10.0 Objection to the socio-economic impact of the project and failure of the EIS to properly analyse these impacts

The Social and Economic Section is one example of what the City of Sydney calls the "profound inadequacy of the EIS”. WAG was and remains very critical of the separate Social and Economic studies for the M4 East. But for the M5, there is considerably less depth or assessment of signficant impacts on residents, students, workers and businesses. The study is barely evaluative at all and seems to almost be an afterthought done by AECOM staff who recognised that a box needed to be ticked.

WAG objects to the enduring and destructive impact that the WestConnex project, including the New M5, will have on the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who currently live, work or study in or near its path.

The project will cause immense social harm. It will destroy long-established communities. It will cause an increase in air pollution-related deaths and illnesses. The increase in air pollution will inhibit lung and nervous system development in children. There are numerous ways of spending $17 billion that would deliver a much greater social and economic benefit, and would not cause so much destruction. Such alternatives are barely mentioned in this EIS and have certainly not been analysed as required by the project SEARs.

The social impact study is little more than a 'cut and paste' job and is insulting to communities where hundreds of tenants and owners have lost homes and others will live in decimated communities. The report exaggerates the potential positive aspects of the project, while the negative aspects are either downplayed, insufficiently detailed or omitted altogether. Where negative economic or social impacts are identified in the report, they are inadequately addressed in terms of management or mitigation actions to be taken.

Given even a fleeting inspection of the social and economic impacts listed in the EIS report (under “Appendix M: Technical working paper: Social and economic”), it is clear that the significant economic and social impacts that will arise from the New M5 project are only superficially covered.

The report exaggerates the potential positive aspects of the project, while the negative aspects are either downplayed, insufficiently detailed or omitted altogether. Where negative economic or social impacts are identified in the report, they are inadequately addressed in terms of management or mitigation actions to be taken. Whereas the previous M4 - East EIS report included separate (yet still insufficiently detailed and inaccurate) Social Impact Assessments and Economic Impact Assessments, this report claims to deal with all social and economic impacts of the project in a single, 76 page report. The following is a brief critique of some of the major social and economic assessment flaws of the New M5 EIS.

WAG also objects to the social impact analysis included in this EIS on the basis that it is markedly deficient, and meets neither the project SEARs nor what the community is entitled to expect from proper EIS process. And again, the proponents have failed to address the wider negative impacts of the entire WestConnex project, despite using the supposed benefits of the entire WestConnex as justification for proceeding with the New M5.

The whole WestConnex, including the New M5, will impact millions of people, and the Social and Economic Impact Assessment is where you would expect to find those impacts documented and evaluated in an EIS.

In regards to the New M5 in particular, the loss of homes and businesses will be irreplaceable. The social connections and networks of families and friends will be disrupted. However, no meaningful mitigation is proposed. 

The central argument of the project proponents is that the perceived benefits of WestConnex will make Sydney a better place to live and work. However, the proponents do not provide any real evidence to support this. In fact, it would appear that the proponents are pushing ahead with the project in spite of clear external critiques and with no logical rebuttal to the critics.

 

The project has already had an impact on the health and wellbeing of local citizens. Many residents have reported becoming anxious, angry, depressed and resorting to medication. There will be further health, social and economic consequences on a greater scale if construction activities remain unmodified, particularly in regard to 24 hour heavy vehicle movements and tunnelling work.

Even if the New M5 is completed, local pollution and noise hot-spots will remain.

As outlined there remain too many adverse impacts and unanswered questions about the social impacts of this project. From a health and welfare perspective, this is a slow-moving disaster for local affected communities. The disaster is easily avoidable and should be avoided by not proceeding headlong with this project. It is the wrong project at the wrong time for Sydney.

The Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) are not met

The SEARs are a list of direct requirements of the Department of Planning & Environment that must be successfully addressed in the EIS report.

