WestConnex Town Hall Meeting

(6.30pm, Sydney Town Hall)

Thank you. Hello, everyone, and welcome to Town Hall. Thank you for coming and showing that you care about the future of our beautiful city.

The $15 billion, 33 kilometre WestConnex will be "Australia's biggest transport project". Some say the cost will be as much as $20 billion and, guess what, it's all for roads.

WestConnex is, unbelievably, a major road building program at a time of accelerating climate change, when world cities with increasing population densities like Sydney are making public transport their priority.

It's made up of a series of road projects, including expansion and extension of the M4 and M5, new linking roads and tunnels, and recently added extensions to the north and south. At the city end, it will culminate into a number of so-called interchanges which will spew traffic into already congested residential areas.

It heralds a return to the inner city expressway threats of the 1960s and 70s, most of which were successfully and thankfully opposed by the resident action pioneers who saved great swathes of Sydney's historic fabric, which are now vibrant, desirable and sustainable neighbourhoods.

It beggars belief that, here we are, at the beginning of the 21st century facing the same myths of driving where you like, in fast times, with plenty of parking like the pot of gold at the end of your trip! In Tony Abbott speak, 'drivers will be singing in their cars'.

WestConnex was recommended by an unelected advisory body, Infrastructure NSW. There was no opportunity for public consultation or expert comment. Having appointed this body, its recommendations were taken up by Premier O'Farrell and inherited without review by Premier Baird. And there was the added incentive of Federal funding coming from Prime Minister Abbott whose DNA, as he says, does not include public transport.

For an expenditure of so much public money, which will starve other transport projects of funds for a long time to come, there is alarming secrecy, and lack of documented information and justification for this project.

The business case with assumptions, benefits and costs has not been released. And you have to be worried about why not.

The route has changed a number of times, again without explanation, negating original arguments put forward for the project such as the reinvigoration of Parramatta Road and better connections to Sydney Airport and Port Botany. These are either not happening, or have dropped in priority and are not funded.

The State Minister for Roads, when interviewed recently, didn't know much about the details of WestConnex and why changes were being made, but was adamant that whatever the project was he supported it!

Finally the project is being bulldozed through. Houses to be demolished for the expressways are being purchased and contracts are being let before completion of the Environmental Impact Statement. This assessment, if done independently, would measure impacts on our communities and our environment. It would be your only chance to protest about problems and put forward alternatives. But it will be too late!

 

SGS REVIEW OF WESTCONNEX

Last December, in response to growing community concern about the project and because of government silence about traffic data, environmental assessment and the business case—the City of Sydney commissioned SGS Economics & Planning to do an independent review. Unlike State Government information, this is a public document available to everyone.

The report first dealt with the NSW Government's stated objectives for WestConnex. These are:

  • to support Sydney's population and economic growth, by getting people from the west to Sydney's CBD for jobs;
  • to connect Sydney Airport and Port Botany with Western Sydney, especially for freight;
  • to create opportunities for urban renewal and improved liveability on Parramatta Road; and
  • to relieve road congestion.

The SGS report tells us that WestConnex will not achieve these objectives and instead will seriously impact on inner Sydney, without meeting Western Sydney's current and future needs.

 

WESTERN SYDNEY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

First, the State Government argues that WestConnex supports Sydney's long-term population and economic growth by improving motorway access to Sydney's international gateways and places of business.

At present, Western Sydney is home to half of Sydney's population, but only a third of the jobs. Every day, 226,000 people leave Western Sydney to work.

SGS concludes that WestConnex will not increase Western Sydney's access to jobs in the west or to jobs in central Sydney.

When Western Sydney workers travel to Sydney CBD, they overwhelmingly use public transport. Around 90 per cent travel by public transport, compared to 74 per cent for Sydney commuters overall.

Western Sydney commuters need less crowded and more reliable public transport, not new toll roads.

WestConnex will see new tolls on the M4 and M5 East, and on the new motorways. For anyone travelling from the South West to central Sydney, this could add up to over $20 each day.

