BY MICHAEL FORNO
A WestConnex representative has told disgruntled residents to ‘come after me’ if the promises he makes as project director for the M4-M5 link are broken.
The Sydney Motorway Corporation is responsible for the construction of WestConnex, and finally met with community members after dodging earlier community consultations.
It was standing room only at the Balmain Town Hall on Thursday night as hundreds of residents gathered to hear from and ask questions of the SMC.
Two weeks ago the SMC failed to attend a public meeting in Newtown, leaving local residents and politicians furious. SMC justified their absence to Greens MP Jenny Leong, citing concerns over exposing their executives to potential protest at a public meeting.
A condition of the meeting on Thursday night was that protest be kept to a minimum. This condition was vigilantly enforced by the meeting’s adjudicator from the beginning of the meeting.
“Tonight is not the place nor the time for that behaviour. The question tonight is, will there be any representatives tonight from the Sydney Motorway Corporation?
“I’m pleased to say that there are. Please keep in mind that the SMC is simply the project deliverer. They are merely the client of RMS,” she said.
Peter Jones, the Project Director of the M4-M5 link, addressed the audience and took their questions. Following a number of hostile questions about accountability and the role of local governments, Mr Jones offered his own assurances.
“I cannot and will not speak on matters of local public officials or politicians.
“But if I make a commitment to you and then I walk away from that commitment, you have every right to come after me. That is the best assurance I can give you.
“What I’m saying in that sentence is that I’m here recognising that trust is damaged, potentially beyond repair. I am here to try and reach out to the community,” he said.
Many of Mr Jones’ responses were met with cries of opposition.
A resident of Haberfield, John Lozano, is in dismay over the lack of community consultation and the relationship that SMC has with the Roads and Maritime Services.
“If you have a body such as RMS, whose sole purpose is to construct roads and maintain roads, and you ask them for a solution to congestion you can guarantee that they will say “we need to widen the roads or construct new ones.”
“That is a conflict of interest, it is like asking the gambling association to help you reduce gambling addiction,” he said.
Mr Lozano was critical of the WestConnex project when addressing Mr Jones at the meeting.
“Here is some feedback, this is due for failure just like every other toll road. The world has moved away from this solution. The world has moved away from roads because you cannot pour traffic into a city and not expect congestion,” he said.
In his response Mr Jones downplayed any suggestion that WestConnex was a single solution for Sydney’s increasing transport needs.
“Yes, Sydney is growing. Road projects are only a part of a wider investment in the transportation portfolio. Traffic is inter modal. It is my view is that there is a need for increased road capacity in Sydney.
“However, I would have a problem with it if it were a single silver bullet solution. WestConnex has never been articulated as a silver bullet for all transport in Sydney.”
Community Engagement Officer for SMC, Kylie Cochrane, was met with the same hostility as Mr Jones.
“We absolutely do listen to what the community has to say. One of the lessons we’ve learnt from the last two projects for WestConnex was that we needed to get out and engage with the community early,” she said.
The audience broke into cries of anger at Ms Cochrane’s comments about community consultation. One resident’s frustrated question cut through the noise in the room, “You might be listening to us, but who’s listening to you?”
It’s an unanswered question, and will remain so into the new year. According to SMC, community action groups and resident feedback has told them not to hold any more community consultations until after Christmas. The SMC plans to meet with the community again in February and March of next year.