The Planning Secretary’s EIS required Westconnex to include in its EIS  

  • a description of the existing socio-economic environment;

  • impacts on directly affected properties and land uses, including impacts related to access, land use, settlement and subsidence associated with tunnel excavation, property acquisition (including relocations and expenses for those properties acquired) and amenity related changes;

  • social and economic impacts to businesses and the community within the vicinity of the proposal, with associated property acquisition, traffic, access, property, public domain and open space, and amenity and health related changes (including the broader regional impacts associated with the closure of the Alexandria landfill site should this be part of the proposal);

A description of the existing socio-economic environment and an assessment of the impact of the proposal on community facilities are included as SEARs for the New M5 EIS, yet the report does not meet these requirements successfully as community facilities (such as St Mary Church, 21 Swanson Street, Erskineville and Erskineville Town Hall, 104 Erskineville Road, Erskineville) in close proximity to the interchanges are omitted, and therefore do not form a part of the subsequent assessment of the proposal’s impact on nearby community facilities. In addition to these two social and economic SEARs not being met successfully, the third, an assessment of impacts to businesses and the community within the vicinity of the project assessed against a number of impacts from the project, is also severely compromised in terms of accuracy given the error.

Not based on community consultation—community sentiment ignored

The report states that it is not based on direct community consultation (p. 9), but rather based on “research” undertaken by the community consultation team—however this consultation would have been undertaken before specific components of the project were finalised, and economic and social impacts regarding such an extensive project warrants specific and targeted consultation. Community concerns and sentiment surrounding the project are overlooked in this report.

 

Further, the strategic planning statements of local governments are assessed under the heading “Consultation and community values”, however community values cannot be determined solely through the proxy of community strategic planning documents—these documents are not formed in response to the creation of a large road project. Community sentiment regarding the project would be better gauged through an assessment of media articles and letters to the editor relating to WestConnex, the firm opposition of local councils including City of Sydney to the project, the number of protests and petitions, including the number of submissions opposing the M4 – East EIS, and the formation of numerous community groups including WestConnex Action Group (and WAG Beverly Hills/Kingsgrove and WAG Haberfield and Ashfield), Cyclists Against WestConnex, Save Sydney Park, NoW (No WestConnex) and Save Newtown from We$tConnex (seehttp://westconnex.info/resources/ for a full list). This extensive opposition and community concern relating to social and economic impacts is not noted in the report.

Of the 22 community concerns that are identified surrounding the Construction of the New M5 project (no source for these is acknowledged), including five concerns relating to property, nine relating to accessibility and parking, four relating to amenity and four relating to community facilities, none are addressed in detail regarding management or mitigation within the report. Of the nine community concerns raised surrounding the operation of the project, including three relating to property, one to accessibility and parking, three to amenity and two to community facilities, none are addressed in detail regarding management or mitigation within the report. Further, this is a severely incomplete list of community concerns:  for instance local concern surrounding “accessibility and parking” extends far beyond the implementation of a toll on the New M5, the only concern given in the report, to issues of local parking (691 car parks will be lost in the St Peters/Mascot area alone due to construction), local street traffic severely reducing accessibility and the fact that an obsolete road project is being implemented that in many instances won’t improve congestion and in many cases will worsen it.

Property values excluded—despite significant social and economic impact

The report states that because property values are of a “temporary nature” (p. 9) they are not included in the report, despite the fact that property acquisition, the valuing of property and subsequent relocation that is affected by property reimbursements, will have significant social and economic impact on those relocated. The report ignores this significant consideration. 

Social impacts of compulsory acquisition excluded

Compulsory acquisition of properties and forced relocation has significant social effects on those required to relocate (whether businesses or residents) and also on the social cohesion of the community from which they move, at the street, local and wider community levels. No consideration of these impacts to “the local community’s sense of connectedness and community cohesion” is given, nor to the loss of this sense of community experienced by those relocated. 

Impacts on freight and commercial movements excluded

Further evidence of selectivity of issues covered is provided relating to impacts on freight and commercial movement that would “occur beyond the scope of the study, at a state-wide or national level” (p. 6), yet if these impacts are not assessed as part of the EIS project then they will likely go unassessed—and the project approved without scrutiny of them. The EIS should arguably include all potential impacts of the project.

Simplistic economic model assumes only benefits of project

No cost-benefit ratio is used to assess the potential economic viability of the project, and no consideration of the opportunity (?) cost of an alternative project is given.

