Valuable inner city land too toxic Photo: Sebastian Reategui

Posted by & filed under Inner West Independent.

By Peter Hehir

What does the looming NSW Supreme Court of Appeal decision in the Desane Properties Ltd case mean for the future of WestConnex, Baird’s park in the goods yard – and for the Inner West?

Whichever way it goes there is a sting in the tail.

If the decision is overturned then Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) will be allowed to make a compulsory acquisition of the land owned by Desane, using the bulk of the land to replace greenspace lost in other areas of WestConnex development.

However if the Court upholds the earlier ruling that the acquisition is not enforceable, then WestConnex will still proceed, albeit with a smaller footprint, in the Rozelle Goods yard.

With less land to play with, the proposed park will be reduced in size accordingly and Desane, a publically listed developer, will continue with its application to build a multi-story development of 180 home units and a commercial complex on its land.

The ugliness and sense of community alienation that pollutes Pyrmont and Ultimo today due to poor planning and over development will have gained a permanent foothold in South West Rozelle.

Whichever way the Court of Appeal panel of judges decides, the residents lose.

They either get a toxic park courtesy of WestConnex, or an equally toxic development on land which was zoned Railway Special Uses B under the Leichhardt 1979 Town Plan.

Clearly the choice is no choice at all.

It’s either the devil or the deep blue sea.

The problem with the park will be the toxic emissions from the 3 unfiltered exhaust stacks.

Most aware and health conscious parents will be loath to bring their darling children to a place where they can run around inhaling some of the estimated 50 tonnes of carcinogenic particulate matter and the nitrogen dioxide that will be exhausted from the unfiltered stacks annually.

Medical scientists say that there is no safe level of air pollution, and that lung cancer is one of the few cancers which can be said to be caused by air pollution, as well as other toxins.

Figures provided by the RMS in relation to the Lane Cove Tunnel show that tunnel users will be exposed to more than 50 times the maximum levels suggested by the World Health Organisation, at the end of the tunnel.

The RMS absolutely refuses to filter the exhaust stacks, stating that ‘filtration doesn’t work’, that ‘it’s too expensive’ and they employ ‘world’s best practice’.

I believe all three of these statements to be blatantly and demonstrably untrue.

The assertion that ‘filtration doesn’t work’ is based on a botched trial – deliberate or otherwise – conducted on the M5 East and flies in the face of the highly successful results obtained from filtered road tunnels in other parts of the world.

In-tunnel filtration is significantly cheaper than the exhaust stack method used by the RMS here in NSW.

If filtration equipment to remove both the oxides of nitrogen and PM 2.5, (particulate matter smaller in diameter than 2.5 microns – a micron being 1,000 of a millimetre) is installed during construction as part of the tunnel design, the cost of servicing the filters compares more than favourably with the running costs of the RMS system.

Where it becomes expensive is if best practice is not employed from the beginning, and work has to be redone.

Anyone who has approached the M5 East tunnel portal from the south will be aware of the acrid assault on the nose that instantly causes vehicle occupants to wind up their windows.

What these hapless passengers are experiencing is the heavily polluted air that has been pushed down only 2.5 km of the westbound tunnel, which has particle levels up to 50 times greater than the outside air.

The RMS uses large fans to counter the piston effect of exhaust gases being pushed out of the tunnel by the stream of traffic.

It is an Environmental Protection Authority requirement that there be no emissions at a tunnel exit portal in NSW.

But there are no pollution monitors at the exit portal, and in any case the exhaust stack on the M5 East is midway along the tunnel length.

Go figure.

The RMS approach is of course nowhere near ‘world’s best practice’.

It ignores state of the art approaches to same in Spain, Japan, China, Norway and Italy.

Results in Japan have shown that 98% of particulate matter can be easily removed in the tunnel.

The RMS is well aware of the international results but their bloody-minded bigwigs still refuse to admit that they are just plain wrong.

Presumably this is because of the loss of face, or perhaps more likely, because they are acutely aware of the huge cost of retro-filtering existing road tunnels should new standards force backwards compatability.

If Stage 3 of WestConnex does find a contractor and a buyer willing to take the financial risk, it’s only a matter of time before NSW residents’ demands for filtered road tunnels become so loud they cannot be ignored.

It will be a roar even louder than the noise of all the extra traffic churning through our beloved Inner West.