Sunshine residents organise against road tunnel

Around 200 angry residents crowded into Sunshine's Glengala Community Centre on August 12 for a second meeting on a proposed $9 billion east-west road tunnel to be built in their neighbourhood.

Residents are especially outraged at the lack of consultation and information provided to the community about the compulsory acquisitions of up to 800 houses if the tunnel goes ahead.

Ron Eddington was commissioned by the state Labor government in 2006 to conduct an inquiry into the state's transport needs; his East West Link Needs Assessment (EWLNA) was released to the government in March. One key EWLNA recommendation to ease traffic congestion is the controversial 18-kilometre east-west road tunnel, which had been rejected as unnecessary in a study conducted in 2003.

The Victorian government will release its final report and decisions to the public in November.

John Hedditch from the Sunshine Residents and Ratepayers Association condemned the secrecy with which such an important issue was being dealt by the government and the local Brimbank council. He demanded an end to tollways, and called for the prioritisation of public transport, and open and transparent community consultation.

Geraldine Brooks from the Ardeer Playground Committee pointed out that the road project was being considered in a low-income community and not in affluent suburbs. Paul Mees, a lecturer in planning and environment at RMIT, stated that the road project was the most costly infrastructure project ever proposed in Australia and a scandalous waste of money. He called the state government's refusal to upgrade the public transport system to solve road congestion a "dereliction of duty". Those likely to really benefit from the project will be banks and developers.

Mees added that in Montreal, 70% of all freight is transported on rail. He quoted a Vancouver public transport planner who said that if they provided public transport that was as bad as Melbourne's system, people would burn down their department. He argued that the only way the community will get a better transport system is by fighting for it.

Colleen Hartland, a Greens MLC, encouraged people to take the fight to the state government, demanding public consultation on the issue and more transparency. She committed to raise issues arising from the meeting in parliament, and said that in Footscray there are already five local groups campaigning against the road tunnel.

Many people in the audience condemned the state government as arrogant and their local council as corrupt and incompetent. The ALP-dominated Brimbank council is at the centre of an Ombudsman's investigation into allegations of bribery, intimidation and misuse of funds.

The meeting ended with the election of a steering committee to lead the campaign.