The use of Economic Multipliers as the economic model indicates assumptions of economic success, and allows for the benefits of the project to be given in more definite terms than the costs (making them seem more “real” and more likely). A more accurate model would weigh this assumed economic stimulus against the overall cost of the project, the risk of installing a toll road given such projects’ recent failures, and the societal costs of the new road (including induced traffic demand and congestion resulting from the project). Whereas congestion is ascribed a cost to justify the project, it is not costed here when it is caused by the project. A more detailed assessment of the costs and economic benefits is essential to rationally evaluate the project.

Large numbers of child care, education, health and emergency, aged care, sport, recreation and community facilities uncertain over how they will be affected by the project

29 child care facilities, 10 primary schools, 6 high schools, 2 tertiary education facilities, 13 emergency, health and aged care facilities, significant open space, 20 sporting facilities, 2 libraries, 4 community halls and 20 places of worship (an incomplete list, see above) are identified as being in the study area, yet no methodical summary of the impacts of the project on each of these facilities is given in the report. This has raised questions among the community over the impacts the project will have on their community facilities, with few answers provided in the report.

The list of community facilities is incomplete. This is a routine task which should have been done easily. St Pius school is an example of one school that is left out altogether. Erkineville School which is very close to Lady Gowrie Child Care Centre is excluded. This is of concern because although it is not modelled, many children in that school live between Erskineville Road and Sydney Park Road and are clearly impacted by the projected increase of traffic in the area, Newtown Public School which is no closer to the project is included. There is no explanation of the methodology that has been used, adding to the impression of almost callous disregard for affected communities. 

Overall economic effects of project left ambiguous and unclear

In summarising the key economic findings, the report states that local businesses will benefit from increased expenditure by locally made purchases, and through improved economic vitality, yet in the same section acknowledges that access arrangements and parking impacts will negatively affect local businesses. So even after reading this report, business owners in the areas affected remain unsure whether the project will improve or negatively affect their business. Stakeholders are then unable to make informed submissions on the EIS as it relates to their specific situation given this ambiguity.

The report does not address a final design

The report, when addressing the number of parking spaces to be lost as a result of the project, states that “The final numbers would be confirmed during detailed design”. Why has the EIS been published for public review if the final design remains unknown? How can complex matters such as traffic modelling have been undertaken, and their results used, without knowing the final design?

No mitigation or management measures relating to economic or social impacts are actually given in the report

Despite the significant economic and social impacts that will undoubtedly result from this project, no measures are outlined under “Mitigation and management measures” to address them. Instead, the response to each issue refers to another chapter of the EIS.

Cumulative positive effects highlighted while cumulative negatives ignored

While cumulative benefits in travel time savings and productivity are claimed for the whole 33km WestConnex, cumulative negative effects are almost completely overlooked in the entire EIS, including its socio-economic analysis. 

Negative impacts are restricted to the New M5 project footprint. They are not extended to include impacts on nearby local government areas, or the combined impacts of the New M5, M4 East and M4 widening on traffic congestion in the inner west and south-west.  This has the effect of underestimating the negative socio-economic impact of the project.

Issues with assessment methodology and findings

It is noted that for the M4 East, AECOM conducted an economic impact study (criticised as inadequate by local Councils and residents) but hired a consultant to do the social impact study. This study was inadequate but did at least acknowledge the significant stress and psychological impacts on residents of  loss of community, the psychological impacts of  being forced to move away from your social networks and the stress of living with years of construction and loss of social and visual amenity. However for the New M5 AECOM did not even bother with that and simply rolled the social and economic impact into one.

We object to the fact that there was no economic impact conducted for this project and this alone would be reason for rejection of the project.

It claims to have carried out a cumulative assessment of direct, indirect, and cumulative social and economic impacts of the project on communities, residents, businesses, users of education, health, open space and other community facilities and road users and to have identified means of mitigation.

WAG is aware because of our limited engagement with WDA that community consultation was a farce and therefore the cumulative assessment approach should not be considered as acceptable and valid. A proper community consultation process should be required before the proponent should have approached Planning for approval of this project.

Social impacts that the applicant has failed to consider include:

·       Ongoing implied forced acquisition of property prior to any official approval for the project

·       Loss of community – people moving before because they fear the impact

·       Loss of recreation areas and green space – Sydney Park, Simpson Park and Camdenville Park to name a few.

