Newtown community turns out in force amid WestConnex no show

December 7, 2016
Resident's meeting in Newtown on December 6. Photo: Andrew Chuter

A community meeting in inner city Newtown, called at short notice to hear from WestConnex and a panel of traffic, heritage and health experts, attracted some 170 people on December 6.

Peter Boyle, speaking on behalf of Vivien Johnson of the newly-formed Newtown Residents Against WestConnex, opened the meeting explaining how it came about — residents being letter-boxed by Johnson informing them that WestConnex had re-routed the M4-M5 link right underneath their houses.

“Westconnex said that this re-routing is in response to public consultation. But what public consultation? None of us have heard of anything about public consultation sessions about the route change,” Boyle said.

“So a group of residents got together and we leafleted the neighbourhood. Then the Westconnex test drills started springing up … We could see the line that they were investigating and, yep, it was going right through underneath our homes.

“We started to gather at the test drill sites early in the morning — 7am — to show that this was happening without community consent.”

From there frustration and anger led to an organising group and planning for the meeting to inform residents.

Merilyn Fairskye, the meeting chair, had earlier informed people of WestConnex’s notice at 4pm that day that it would not be sending representatives to the meeting which had been organised on a date and time it had agreed to. Residents were clearly disgusted and many started writing their questions down on paper which Fairlake promised to deliver the next day in person.

“This meeting was an opportunity that residents created for Westconnex/Sydney Motorway Corporation to answer questions.

“And as Merilyn said, we went to some lengths to make sure this wasn’t just a slanging match, but a chance for people to ask them questions, but they still did not turn up.”

Boyle added that the community wanted “dates”, “places” and “details about how our voices will be heard and seriously taken into account”. He then listed three specific questions: 

1. Are there going to be ventilation stacks midway in the tunnel? And if so, where?

2. What is the impact of drilling on houses and other buildings in this area, which is a heritage area; and

3. We ask for an assurance that there will be a proper investigation of all the traffic consequences of the M4-M5 Link as [part of the Environmental Impact Statement].

“We know there is going to be a hell of a lot of extra traffic — another 20,000 vehicles a day — dumped on Broadway should there have been Camperdown exit ramps. Now we are told that there are no Camperdown exits, so where does that traffic go? What is the impact on King Street?,” he asked.

Dr Michelle Zeibots, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, confirmed that the outcome of such tollway would “induce more traffic growth” from the south to the inner west.

She said that the project, currently slated to cost $17 billion, could end up costing $30 billion and suggested that residents start a campaign to ban heavy vehicles from King Street.

Matt Hounsell, also from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, affirmed that tollways did bring more cars onto roads. He said the Baird government was using WestConnex to also undertake a lot of road widening also without consultation. When asked about strategies, he said the best type was one that involved residents taking action and demanding to be heard.

Jude Page, president of the NSW branch of the Public Health Association detailed new research showing how particulate matter from diesel products is particularly toxic. She suggested the reason for WestConnex’s decision not to put filters on its stacks is related to expense.

The M4-M5 link will be 33 kilometres, Australia’s largest infrastructure project. Page estimated it would cost $1 million a year to ventilate the high stacks.

Most of the pollution would blow south west over Sydney, she said, but that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away: it’s just been shifted.

She also spoke about how the tollways would impact heaviest on those living in the west and south west stating “the impact of this tollway won’t be distributed fairly”.

“Sydney will have some of the most expensive roads ever and they will be mostly used by the wealthy.”

Bruce Lay, town planner and architect, also spoke before the meeting heard from three anti-WestConnex campaigners: Pauline Lockie from the WestConnex Action Group; David Watson and Peter Hehir from Rozelle Against WestConnex; and Lorrie Graham, Save Newtown from WestConnex.

Jenny Leong, Green MP for Newtown, also addressed the meeting and relayed Sydney Motorway Corporation’s excuse for pulling out: that they did not feel safe to come along! This was greeted with disgust.

The mood seemed to be captured in a response by Zeibots to a question on what legal avenues there were to check Westconnex's rampage through communities. “There might be conditions to consent and such like, but I don’t think these people [in Westconnex and the Baird government] pay attention to them. We all need to be realistic about that. What I think really needs to be done is that everybody to get out there and tries to stop the damn thing being built,” she said.

“You wouldn't go and spend $17 billion or $18 billion or $25 billion, whatever it is going to end up being. $30 billion? You wouldn't go and spend it on these motorways in the current configuration. Not if you were concerned about the transport and traffic outcome,” Zeibots added.

“You would go do this if you were wanting to generate some very large construction projects because there are people in the construction sector who like to have very large construction projects but are not concerned about whether it is meaningful for the community or the tax payers who will be funding them.” (See the video below.)

Get in touch with Newtown Residents Against WestConnex FB page.

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