An extraordinary Inner West Council meeting called by Greens councillors on October 3 to discuss supporting residents’ groups’ campaign against the WestConnex tollway project resulted in very little.
The Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne dominated the five-hour meeting, filibustering to prevent four motions from being discussed. Byrne, who regularly proclaims that “democracy has been restored to council”, insisted that his motions in the form of two “Mayoral minutes”, which had not been circulated, take centre stage.
Frustrated residents had to wait more than three hours for the notified resolutions to be debated.
Given that the deadline for community feedback on the environmental impact statement of WestConnex Stage 3 is less than two weeks away, the residents’ groups fighting WestConnex are being badly let down.
Residents who spoke at the meeting said Byrne’s motions did not commit the council to assist local groups in fighting WestConnex. “By refusing to support community groups, Mayor Byrne is clearly showing his contempt for the huge majority of residents who voted for active opposition to the destruction that WestConnex is reaping on our community. It is not OK to play political games with these very real and devastating impacts of WestConnex on our community,” said Janet Dandy-Ward from WestConnex Action Group.
Greens councillor Colin Hesse said Byrne’s motions, while seemingly good on paper, did little to help the community-led campaign in practice. He described them as a “surrender” document.
Two Greens motions to match the $50,000 donated by the City of Sydney to fund a community organiser and another $50,000 for a community-driven information campaign were defeated 8 to 7, Labor being supported by the Liberals and a conservative independent.
“The concerns of community groups were torpedoed by Mayor Byrne, who replaced substantial motions of opposition with obvious mediation measures and picked fights with our biggest anti-WestConnex ally, the City of Sydney,” said anti-WestConnex independent Pauline Lockie.
Council did decide to support a dedicated officer from its WestConnex Unit to work with residents’ groups. However, as council officers are already overworked, it makes little difference. During the meeting, it was revealed that a September 21 decision for the general manager to send an urgent letter to the NSW Premier to extend the EIS period on Stage 3 had only just been sent.
The next day, about 200 people turned up to Leichhardt to hear from and quiz Byrne and general manager John Warburton on the council’s submission on the WestConnex Stage 3 (M4-M5 Link) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Warburton said the council strongly opposed Stage 3, and that it should not be approved. However, he said that if some form of Stage 3 was to proceed, the project should be redesigned.
He said the council submission would deal with: air quality effects especially exhaust filtration; construction problems; operational traffic impacts; compulsory acquisition concerns; matters relating to the redevelopment of the Rozelle Rail Yards; and the loss of future public transport corridors.
Residents and activists from anti-WestConnex groups raised their concerns about the tollway and called on council to intervene to stop the pollution and noise coming from the construction work. They also highlighted the increase in traffic and the planned sell-off of the Sydney Motorway Corporation as major problems.
Jim McIlroy, an activist in the WestConnex Action Group, said councils have to play a bigger role in the fight against WestConnex and suggested there needs to be an alliance of councils from across the inner and outer west that are opposed to the tolls. This was well supported by those present and Byrne said he would pursue the matter with other councils.
Residents were also urged to lodge their personal objections to the Stage 3 M4-M5 EIS. Submissions to the NSW Planning Commission close on October 16.
A public meeting against WestConnex sponsored by the City of Sydney Council has been organised for October 11 at 7pm. Speakers include councillors, planning and medical experts and community representatives.