The unholy convergence of interests around WestConnex

Monday, July 7, 2014

About 120 Sydney residents, concerned about the impact of the proposed WestConnex motorway, met at the Annandale Neighbourhood Centre on June 25.

The meeting heard that WestConnex, the biggest and most expensive motorway in the Australia, will not reduce congestion and is just an excuse for a developer land grab along Parramatta Road.

Transport planner Michelle Zeibots addressed the meeting and refuted the argument that WestConnex will reduce congestion. She cited many previous examples of new motorways leading to increased traffic, based on her research into the increased traffic after the extension of the M4.

She said the current plan for WestConnex does not fulfil its purpose, as traffic will still be routed onto suburban streets to get to their ultimate destination.

Convener of public transport advocacy group Ecotransit Sydney Gavin Gatenby spoke about better ways to solve Sydney's transport problems. According to Gatenby, solving Sydney's traffic jams is not the real reason for building WestConnex.

"Sydney's road traffic has been almost flatlining for a decade. The tragedy is that if we were to spend a fraction of the funds earmarked for WestConnex on public transport solutions, traffic would fall dramatically,” he said.

Gatenby showed a video, detailing how for $2.2 billion the government could build a light rail network covering the Inner West as far as Parramatta, providing much-needed public transport and taking traffic off existing roads.

This could be combined with a new railway station and parking facilities on unused land at Olympic Park for people coming from further west. This plan would ease traffic congestion in the Inner West for a fraction of WestConnex's $15 billion price tag.

Matthew Hounsell from community group No WestConnex revealed that UrbanGrowth NSW, the state government's property developer, in conjunction with WestConnex's "revitalisation" team, are asking 10 local councils to hand over planning controls to the state government for a corridor along Parramatta Road.

This so-called "urban activation" plan would see compulsory acquisition of properties up to 500 metres either side of Parramatta Road from Camperdown to Parramatta and beyond for unit developments of up to 12 stories.

“An unholy convergence of interests has gathered around WestConnex," Gatenby said.

"The big construction companies want a multi-billion contract that’ll run for years, the developers want the government to resume whole slabs of the inner west and sell it to them for high-rise and the tollway companies are trying to salvage a failed business model by generating another round of traffic growth with car-based redevelopment. It’s all backed by new planning laws to stack the deck against local government, residents and small business."

Local Greens MLC Jamie Parker told the meeting that the Greens had attempted to initiate an inquiry into WestConnex to examine the need for the project, its financing, and its environmental and transport impacts.

But it was blocked by Shooters and Fishers Party MLC Robert Borsak. Although Borsak had previously supported an enquiry, he made a deal with roads minister Duncan Gay to block the enquiry in return for the motorway being rerouted away from Ashfield Park.

These route changes mean the government could spend tens of millions of dollars on already resumed homes and businesses it no longer needs to buy.

Without an inquiry, the public is still in the dark about the motorway's traffic forecasts, preferred routes, exhaust tower locations, financial modelling and potential travel time savings.

From GLW issue 1015