·       Isolation of 175 year old St Peters Church from the community – the interchange will make access very difficult.

·       Loss of heritage

·       Impact of children in the community – walking safety to St Peter’s public school

·       Impact (and potential) closure of St Peters public school

·       Considerations of other public school and day care centres in the area – at least three were missing from the list provided in the NewM5 EIS

·       Air quality issues/health issues

The EIS clearly outlines the enduring and destructive impact that the WestConnex project will have on the lives of people in select communities of the inner west. The loss of heritage items will be irreplaceable. The social connections and networks of families and friends will be disrupted. No meaningful mitigation is proposed. The central argument of the project proponents is that the perceived benefits will make Sydney a better place to live and work, so presumably, although it is not stated explicitly, the enforced sacrifices on several hundred thousand residents of the inner west justifies this outcome. The proponents do not give any real evidence to support their thesis and to date no business case, with all the socio-economic costs and benefits, has been made available. In fact it would appear that the proponents are pushing ahead with the project in spite of clear external critiques and with no logical rebuttal to the critics.

The so-called social impact analysis in the EIS is markedly deficient and requires to be re-done if it is meet the requirements of the SEARS and what the community would expect.

The project has already had an impact on the health and wellbeing of local citizens. During construction further impacts are proposed, that if unmodified will have serious impact on local wellbeing, particularly the 24 hour heavy vehicle traffic and tunnelling work. Even when the New M5 is completed, local pollution and noise hot-spots will remain, with worsening congestion on roads beyond the New M5 footprint. As outlined there remain too many unanswered questions about the health impacts. From a health and welfare perspective, this is a slow moving disaster for local affected communities. 

Ordinary members of any community find it difficult to engage with planning processes at the best of times. This EIS process is no exception and appears to have been deliberately designed to worsen the stress and workload of people who affected by and wish to respond to this project.

The release date of the New M5 EIS for public submissions has had a further impact of communities, as it was times to be open for comment over the Christmas and summer holiday period, when many families need a rest. 

To release a nearly 8,000-page, multi-volume document full of complex and often contradictory material for analysis and comment over this time is evidence that the proponent wants to “tick the box” in relation to public consultation, but limit the opportunity for the community to have their say, or for proper considered analysis to take place. It is exactly what the WAG feared would happen, that the local community and the most directly affected residents in the community would not have the opportunity to raise their concerns about this project, particularly as some people already reported feeling “worn down” by the whole process.

The lack of transparency from the applicant and the slow release of components of the project, means that this massive task has been left to voluntary community groups such as the WestCONnex Action group when it is a responsibility of Govt to provide this information. In return, the minister responsible, Duncan Gay has been allowed to insult and ridicule us for our efforts and caring about where we live and the environment. 

This has involved a considerable personal commitment made by hundreds of individuals during the course of this campaign, which has had its own social impact: loss of earnings, frustration, anxiety, and more. This could all be avoided if the applicant had properly and thoroughly consulted with the community from the outset.

Simply listing social infrastructure within the study region cannot be defined as social impact assessment. Even so, AECOM has failed at even this basic task. Numerous schools and childcare centres, for example, were missing from its tables of educational facilities along the project route. This suggests not just sloppy work, but also a failure to properly and fully analyse the impacts of the project on these critical institutions. Given the social impacts on children who attend these facilities is likely to be severe, this is a serious mistake on the part of AECOM.

Little is made of the sense of community or the impact the project might have in this assessment. Social infrastructure can be defined as the ‘hard’ infrastructure (Hancock, 1993) such as halls, schools, churches etc. and is rudimentarily addressed in this SIA and EIS, as well as the ‘soft’ infrastructure such as the relationships that form between people and groups in the community that is largely overlooked in this report. 

A relevant example of ‘soft’ social infrastructure might be the fact that in many suburbs groups have mobilised against the project – simultaneously giving an idea of community sentiment regarding the project, community spirit and the types of social aspects that the report fails to even approach.

As with the majority of this EIS, much of the socio-economic analysis rests on the accuracy of its Traffic and Transport Assessment, which as stated elsewhere in this submission, is seriously flawed. As such, there can be no confidence in the accuracy of the other impact analyses in the EIS that are dependent on the traffic forecasts, including this section.

