By Wendy Bacon
Groups campaigning against the WestConnex motorway have complained that the WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA) community feedback sessions for the motorway are a ‘useless sham’ and little more than a ‘tick and flick’ bureaucratic exercise.
Last week, WDA announced that Cintra Hockey Park near Parramatta Road in Concord would be the mid tunnelling point for the extension of the M4 East extension from Homebush to Haberfield. This came as a shock to residents who have been kept in the dark about negotiations between WDA, Cintra Hockey Park and Canada Bay Council to move the Hockey Park onto public space in St Luke’s Park.
After negotiating with both Canada Bay Council and the Briars Hockey Club for months, WDA presented the decision as a foregone conclusion despite no Environmental Impact Statement having been published for that section of the motorway project. There has also been no opportunity for other councils, community members and experts to present their views.
Concord resident and Co-Convenor of the WestConnex Community Action Group Amanda Bull attended a WDA feedback session on Friday. Following the session, she described the process as “negligent” and a “useless sham”. Ms Bull said that when she and other residents asked for details about the operation of the construction sites and the current planned route of the M4 extension, they always received one of two standard answers: either wait for the EIS or wait for the successful tenderer for the project to be announced. Ms Bull described this as a “tick and flick” bureaucratic process that had no real meaning for residents who were being shut out from input into key elements and arguments about the merits of the WestConnex project. She said it was insulting that residents receive critical information only hours before media announcements of decisions.
Some residents and City Hub‘s reporter who attended the session, held far from the park at Burwood RSL, had to present photo identification to security to get into the club. Others asked why the feedback session had not been held during a weekend on the park itself. They received no answers.
Ms Bull said that although there had been mention of the possibility of Concord park land being involved in the project, nothing at all had been heard about this from WDA after a large Concord community rally opposing the project had been held more than 12 months ago. It was reported that 280 residents cheered at the rally in January last year when Ms Bull complained about the lack of consultation.
It appears that WDA has followed the same method of decision making in Concord as City Hub revealed in its investigation of the St Peters Dial-A-Dump site late last year. In that case WDA began secret negotiations to acquire the large highly polluted dump for a massive WestConnex interchange in St Peters about five months before the Federal and State Melbourne Cup day announcement that the interchange was planned. As the announcement was made, letters were being delivered to residents telling them that their homes were in danger of acquisition and demolition for the project.
Asked to explain the secrecy of the negotiations in Concord, the WestConnex Communication Manager Ed Scully referred to the St Peters situation, saying this was a similar situation in which negotiations were conducted with a “commercial organisation and it would not be good practice to reveal to the suppliers and customers” that there was a possibility of acquisition.
When asked to explain why the majority of submissions that raised concerns about the rationale for the project were brushed aside during the EIS process for the M4 Widening, he explained it was because the decision making was ‘issues based” and the extent of community opposition was not a deciding factor.
Ms Bull said it was “ludicrous” for the NSW Minister for Roads Duncan Gay to suggest that local roads would not be affected given the massive amount of spoil that would be removed by trucks from the Cintra Park site should it proceed. She and other residents are dismayed at the prospect of years of trucks, noise, pollution and vibration as well as the predicted increase in traffic on nearby Parramatta Road after tolls are reimposed on the M4.
WDA representatives present at the session were unable to give detailed answers to residents’ questions but took notes of objections.
Canada Bay and the Briars Club were both contacted for their views about the secrecy but had not responded at the time of publication.
City Hub also attended a feedback session for the design of the King George’s Interchange on the M5 in Beverly Hills which is another early stage in the WestConnex project. This feedback session was held at Canterbury Council Chambers during working hours instead of in one of the small parks that could soon be taken for construction work.
Attendance was low. NoWestConnex Beverly Hills group coordinator Kathy Calman rearranged her work schedule to make sure that her general opposition to WestConnex and detailed critique of the design were not missed. She later took City Hub on a tour of the area. The extent of the trees and other vegetation grown by residents which will be lost to widen the M5 became apparent. When the author asked about this at the feedback session, it was glossed over. One resident we spoke to didn’t know that works could soon begin very close to his house.
WDA’s Ed Scully explained the lack of response to opposition on the grounds that the WDA has been “given a remit to plan and execute” the motorway despite expected strong opposition from residents living near the route. But opponents of WestConnex claim that increasingly public expert arguments against the whole project are gaining acceptance as people throughout Sydney become aware the project that has already increased in cost by $4 billion will not solve traffic problems.
Spokesperson for the WestConnex Action Group Emma Pierce said, “Everyday more experts are saying that WestConnex is a huge waste of public money… there has been an appalling lack of communication and community consultation. Secrecy shrouds all important aspects of this project. WestConnex is looking more and more like a socially irresponsible project being rushed through as fast as possible.”
In her first week in the NSW Parliament, Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong responded to concerns about WDA pushing ahead in secrecy and without an EIS by moving a motion that called on the NSW government “in the interests of good governance and financial accountability, to suspend all activity on the WestConnex project until the full business case and Environmental Impact Statement are made public”.
The date for the motion debate has not been announced. In response to a question from Ms Leong, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said the business case minus the “non-commercial in confidence” parts would be released in July.
Wendy Bacon has lived in the inner city for half a century and attended anti-WestConnex protests