Residents blockade WestConnex drills

Over the past week, residents in Ashfield, Leichhardt and Haberfield have sprung into action in attempts to stop geotechnical drilling by tenderers for the WestConnex tollway.

About 200 drill sites have been identified along the proposed route of WestConnex, between Concord and Rockdale. Drilling for stages 1 and 2 of the project has been underway since mid-September, but residents have been kept in the dark about when and where drilling will happen.

The WestConnex Delivery Authority — established by the NSW government to deliver the project — said the drilling will reveal valuable geotechnical data for the consortia tendering for the project, estimated to cost $11.5 billion.

The state and federal government, as well as the private sector, are providing funding for the tollway. The private capital will be offset by toll revenue.

Chris Elenor, an organiser from No West Connex — a coalition of action groups opposed to the project — told Green Left Weekly that community organising against the project had escalated.

“We were in Bland St [Ashfield] this morning [Oct 30] and the residents there stated categorically that they had received no notice whatsoever [about drilling]. The [WestConnex Delivery] Authority’s response was to produce a letter [purporting to] notify residents, dated today.

“What [the drilling] has done is wake people up to this issue. There’s nothing like a drill at the end of your street. Groups from Concord to Rockdale and Sutherland are popping up around this development. Groups have sprung up in St Peters, Tempe, there’s now talk of a group in Petersham. Citizens’ resistance is springing up all along the route.”

More than 100 residents attended a local meeting in Tempe on October 14

Elenor describes the project as “a massive land grab”, which will involve homes being resumed to provide land for multiple on and off ramps (portals) as well as ventilation stacks along the route.

Elenor said the project has been planned with “absolute secrecy and lack of transparency”.

“People are asking where are [the developers] going to put the portals, the stacks? This is going to be up to the successful tenderers. The government has a concept plan, but it needs the tenderers to do the design [work]. In order to do that they need to do the geotechnical drilling — to do gather the geological data to plan the final route.”

Community resistance has resulted in some wins in the planning stages, including saving part of the historic Ashfield Park from being resumed. Elenor said: “We’ve already set the whole scheme back 12 months.”

Elenor told GLW that residents are employing “guerrilla-style tactics” in response to the drilling, and drilling was successfully held up for a few hours. Since the first protest last week the company has started moving trucks in overnight. “They are learning, but we are learning, too. If the drill site is at a legal parking spot, it's a case of who gets there first."

The Groups are now asking local candidates for the upcoming NSW elections to declare their position on WestConnex and what they are prepared to do about it. The Greens are strongly opposed to WestConnex in its current form but none of the other parties have as yet made their position clear.

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