When evaluated against the international IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, the ‘community involvement’ undertaken for the New M5 EIS centres around ‘informing’ (the lowest stage on the spectrum with the least impact on decisions) and only rarely could be considered ‘consultative’ (the second lowest). So many residents have complained about slow and vague response to information requests from the community about WestConnex and the New M5 that WAG believes its community consultation does not even reach the lowest level of consultation and public participation.

The EIA states that neither the proponent nor its consultant AECOM consulted directly with local businesses in the path of the New M5 EIS. Such a serious omission demonstrates the overall deficiency of the socio-economic analysis in this EIS. 

There is also no suggestion in the EIS that it attempted to consider the impact on children as part of its socio-economic analysis. Given the high numbers of families in the affected area, and huge concern of parents and children who attend local schools (which has been expressed publicly through a number of demonstrations centring around Haberfield Public School), this is another serious omission that demonstrates the overall deficiency of this socio-economic analysis. 

Given the extent of the social and economic impacts that will occur as a result of the project, the list of proposed mitigation actions is insufficient in both impacts that it addresses and the detail of responses given for the matters that are addressed. Some impacts such as trauma during property acquisition have been happening for months, whereas the suggested mitigation is treated as if it is the future. 

●      Demolition of rental stock: One impact of the New M5, particularly in St Peters, is the proposed demolition of many homes with long-term renters. There is little if any equivalent stock available for them to rent at similar prices nearby. Many of the people being forced out their homes will have to find a new home some distance away from their established communities, in which they have lived for years. Compulsory acquisition processes are already being implemented on local residents. Families, friends and neighbours are being separated. So while the impact is most significant for the people who are being forced to move, it also affects the thousands who remain behind in their once shared community. Housing stock needs to be replaced and made locally available for people on low incomes.

●      Support for those affected by proposals: The EIS suggests WestConnex would offer a counselling service to those impacted.  This is a somewhat akin to a person assaulting another and then offering counselling to the assaulted person! No consideration is given to offering independent financial, legal, counselling and social support to affected people.

●      Loss of community: Changes to the amenity of a street or suburb can negatively impact the sense of belonging and identity of its residents and consequently their cohesion and connectedness. Areas with heritage values can also be a significant contributor to local character and community sense of place. Impacts on heritage assets affect not only the value of the assets, but the value communities place on the quality of their environment, and their connections to it, both past and present, with the whole project having cumulative adverse impacts. Yet no solution or restitution is proposed to mitigate this impact. This is not acceptable.

●      Impact of ongoing forced acquisitions of homes and business: Residents and businesses along the project route have now received compulsory acquisition notices (PANS), which set a 90-day time frame for a negotiated settlement to be finalised, before legal proceedings would commence. Residents, some of whom have lived their whole lives in the district, are being forced from their homes. Residents report that RMS staff are behaving in a forceful and bullying manner towards them, WAG has been contacted by numerous home and business owners affected by WestConnex compulsory acquisitions across the route, including the New M5, who have reported being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what they are legally entitled to. All of these affected property reported suffering physical and mental anguish as a result of the process, with anxiety, depression, insomnia, relationship strain, significant weight loss and worsening of existing conditions such as schizophrenia, chronic fatigue, and high blood pressure all being reported to WAG as a direct result. The only true and fair way of mitigating this social and health impact on affected residents is to cease all property acquisition processes must cease until there is full release of the WestConnex business case to parliament (no redactions) and the public to allow appropriate analysis of the entire project, including this New M5 proposal, to be considered and independently verified. This must include a full socio-economic impact analysis that accounts for the true costs of the project and does not hide the costs borne by individuals if the New M5 project were to proceed. Should the project stand up to this level of transparency and independent scrutiny, affected property owners must be offered just compensation for their losses, and be left in a position that is no worse off than they would have been had they not been forced from their homes or businesses for the toll road. This protection should also extend to rental tenants who live and/or run a business from an affected property.