Taking parking into account, the costs could be up to $240 per week for a commuter, often with no alternative access to effective public transport or to local work.

What Western Sydney needs is more local jobs and public transport in the major centres of Parramatta, Penrith, Liverpool and Campbelltown-Macarthur.

Last December, the State Government released its Metropolitan Strategy with a vision to strengthen these centres and make it easier for residents to move between where they work, live, shop, study and play.

The transport needed to drive the Metro Strategy includes connecting roads and heavy rail between the centres, and light rail mass transit to get people around local areas.

In an article in the Sun Herald yesterday, WSROC, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils said that "politicians should look beyond roads promises and give Western Sydney the public transport and jobs the region needs to beat congestion".

It goes on to say that "western Sydney was chained to roads after decades of under investment in public transport. Public transport use was as low as 4.7% in some western suburbs, despite half the population leaving the region each day for work.

The article quoting the WSROC report goes on to say "The result of car dependency was the dirtiest air in Australia, which left western Sydney residents swimming in a stagnant pool of toxic gas".

You have to ask -

Why isn't the Premier, who is also Minister for Western Sydney, acting on the recommendations of his own government's metropolitan strategy to bring forward public transport projects between and within western centres to deliver investment and jobs growth for Western Sydney?

 

ACCESS TO THE PORT AND AIRPORT

Secondly, the State Government argues that WestConnex is needed to link Western Sydney with Sydney Airport and Port Botany, especially for freight. Two-thirds of the containers that go through Port Botany currently have an origin or destination in Sydney's west.

But the linking roads are not funded and are not in the initial phases of the project. And nor should they be!

SGS tells us that this case for WestConnex no longer stacks up in the face of Sydney's proposed second airport at Badgerys Creek, which the Federal Government committed to last year.

As a twenty-four hour airport, Badgerys Creek will become the natural choice for air freight bound for outer Sydney, reducing the load on Sydney Airport.

Badgerys Creek as a fully functioning airport, will bring jobs and economic development to the west and will need extensive expenditure on road and rail connections.

And by the time Badgerys Creek is operating in 2024, anyone looking for a faster drive from the west to Mascot will be going to the wrong airport.

For freight that must go through Port Botany, SGS says that the existing underutilised freight rail network can take containers to and from intermodal terminals in Western Sydney. And for essential road freight, the M5 East will remain the most convenient route, even if WestConnex is built.

 

URBAN RENEWAL AND IMPROVED LIVEABILITY

The third major claim for WestConnex is that it will deliver the long promised renewal of Parramatta Road—creating an attractive, pedestrian friendly, tree-lined boulevard, with high quality public transport, and around 50,000 new dwellings.

But the changed WestConnex route won't help urban reduce traffic on Parramatta Road to allow for the promised renewal without reducing the road's capacity—and there are no plans for that.

And the latest changed plans last December include a possible portal at Camperdown, channelling traffic onto Parramatta Road near Sydney University.

 

MORE TRAFFIC CONGESTION

And finally, the State Government promises that WestConnex will relieve Sydney's notorious congestion, which already costs Sydney $5 billion a year and will nearly double to $8 billion by 2020.

But experience across Australia and the world is that new roads bring more cars.

Induced traffic was a major problem for Melbourne's abandoned East West Link motorway, which was ultimately revealed to deliver just 55 cents benefit for every dollar spent.

The recent review of WestConnex by Infrastructure Australia found that the State Government must review its business case, as it does not account for the negative impacts of new and changed traffic flows caused by the motorways.

The NSW Government's own "Infrastructure Strategy" states:

"…rail is the most effective mode for enabling access to the CBD, with just two passenger trains able to carry more people than a single motorway lane carries in a typical peak hour."

Currently, around 25,000 vehicles enter the CBD during the morning peak hour. If WestConnex is built, it could channel another 10,000 vehicles towards the CBD, which our narrow Victorian streets will not be able to accommodate. WestConnex will massively escalate congestion, destroying years of City work to transform our CBD for pedestrians, businesses and tourists.

