By JESSICA DE VERA
Community groups in the inner-west opposing the WestConnex road development scheme have been denied funding following last Tuesday’s extraordinary meeting at the Inner West Council.
Disruption descended in the meeting when residents grew angry after they waited over three hours to discuss the notified agenda.
“The substantive motions put forward by the Greens were torpedoed by two Mayoral Minutes introduced at the last minute,” said Independent Councillor Pauline Lockie.
Some Councillors believed the Mayor introduced these to take control of the meeting and delay The Greens’ motion.
“Greens’ motions to mount a publicity campaign and to match the City of Sydney funding for a Council coordinator for the Stop WestConnex Campaign were defeated with the combined votes of Liberal and Labor councilors,” said Colin Hesse, Greens Councillor for the Marrickville Ward.
“Residents and community groups have said they feel betrayed by this outcome, and I don’t blame them,” said Cr Lockie.
But a spokesperson for Mayor Darcy Byrne claimed that the Mayor’s intentions were otherwise. “The Mayoral Minute in fact is committed to expanding $860,000 on Council’s WestConnex Unit this year as well as ensuring a dedicated team member with Council’s WestConnex Unit.
“[Their] responsibilities will include supporting and assisting the work of the various action groups, acknowledging the proliferation and complexity of issues associated with the WestConnex project, and the need for dedicated local support within the Inner West Council area to focus on issues specific to the M4-M5 link and interchanges.”
Despite this statement, many Councillors and community group’s perspectives of Mayor Byrne’s intentions were altered in light of the events at the extraordinary meeting.
“This council meeting was their first big test, but Cr Darcy Byrne’s Mayoral Minutes showed only big rhetoric and no real opposition to WestConnex,” said Cr Lockie.
“It’s no longer credible for the Mayor to say he opposes WestConnex when he joins with the Liberals to oppose efforts to support the Stop WestConnex campaign,” said Cr Hesse.
Councillors and residents both felt voices were not being heard as a “discussion of the Mayoral Minutes took more than three hours with much of the debate taunting community leaders, campaigners and many who had experienced the huge disruption and impacts of WestConnex,” said Independent Councillor John Stamolis.
Conversely, a spokesperson for Mayor Byrne said, “I appreciate that it can be frustrating to be stuck at Council meeting for hours. However, this is a necessary byproduct of meaningful debates on all issues.”
Some community groups are worried that the Mayor’s intentions are set on matters on a State and Federal level as opposed to local concerns.
Janet Dandy-Ward, Treasurer for the WestConnex Action Group said, “WestConnex Action Group (WAG) feels like Mayor Byrne is offside and has not consulted the community.
“By refusing to support community groups, Mayor Byrne is clearly showing his contempt for the huge majority of residents who voted for active opposition to the destruction that WestConnex is reaping on our community. It is not OK to play political games with these very real and devastating impacts of WestConnex on our community,” she said.
In the meantime, construction of the WestConnex will continue while community groups and Councillors regroup and hope to continue to push the agenda against it.
“Stage 3 of the project that connects Haberfield to Rozelle and St Peters hasn’t even received planning approval but Labor has already surrendered to the Liberal government,” said Greens Councillor for Balmain Ward, Rochelle Porteous.
“Moving forward, WAG want Mayor Byrne to be on board with the real local issues. So far, he has announced nothing local. All of his announcements are State and Federal issues he has no control over; smokestack filters and same-sex marriage are just two examples,” said Dandy-Ward.
“Sadly, it seems the only genuine local government voice in our area supporting the community is the City of Sydney,” said Cr Hesse.
The City of Sydney will be gathering together with transport experts, health experts and community representatives at a public meeting on Wednesday 11 October to urge the NSW Government to rethink WestConnex.