●      Grief over the forced loss of homes, businesses and communities will have an enduring influence on many people, including those forcibly moved and those that remain. It will also increase the risk of both anxiety and depressive conditions. The loss of home and community attacks a basic need for all humans, to have stable shelter and accommodation. The lack of any proposed mitigation for this major impact is a serious deficiency in the EIS. There should not be any progress on the project until this matter is satisfactorily addressed and appropriate restitution made to affected residents.

●      The loss of close family and friends from an immediate neighbourhood diminishes the quality of life for many people. Increased isolation, particularly those who were in their own or rented flats will be associated with increased health morbidity. It is most likely that the initiation of the project will hasten the death of many elderly residents if they are displaced from their long-standing homes and community. The lack of a clear and compassionate plan to deal with these major social problems is a serious deficiency of the EIS.

St Peters is severely impacted and the lack of analysis in the EIS is glaring.

Case studies: Social impact

Janet Dandy-Ward, resident, St Peters

My husband and I emigrated to Australia in 2011 (leaving all our family back in the UK) and we moved into this house in Roberts Street deciding that it could be a base whilst we think about what area we might want to move to. We fell in love with the street, our neighbours, our community, the community pre-school and our surrounding green spaces such as Sydney Park, Tilman and Simpson Park – all will be affected by WestCONnex.

We have decided that St Peters is where we want to live and have already invested so much in the community – this is something that is worth fighting for; for my family, for our neighbours who are potentially losing their homes due to forced acquisitions, for those older and vulnerable residents who are now feeling uncertain about their future in this and other suburbs. Sydney deserves better.

As a social worker, I have a deep sense of social justice. I believe that this project will not meet its key objectives including reducing traffic congestion. This is a fundamental flaw. The social and environmental impacts briefly described in the EIS are unacceptable and far outweigh any benefits of the project. There are so many aspects of the traffic modelling that as a mum and a full time trainer in a large children’s charity, I have not had time to address in my submission. I have read the research about traffic inducement and I firmly believe that if you build more roads then more traffic will come, I saw this back in the UK with the development of the M25 London Orbital Motorway.

It is a project with no winners.

In all my objections to this project, it is now clear that St Peters is not the only suburb that will be wrecked by the St Peters Interchange. The “remediation” (or rather development) of Alexandria Landfill, the prospect of two unfiltered poison stacks, a large section of Sydney Park taken for a ‘works compound’ that we “will be likely to have returned” and a high volume of additional traffic dumped on already congested local roads are of major concern across the suburbs of Alexandria, Erskineville, Newtown, Enmore, Camperdown and beyond.

But most of all, the social impact of WestCONnex will be felt in a community where people are very uncertain of their future. I have two very good and personal examples of this;

1. The local public school, a small school which my son will attend next year (St Peters Public) has in recent years been growing and hopes to attract students from the surrounding suburbs but with safe access to the school now in doubt because of the footprint of WestCONnex which extends into the Campbell Rd Road Widening Scheme. This part of the project is already adversely affecting  people, some because of the property acquisitions and some because of WestCONnex uncertainty. A number of young families and older members of the community have chosen to move away from the suburb before the planning process is even complete.

2. When I asked an older neighbour of mine, who has lived in Roberts St for 30 years what she thinks WestCONnex will do to our community, she said “there is a sense of dis-connectivity now, we all feel very unsettled. We have a unique community (looking out for each other and sharing celebration together) WestCONnex will ruin it and it will not solve the problem.” She added that she and her husband are getting older, they rely more and more on public transport and feel that this is being neglected for a toll road that the citizens of NSW will be paying for long after she has gone.

Incidentally, the neighbour I mention above is like a surrogate grandparent to our son. It is likely that she and her 80 year old husband will move from the street if this project goes ahead.

Tamara Regan-Thompson, resident, St Peters

My children attend St.Pius on Edgeware Rd in Enmore, which will be drastically impacted by Westconnex. In the EIS, St.Pius is not included in the tables that show what educational facilities affected by the construction of the road.

As St.Pius is not included in the EIS, in particular table 15.2, the Principal of St.Pius has failed to realise that the school will be affected greatly. The omission of St.Pius has led to an inability of the P&F to act and create submissions. The Principal has failed to protect the school community from the effects of Westconnex. The Principal has failed to report the numerous Westconnex trucks that go past the school illegally.

