The North Sydney Council decided on January 24 to revert to its former position of opposing the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link (WHT & BL) toll roads.
Prior to the 2017 council election, progressive independents held an effective majority led by Councillor Zoe Baker. Then the council took a position that clearly opposed the WHT & BL. After 2017, power shifted to former Liberal Councillor Jilly Gibson, who became Mayor. Gibson shut down debate and the council reversed its former opposition. During her term, Gibson also opposed a cycle ramp connected to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
At last year’s election, Sustainable Australia and Labor picked up 2 councillors each on the new 10-member council and Baker became Mayor. This was on the back of the clear and growing threat of the WHT & BL, with campaign groups including Stop the Tunnels working hard to raise the alarm. The huge negative impacts of WestConnex heading northward had become abundantly clear.
The January 24 motion, introduced by Baker and supported by Labor and Sustainable Australia, passed unanimously. It noted the “absence of any public benefit to be gained from the projects” plus serious environmental and public health consequences.
Since then, Baker has continued to raise the alarm over the WHT & BL. She recently pointed out that 17 schools and childcare centres are close to the proposed exhaust stacks which emit harmful particulate pollution. “Toll roads and tunnels are not the solution, we need sustainable transport options that protect the environment and our children's health,” Baker said.
The WHT & BL proved to be an important issue in the Willoughby by-election. Larissa Penn, a well-known activist in Stop the Tunnels, received 32% of the primary vote before postal votes were counted, while Liberal Tim James received a 19% swing against him. He was a strong supporter of the project when campaigning alongside Tony Abbott at the 2019 federal election.