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.