The health and safety of our children has been completely compromised by the lack of awareness of the road and its omission from the EIS.

The Westconnex project has seen massive social implications in St.Peters. Elderly and the disabled have been completely displaced by the underhanded processses of Westconnex. The elderly and disabled have been scared into unecessary actions by Westconnex.  

My neighbours of 15 years were part of this atrocious displacement. My two elderly neigbours, Derek* and Richard* had resided in St.Peters prior to the original 1950's RMS road reservation. Their parents purchased their property in the early 1900's and both men were born and raised in their property in St.Peters. One of the elderly men has a Mental Health disorder and the other a physical disabilty.  They were pushed out of the only the community they know even before the road has been approved. They have been displaced and the effects of this displacement has further exacerbated both of their disabilities. There has been no social justice in the aquisition process.

My children loved speaking to the old gentlemen of St.Peters. Now they are gone...before the project is even approved.

Emma Pierce, resident, St Peters

Frankie and Thalia, 5, have grown up attending pre-school together. They played in the school playground most days when their older sibings were being picked up from school.The little girls were excited to be starting school together this year but their friendship is just one of many that has been cut short by Westconnex.

Instead, the community of St Peters is being torn apart as families, including Thalia’s , are forced to leave to make way for the Westconnex tollway.

Frankie’s mother, Emma Pierce, is a special education consultant and researcher. The family also have a nine-year-old daughter, and have lived in the same cul de sac for eight years. Emma, eloquent and energetic, says they felt “pretty fortunate” to be living in an “amazing little community”.

But if the Westconnex New M5 goes ahead, their front door will be 200 metres away from a Los Angeles style motorway interchange, and about 150m away from an unfiltered toxic emissions stack near the end of the New M5 tunnel.

Emma says these are “massive concerns”, particularly with fine particulate emissions from pollution stacks being touted as the modern asbestos. But it’s the thought of her daughter losing her best friend to the Westconnex relentless appetite for houses that upsets her. “Lots of friends are having their houses acquired and not given the just compensation, that they deserve, and also people who are renting are forced out because they can’t afford to re-rent in the area where they’ve lived for a really long time.”

Concerned about the impact Westconnex could have on her community, Emma joined the campaign against it even before plans to force hundreds from their St Peters homes were announced in late 2014. Along with her friend Janet, she founded the Westconnex Action Group which quickly grew to include other residents. But, as she became more aware of the project, her concerns also grew to include issues around transparency and the “massive waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“It started off as something impacting on my backyard, but from there it became much, much bigger,” says Emma. “I was thinking to myself, this isn’t the Sydney I want to see, it isn’t actually even answering what it says it wants to be answering. People in western Sydney are being told this is going to be an answer, when actually they are going to be ripped off.”

‘There was no full business case released so there is no evidence to support this up to $17 billion project, which is being put forward to the public with no evidence, nothing to back it up. It seems crazy that based on no evidence you could spend $17 billion.”

While other cities have learnt from their mistakes and are now swapping polluting tollways for public transport, Sydney is going back to this archaic project from the 1950s, says Emma.

Consultation has been an “absolute joke” too, says Emma, who argues that none of her experiences with the Westconnex information sessions would meet professional criteria for a consultation. She fears the sessions have been ticked off as “consultation sessions” when they are nothing but “information-giving sessions”, with no interest in actually discussing the communities’ needs. 

“The sessions have been about presenting information which changes all the time, and also misinforming people – providing information without actually knowing the full story, so they won’t be able to actually answer people’s questions directly.”

“It felt to me that the Department of Health had their hands tied, and were not really able to give us a lot of information or support, which was a bit disappointing.”

2015 was a very long year for Emma and the other Westconnex Action Group members, culminating in a “pretty awful” summer. Campaigning against the Westconnex takes place in addition to work and a busy family life.

But Emma says she has no choice, and accepts this, even if it may not be fair. “It’s something I need to do. That’s mostly ok, but it’s also not fair that the community is put in a position where the only way they can be heard is to be incredibly vocal and persistent. It’s a big time commitment, and particularly this recent environmental impact assessment.”

