The current state government came to office in 2011. There was no mention of their intention to build WestConnex during their election campaign.

The story so far…

In September 2012 Mr Nick Greiner, chair of Infrastructure NSW announced an infrastructure strategy for the state. Amongst the projects identified in the announcements was a road to be:

“built in five stages, the project will run for 33 Km and will involve widening the M4 from Parramatta to Nth Strathfield; an M4 extension to Taverners Hill, the construction of a tunnel or cutting slot along Parramatta Rd, and a tunnel from Taverners Hill to St peters via Camperdown”. (DT 04/10/2012)

It was proposed as a 10-billion-dollar project.

The proposal bubbled along for some time with ongoing discussion about improving Parramatta Road and making it into a vibrant boulevard. Parramatta Road runs through the former Ashfield Council area. I immediately sought a meeting with the then Mayor of Ashfield and the General manager to discuss the huge impact this proposal would have on Haberfield - the world’s first garden suburb and a suburb of local, Australian and international significance. I met with the Minister for roads Duncan Gay to explain the impact but the Government was determined to proceed with the project.

I was elected Mayor of Ashfield Council in September 2013 and WestConnex has been a constant in my life ever since.

On 29 November 2013, the NSW Government announced that WestConnex would proceed and many residents in the Ashfield Council area were phoned and then visited by an officer from RMS on that day and told that their homes were to be compulsorily acquired as they were needed for the motorway.

Consultation sessions were held and the community had several weeks to respond with submissions being due on 9 February 2014.

In 2014, the mayors and general managers from the ten councils along the route were invited to Parliament House where we were informed that for the first time ever this project was going to be a joint project between the Ministers for Roads, Transport and Planning.

There were several meetings of this group convened before the joint proposal was abandoned and WestConnex was placed under the sole management of Roads. The entity set up to manage the WestConnex Project was the WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA). Subsequently, The WDA was abandoned and the Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) was established.

SMC is a private company limited by shares and established by the NSW Government in August 2014 under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) on behalf of the State. It is governed by a majority independent Board appointed by its shareholding Ministers, Treasurer and Roads.

Roads and Maritime Services commissioned SMC to deliver and finance WestConnex, and retains a key assurance role on behalf of the NSW Government.

This action was seen by the community as a blatant attempt to conceal information and silence them and prevent their attempts to get information under Government Information (Public Access) Act formerly (FOI).

The contract was let to the private contractors with a design and construct brief before the EIS was released. The full business case was not available at the time of the EIS.

The community was consistently told when they asked for information that all will be revealed in the EIS and you will have your opportunity to put your case then.

The Environmental Impact Statement was released on 9 September 2015, eleven volumes, 5000 pages. Submissions were to be received up to 2 November 2015.
Determination was 11 February 2016

From the start, the project has been clouded in secrecy. The SMC refused to give Ashfield Council a list of the properties under acquisition so the council was reliant on residents informing myself or council. When the properties for acquisition were listed in the EIS, it was still difficult to establish the numbers as they were listed as lots.

Many people who were told they were to be acquired, discovered some twelve months later that their homes were not required and the reverse some were given letter stating they were not required then spent money on their homes only to be acquired later.

Many residents were extremely disadvantaged by the process of acquisition and had to move away from their local communities and support networks.

The Review of the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) undertaken in 2013 and handed to government in February 2014 was not released until pressure was applied by the Opposition and cross benches and well after the initial acquisitions in Haberfield were finalised.

This project was determined by the then Minister for Planning, Hon Rob Stokes MP and approved in February 2016. Minor modifications only were made despite a comprehensive response from Ashfield Council which included 30 pages of recommendations. There were many hundreds of submissions from community members.

Work commenced in Ashfield LGA in mid-2016 with the demolition of homes and 4 huge work sites. Despite promises that work, noise and dust would be controlled there have been ongoing problems with work overnight outside resident’s homes, dust, noise and restricted access.

What is happening now…

  • Consultation sessions were and continue to be conducted in a way that gives no clarity to the community and leaves people feeling divided and isolated. Changes and new ideas emerge out of the blue. Now SMC wants to put signs up to divert traffic to Haberfield. That will be challenged by the community and the new Inner West Council.
  • A number of houses compulsorily acquired are now not needed and sit empty and are deteriorating.
  • Utility companies have been required to do major work to accommodate the tunnels etc (sometimes going on for months) and they are not covered by the SMC promises and therefore not accountable. Roads have been closed for many months which has had a huge impact on local businesses.
  • Whole sections of the streets have been left with no pedestrian access during lengthy construction time frames.
  • Recently there was apparently consultation about legacy land and future uses – people turned up in good faith and when the concept plans were released for further comment we found that most of the usable land is not part of the release. In Haberfield, the land immediately adjacent to the huge unfiltered emissions stack is suggested for a park!
  • Many well established and long-standing businesses have been taken and demolished. Many of these businesses will never be able to be re-established in the area where they have previously operated. Very recently Muirs Motors, an independent and one of the oldest car dealers in Australia, serving our community since 1946 became the latest business to be told that it is now a potential construction site.
  • The last site to be proposed as a possible construction site, The Darley Road Dan Murphy site is vehemently opposed by the community because of the limited access, narrow streets and huge cost. It has now been confirmed as a new dive site despite opposition from the community and former Councillors such as myself.

In the corridors of the State Government...

The State Government appointed the Hon Stuart Ayers MP as Minister dedicated to WestConnex. The new Inner West Council will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister after the local government elections.

The NSW Department of Planning is responsible for compliance and oversight of the project. They don’t have enough compliance officers for the state with hundreds of projects and many with multiple sites - this project just in the old Ashfield LGA has four sites. Compliance, monitoring and oversight is completely inadequate for such a massive project. This is just one of the issues we want to discuss with the Minister.

Some of the most contentious issues for the local community are the proximity of the emissions stack in a residential area. You may have seen or heard the recent commentary by the now Minister for Education the Hon Rob Stokes MP regarding proposed emissions stacks on the north shore. He doesn’t’ want them! But the Government considers that they are acceptable for the inner west community.

Summary of community impacts

The community sees that the Government is determined to proceed with the project and then sell it off to a private operator. The impacts on the local community have been immense including: –

  • lack of genuine consultation – we still don’t really know what the SMC model of consultation is;
  • lack of transparency and accountability for SMC;
  • lack of detail and clarity about the project;
  • enormous disruption to the community;
  • permanent loss of community members;
  • destruction of heritage listed homes including heritage items;
  • devastating impact on local businesses;
  • the creation of isolated parts of the area by roads so wide they are not safe to cross;
  • the escalating cost of the project now at 17-billion-dollars.

WestConnex still does not meet the original criteria to go to the port and the airport. The community is not convinced there is value for money and remains deeply concerned about the lack of investigation into alternatives to improving transport links in western Sydney without causing such damage to other communities.

WestConnex will continue to be part of my life because I plan to keep meeting with residents, working with the community and challenging the State Government to ameliorate the impact of this project on my community.

Paper given at University of New South Wales on 23 Aug 2017 by Lucille McKenna OAM, former Mayor of Ashfield and ALP candidate for Leichhardt Ward, Inner West Council.

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