Trees on Euston Road St Peters were wrapped by environmental campaigners before WestConnex contractors cut them down. Photo: Lorrie Graham.

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OPINION BY WENDY BACON

The NSW Gladys Berejiklian government announced last week that it plans to tear down Sydney Cricket Ground Allianz stadium and rebuild it to blend with Moore Park and connect to a massive intersection and widened roads, all the way from the massive WestConnex interchange at St Peters.

With this announcement, the government’s plans for Sydney’s inner south-east have finally come into clear view and link two of Sydney’s biggest environmental struggles – the fight against WestConnex and the decades-long battle to preserve Moore Park against encroachment from development.

Already residents have protested against the destruction of thousands of mature trees in Alexandria, Anzac Parade and Alison Road in Randwick. Now more will be destroyed to provide room for an extension of WestConnex new M5 tollway that will carve a tunnel between tightly packed apartments through to a huge intersection, new stadium, Randwick Racecourse and an entertainment quarter expanded to include a hotel and apartments at what was once Sydney Showground.

The widened roads are NSW Roads and Maritime’s solution to the extra 60,000 cars a day that it expects to dump in Alexandria as a direct result of WestConnex.

Together the widened roads and rebuilt stadium will cost more than $2 billion dollars. None of the road works are included in the WestConnex budget, which Premier Gladys Berejiklian still officially pretends is near $17 billion, although City of Sydney estimates to be closer to $45 billion.

The eighteen year old Olympic stadium at Homebush will also be demolished and rebuilt.

Meanwhile across Sydney, local schools are in bad repair, public transport is either lacking or overcrowded, housing is impossibly expensive and there is never enough money to maintain parklands to meet community needs.

City of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore and most of the City councillors are furious. Ms. Moore has been fighting to preserve Moore Park for her entire time in public office and has been a key opponent of WestConnex.

Community group Keep Sydney Beautiful spokesperson Maria Bradley, who has been involved in previous battles against development of Moore Park, is preparing for another battle. City Hub met her on the corner of Anzac Parade and Dacey Avenue where the landscape is already shockingly scarred by the removal of hundreds of trees.

“Public infrastucture has been hijacked by powerful commercial interests,” she said.

Those interests include the power elite who control the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust which, due to a Labor government decision in the 1980s, is not subject to NSW environmental laws. There are nine men and one woman on the Trust including ex-News Corp Australia CEO John Hartigan, talkback radio giant Alan Jones and ex-LNP Premier Barry O’Farrell who is now also CEO of Racing Australia. The only woman is Katie Page, a powerful business woman in her own right and wife of Gerry Harvey who is steering a billion dollar overhaul of his entertainment quarter next door to the Sydney Cricket Ground.

But no insider knows more about how the plans emerged than Trust Chairman Tony Shepherd who steered WestConnex through its initial stages as Chair of the WestConnex Delivery Authority and strongly supported the $35 million Tibby Cotter bridge across Anzac Parade.

The bridge, which ran way over budget, has turned into a little used costly white elephant.

Greens Planning spokesperson MLC David Shoebridge describes the story of the decision to tear down the stadiums at SCG and Olympic Park as, “A classic Sydney tale. 10 men and one woman in a well-stocked boardroom decide the future of our city and tell the government to spend $2.5 billion to tear down and remake two premier stadiums. Meanwhile the parents whose kids play sport on the weekend run raffles and sausage sizzles to fix the broken toilets at their soccer field, or struggle to get their local netball court resurfaced.

“The priorities are so distorted it would be comical if our planning system wasn’t so brazenly corrupted.”

The RMS and Sydney Cricket Ground Trust use soothing words to assure the public that they will do their utmost to preserve the environment. RMS’s  promise to replace trees is unlikely to impress residents when only this week it was revealed that while the NSW Planning Deparmtent had approved Westconnex plans to replace lost trees, the definition of a ‘tree’ has been reduced down to the size of a ball point pen.

This means that we can be sure the shockingly devastated landscapes of Haberfield and St Peters will remain that way for a long time.

In an ironic twist, the NSW government launched its Greening Sydney policy this week, including targets for tree canopy. WestConnex, which has destroyed more than 7000 trees, including critically endangered bush, wasn’t mentioned.

Greens MP Shoebridge welcomed the new policy, which reflects targets in a bill he introduced three months ago, but remains critical.

“Trees aren’t ‘delivered’, they grow and mature over time. This fundamental misunderstanding explains how distorted their priorities are. It allows the Coalition to publish a Green Paper on trees one day that emphasises ‘delivering green infrastructure’ and at the same time savage hundreds more magnificent mature trees in the heart of our city.

“We have to work with nature and protect it, not just dominate and destroy it.”

Wendy Bacon is a past Professor of Journalism at UTS and a campaigner against Westconnex.

  • Paul Sydney

    Thank you Wendy Bacon for tracking and exposing the faceless people behind the government that are pulling the strings. Sydney is drowning in a continual cycle of bad infrastructure policy that is packaged in such a way that keeps the truth from everyday Sydneysiders. Millions and millions of public dollars spent on prime time spin paints a glossy picture of future harmony that awaits those of us willing to put up with “a little inconvenience while we get it right”
    But it’s not right and all is not well and we don’t have to accept it, the NSW government is now in full election mode and our money is paying for the campaign, $100 million a year to bribe for drivers to use westconnex is just the start. Join one of the many community groups and have your say before it’s too late. We can stop the madness.
    https://www.facebook.com/NoWestconnex/
    https://www.facebook.com/westconnexactiongroup/

  • Thank you for this comment Paul. I really agree with you that there is a cycle of poor infrastructure policy decision making to suit private agendas. A huge amount is also being spent on spin. The Westconnex contracts are not public as they would be with a government department so we don’t even know the companies that are getting the PR contracts

  • John Bartholomew

    The claim that WestConnex has destroyed more than 7000 trees must be reviewed in light of the NSW government’s decision to redefine a “tree” as any plant that has developed past the seed stage of its life. Under this new definition, contrived to absolve the WestConnex scammers of their obligation to replace all the mature trees they have killed with saplings in 75 litre pots, it would be more accurate to say that WestConnex has destroyed close to a million trees to date, with millions more to go as the scam spreads towards the world’s second oldest National Park, as well as the leafy North Shore.

    WestConnex also plans to replace all the oxygen Sydney has lost as a result of killing the trees that produce it, with deadly gases like hydrogen sulfide (last used in World War 1 on the Western front and made illegal in 1925), ammonia, and lots more carbon monoxide and oxides of mercury and nitrogen. So it’s somehow unsurprising to find that WestConnex also plans to put sports fields right next to the biggest sources of all these deadly gases, their interchanges, and call this “green space” so that our kids can get on with developing heart and lung disease, asthma, and all sorts of cancers before they enter secondary school. Now watch Berejiklian defend oxygen-breathing voters in her own electorate from these deadly threats, while forcing everybody else in Sydney to pay the exorbitant costs of her government’s corrupt money laundering scam.

  • zioledeux

    Fantastic article Wendy, thankyou so much