Last Saturday two protesters were arrested after occupying a house in Haberfield slated for demolition as part of the government’s WestConnex project.
Bill Holliday and Sharon Laura were arrested by police on Saturday morning and detained for a short time at Burwood Police Station before being released.
Ms Laura left the house on two feet, while Mr Holliday opted to be carried out by police.
Mr Holliday, who squatted in protest against the Western Expressway which would have destroyed part of Glebe in the 1970s, said that he believed the destruction of the Haberfield community for an tollway could not be justified when there evidence that other more cost effective public transport solutions were necessary to meet Sydney’s needs in the future. Holliday lives in Lilyfield near where the Baird government is planning to build the third stage of WestConnex.
Speaking to City Hub, Ms Laura said that she chose to occupy the particular house because it was one of four boarded up houses they believed would soon be demolished.
She said she feared heritage documentation of the house had not been carried out properly.
As part of the conditions the removal of houses for the toll road, buildings must be documented before they are demolished.
The pair posted pictures of the grand Federation era home on social media during the protest, located in the heritage conservation area of Haberfield.
— WestCONnex Action (@WestConnexAG) April 16, 2016
The suburb was built in 1901 as a paragon of suburbia and became known as the “garden suburb” due to its tree lined streets and the architectural uniformity of the houses. It is also listed as a conservation area by the Register of the National Estate.
“Our concern was that they may start demolishing those houses, and haven’t followed through on the documentation of the heritage buildings, and that is a real fear and concern, given that they’d started cutting down trees on that site,” Ms Laura.
“There is no evidence that conditions have been adhered to and that is something that is seriously being pursued.”
She said she was not surprised that the RMS could not follow the conditions. She said that the process with the WestConnex had been a “comedy of errors,” citing one case where tenants received notices of acquisition but the owners of a property had not. The WestConnex Delivery Authority had subsequently said to tenants, “’can you please pass this on?’”.
Ms Laura, a Haberfield resident has been talking extensively with those in her community.
Ms Laura said there had been wide gaps between how much people had received for their houses from the RMS
She said it has become apparent that those who took their case to the valuer general have been paid more than those who thought they had to accept RMS’s offer.
“I know people who believe that they have really lost out– there is a quite a variation between what people settled on. There is hardly anyone that has been able to buy back in Haberfield, I know people who have had to move to Cambelltown.”
In Haberfield and Ashfield, 123 houses and units are set to be demolished for the construction of the WestConnex. Interestingly, some houses were acquired but after completing final drawings for the project, the WestConnex Delivery Authority discovered the houses would not need to be demolished.
For those that remain behind, the prospect of living on a construction site for the foreseeable future makes some wish their homes were acquired.
Ms Laura said the construction of the St Peters Interchange and a Parramatta Interchange on either side of Haberfield means that remaining residents in the suburb and parts of Ashfield will be living in what she calls a “toxic triangle.”
“The Environmental Impact Statement found that there will be pollution hot spots, and that is caused by extra road traffic from the tunnels, and that particular pollution contains ultrafine particle matter, by which there is no safe level.”
Other people in the inner west are rallying against the project. Earlier this month, Marrickville Council chose to deny the WestConnex Delivery Authority access to drill in local roads as part of the project.
On Tuesday morning, WestConnex protestors were out again at Marrickville, protesting the fact that contractors had overridden the council.
A fortnight ago government contractor Leightons continued to carry out work, saying that under the Environment and Planning Protections Act that the project was of state significance and could override the local council. But the protestors believe that the Act does not apply in this case because the road in question, the New M5, has not yet been approved.
A spokesperson from the Sydney Motorway Corporation said they believed they had the right to override the council in this case.
“Under the Roads Act, Roads and Maritime Services (and its contractors) have powers to undertake work on local roads for public road projects without the consent of Council. Roads and Maritime will continue to advise Marrickville Council whenever it exercises this power,” the spokesperson said.
But WestCONnex Action Group Spokesperson Pauline Lockie said: “The roads act doesn’t give access, because it is not an existing road, and is not an approved project”
For the third time two weeks ago, WestConnex Protestors were locked in a “cage” – a fence constructed around them.
Protestors who fail to leave the cage are told they are failing to leave an inclosed area, as per the Inclosed Lands Act 1901 which was recently revitalized as part of the state government’s controversial anti-protest laws. While the laws were believed to be aimed at mining activists, there potential impact on local democratic protests like those against the WestConnex have become apparent. While the act includes a section entitled “Owner may destroy goats,” its recent changes have included the penalties from $550 to $5500 for entering enclosed land.
It is unclear if constructing a cage around someone to qualify the land as inclosed means that they have entered the land.
Stephen Blanks from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties told City Hub that the use of the act raised an interesting question.
“There would appear to be a potential interesting legal question, about whether or not a charge under the enclosed lands act can be brought in circumstances where a fence was erected around the protestors was to enclose the protestors, and was not there for any purpose of enclosing land.”