke to the Premier, I made it clear that if he didn’t know about the appalling way WestCONnex is being managed by his Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, then he needed to hear about it.
“It was at this time Premier Baird invited me to arrange a meeting with him and members of our community to discuss WestCONnex,” said Sharon Laura.
WAG will be following up on Baird’s offer.
Ramming through the project
The Lord Mayor’s choice of the word ‘ramming’ is certainly appropriate as a description of the approach of the Minister Stokes’ Department of Planning to the WestCONnex assessment process. .
Despite the fact that City of Sydney, other councils, independent experts, community groups and thousands of citizens have provided hundreds of arguments criticising Westconnex’s M4 East and New M5 EIS, the Department of Planning continues to ignore them. The M4 East has already been approved and the Department is moving as rapidly as it can towards approval of the New M5.
Protests against Tempe drills
Even before approval, WestCONnex has been drilling along the route in Tempe.
Originally WestCONnex contractors wanted to drill on Tempe Reserve but after a residents’ occupation of the drill site , Marrickville Council, which is opposed to WestCONnex, withdrew permission for drilling on the Crown land trust reserve which it manages. Faced with this setback, WestCONnex continued drilling at several sites on local roads. Residents have continued regular protests including holding a ‘breakfast on the barricades.’
Last week, WestCONnex started to encroach onto the reserve again but after complaints from residents agreed to remove their equipment. But just before Easter, WestCONnex issued a notice that it would use extraordinary powers under the Roads Act to enter the reserve.
NSW Planning are under pressure to approve the New M5 as quickly as possible. A senior engineer representing Leightons, the leading company in the consortium that WestCONnex has already contracted to build the New M5, told residents earlier this year that the consortium expected project approval by April 23. The People’s M5 EIS will be interested to see just how close to this date the Minister will deliver on expectations. No wonder residents feel it is a set up job.
Government agencies, Councils, community groups and individuals have raised literally hundreds of objections and concerns about the New M5 project. NSW Roads and Maritime Services, WestCONnex and AECOM, who were paid $13 million to produce the New M5 EIS, are required to reply to these concerns in a Response to Submissions report. That report was completed on March 4 but only made public by the Department of Planning this week.
The NSW Planning Department has hired extra planners to deal with the workload. But this has not stopped the Department cutting corners which is why the WestCONnex planning process descended even further into farce this week. We’ll continue that story in our next post.
Keep up to date with the Westconnex Action Group campaign.
Also, if you or your friends live in Arncliffe, Rockdale or Wolli Creek, there’s a WestCONnex Action Group community forum at which you can find out more about WestCONnex this week. The area is threatened with unfiltered ventilation stacks, a massive 24/7 construction site, loss of green space and vegetation, rare Green and Golden Frog habitat and yet another plan for another Southern tollway after Westconnex.
WHERE: Coronation Hall, 23 Barden St, Arncliffe
WHEN: Wednesday 30 March, 7pm
Please RSVP using the link below.
There will also be a ‘No Westconnex’ protest school on Sunday April 3 10 am to 5 pm. at Sydney Park Pavilion. .