Campaign against WestConnex tollway steps up

Greens MP Jenny Leong called on the Labor opposition to commit to "tearing up WestConnex contracts". Photo by Pip Hinman

Opponents of the $16.8bn WestConnex tollway project held a lively protest outside NSW Parliament on April 6 built around two demands: Not another cent for WestConnex; and No new tolls. 

The rally was called by a broad coalition of local groups opposed to WestConnex and to the new tolls that will soon be imposed on the M4 to help pay for Stage 3 of this disastrous motorway project. It featured speakers from Labor, the Greens, the Clover Moore Team in Sydney City Council and Unions NSW.

Labor MP for Strathfield Jodi McKay called for "unity around what we can agree on", which she said included the two demands. Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong, a stalwart of the campaign against WestConnex, urged Labor to commit to "tearing up the contracts" for WestConnex should they become the next government of NSW.

Rally organiser Andrew Chuter from No WestConnex — Public Transport (NoWPT) told Green Left Weekly: "This rally busts open the NSW government's attempt to use divide and rule tactics to force through WestConnex.

"Commuters from the Western suburbs of Sydney are now furious at the prospect of being slugged with heavy new tolls to subsidise the profits of greedy corporations destroying large swathes of this city. 

"New alliances are being forged that can stop WestConnex just like in Melbourne's East-West tunnel and Perth's Roe 8."

Chuter added that protests against WestConnex were escalating. "They are going to get bigger and bigger and they are going to be felt by politicians all around this city."

On April 2, hundreds of local residents attended a rally in Leichhardt called by the local high school's P&C to protest a plan to put a WestConnex tunnelling dive site right next to the school. Two days before the protest, Minister for WestConnex Stuart Ayres visited the school to say that that plan had been withdrawn and the dive site would be located 500 metres away in another controversial site.

The P&C decided to hold the rally anyway and oppose the alternative site as well, a decision welcomed by Christina Valentine, co-convenor of Leichhardt Against WestConnex (LAW).

Local newspapers have reported controversy about compensation to the Dan Murphy Liqour Store currently using the site and on compensation claims by the leaseholders of the land who were given it for virtually nothing by Road and Maritime Services, which owns the land.

Also on April 2, 120 people attended a public meeting, in an adjacent suburb, called by the newly-formed Camperdown Residents Aware of WestConnex. One of the interesting speakers at that meeting was Professor James Weirick, director of the Master of Urban Development and Design (MUDD) program at UNSW, who presented an outline of a rail alternative to the WestConnex tollroad that had been developed by a group of his Masters students.

This meeting passed a resolution to reject any WestConnex "dive site" in Camperdown, or elsewhere in the inner-western suburbs. 

Meanwhile, residents living in apartments along Euston Road, Alexandria, are facing huge noise and pollution problems from the planned widening of the road from four lanes to seven, as part of the WestConnex construction extending east from the interchange at St Peters. The widened road will come within two metres of a series of existing apartments, in an area where further apartment developments are proposed. 

Carmel Deprat, who lives nearby, said: "None of us can sell here. We are effectively prisoners in these apartments. All this will do is lead to more road widening. This is just like a domino effect. It's setting up a precedent to start more road works." 

Meanwhile, the City of Canterbury Bankstown is the latest council to criticise WestConnex, slamming works done near the existing M5 motorway: "There is no holistic approach for the design of the final outcome and therefore the existing process is inadequate from council's perspective." 

The council's concerns include a loss of quality open space, the "creation of [an] unsafe, narrow and overly long underpass" and "poor amenity" for active transport including cycling and walking.

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