The next stage of our consultant's work will address traffic impacts on inner Sydney communities. We already know that there will be major interchanges swamping St Peters and Rozelle and surrounding densely populated residential areas.

The latest WestConnex route adds a northern extension that exits at the Rozelle Rail Yards toward the highly congested Anzac Bridge, and onto residential streets of Rozelle, Annandale, Lilyfield and Balmain. It could block the old rail corridor, destroying hopes for new public transport and open space at the Bays Precinct.

In the City of Sydney area, the new M5 will disgorge traffic onto King Street Newtown, one of Sydney's most vibrant and people friendly main streets. It will funnel traffic into neighbouring St Peters, Erskineville, Alexandria, Waterloo, Redfern, Zetland and Green Square.

Green Square already has serious congestion because successive State Governments have failed to commit to adequate public transport for the largest urban renewal project in Australia, with a planned population of 53,000 people by 2030.

And, close to my heart, Sydney Park—where we've made a major investment to create a wonderful and much needed regional park for people living at higher densities—is to have its edges shaves for more road lanes. It will be isolated in a sea of traffic making it harder to access, with its surroundings blighted by widened roads, tunnel portals, on and off ramps and ventilation stacks.

This is vandalism on a government scale.

And while the NSW Labor Party's infrastructure plan, announced last month, abandons the St Peters interchange as well as other parts of WestConnex including the M4 to M5 link, it supports lengthening the M4 East toward Sydney's CBD which is a disaster for the our city centre and of little value for motorists. SGS found that drivers won't get travel time improvements unless all of the proposed road sections are built.

 

CALL TO THE MAJOR PARTIES

The City of Sydney has called on the State Government and Opposition to urgently rethink WestConnex in the context of the backlog of vital public transport links.

Shockingly, this $15 billion series of high-cost, large scale road projects will eat up transport funding for decades, and rob us of the chance to build 21st century transport solutions which are transforming other world cities.

More shocking still is that the information we require to properly assess whether WestConnex will deliver what is promised and is value for public money, is either not available, not released, or doesn't exist.

The process is a sham and it's as though we don't matter, and the project is going ahead whatever!

We don't have the business case for the project because it has not been released by the state government.

We don't have an Environmental Impact Assessment but work is already beginning. Mike and Tony have had the photo opportunity with matching silver spades.

There has been no response to claims that the cost benefit analysis has understated impacts and costs.

The NSW Auditor-General has criticised WestConnex for the poor business case, conflicts of interest and a lack of information to assess if the project is economically viable.

Full or even adequate details of the design are not available for appraisal.

And with the history of failure of recent high-profile toll roads due to unrealistic traffic forecasts, will it again be the tax payers of New South Wales that will carry the financial risk?

 

CONCLUSION

So who is driving this project? Who is it for? What will it achieve? And who benefits?

Certainly the ideology behind it belongs in the middle of last century. Like other international cities, public transport use has grown in Sydney over the past 30 years while vehicle use has slowed. But our antediluvian governments can't seem to grasp this.

It would seem that WestConnex is being packaged to sell to the private sector as a series of revenue opportunities, and is being designed to maximise toll collection, hence the secrecy.

Its usefulness or otherwise as a transport option is not its prime purpose, nor are the impacts on our city and its communities a concern to government or the vested interests involved. Having sold this road project, government will start another toll road project for sale, and the process will continue.

The problem with public transport projects, in terms of the current political mentality, is that they require more government input than the government is prepared to make and they require vision and long-term planning and commitment.

WestConnex will not transform Sydney for the future, with new jobs and population growth in Western Sydney centres. It reinforces polluting radial car-based travel concentrated on central Sydney.

For the price of WestConnex, strategic heavy and light rail projects could significantly reduce road congestion by meeting increasing demand for public transport. Such investment in public transport projects in the west would dramatically reduce road traffic and create a more liveable, sustainable, Sydney for us all, today and into the future!

And not only is this in accordance with the State Government's own recently released Metro Strategy, it's responsible planning for the future of our city!

Thank you