Kathy Calman, resident, Beverly Hills

The communities of Beverly Hills, Kingsgrove, Bexley North, Earlwood and Arncliffe lived through years of construction for the first M5 circa 2001, (Legacy M5).

The legacy M5 resulted in a ‘Berlin Wall’ effect that separated our community into two. The North and South sides.  It also had a devastating impact on residents in regards to pollution. Turrella and Earlwood, with an unfiltered exhaust stack, and Bexley North and Arncliffe with tunnel portals (openings).

Homes, the trees and parks taken. Years of construction, and then, to thank us for our endurance, we were handed cheap, visually divisive noise walls and poor urban design. The urban design and landscaping was of such a poor standard that Allambee Crescent Nth Beverly Hills actually features in the RMS Landscape and Design Principles as an excellent example of what NOT to do.

It is a credit to Council and a few residents of these communities that they took the repair of our environment into our own hands. We had no choice because the RMS would not.

The M5 turned out to be a noisy congested old fashioned solution to traffic congestion. But the NSW government has learned nothing. Again last year we found ourselves faced with new projects.  Firstly there was the expansion of the King Georges Road Interchange and now a duplicate of the old failed M5 – called the New M5.

What standard of repair can we expect from Westconnex 15 years later?

A review of the current KGR M5 Interchange Landscape Design shows that nothing has changed in the last 15 years. WestCONnex has already demonstrated the same scant regard for communities and offers only minimal rehabilitation after construction.

We are faced with the mature vegetation being stripped away as the walls are torn down for the early stage of the widening of the King Georges Interchange, which according to Westconnex’s own figures will leave the intersection at the worst Level of Service (F). We have engaged with every part of the process. At a landscape review meeting some months back, AECOM Landscape Designer (Frank) advised residents that hundreds of metres of wall would remain bare because it is easier for maintenance crews to inspect.   When we showed him evidence lifted from RMS’s own Urban Landscape Design Principles on how to deal with pinch points, we were later advised that there are now ‘new WestConnex Urban Design Principles’.

When we questioned why the Cooloongatta Rd bridge section would contain transparent walls, we were told it was to protect cyclists. When we could find no reference to this in any of the cyclist safety guideline documents we were referred to, we were told that it was a ‘new WestConnex Safety Guideline’ criteria. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available to be shared with the public. There is so much material that’s not shared with the public!

One could be forgiven for thinking WestConnex are making it up as they go along.

Near the Cooloongatta Rd. Bridge is an example of native plantings successfully used in legacy M5 to improve the visual harshness of a concrete noise wall in a narrow space. These shrubs reached the top of the wall, just prior to being destroyed in September 2015. The new plan for this section is transparent noise walls. Community backlash, including the involvement of local MPs, have forced WestConnex to reduce the length to 12 metres, down from the original 28 metres.

Why does the M5 Linear Park matter?

The M5 Linear Park is an off-road shared path that runs parallel to the M5 East Motorway between Belmore Road, Riverwood and Bexley Road, Kingsgrove.   The M5 Linear walk is used by hundreds of people each day.

The linear pathway is an important active transport artery that connects the community members to each other, as well as schools, shops and train stations. Older children can safely cycle to sports training or friends’ homes without having to cross a road.

It’s  a lovely place to walk or cycle aiding both physical and psycholotransparent noise walls to the north and 700 metres to the south would provide drivers with views across the golf course, Beverly Grove Park and Tallawalla St. Park. From the walker’s perspective, almost two kilometres of our pathway would overlook lanes of motorway from behind a plastic wall.

This design is neither reasonable nor moral for our community to accept.

gical well-being, reducing stress and reconnecting with nature. Within a highly built urban environment, such as at Beverly Hills, you highly value our remnant of natural bushland and plantings that complement it.

Now unbelievably, much of this natural and planted landscape along our linear walk – including the critically endangered Cooks River Clay Plain Scrub Forest – is planned for destruction.

WestCONnex designers have taken the opportunity with their noise wall design to enhance the motorist experience. 1200 metres of this section of our walkway will be replaced by a uniform and monotonous landscape design. The human brain is hardwired to appreciate the diversity, the complexity and the changing form of our environment, whether built or natural.

A dominant feature in this landscape would be a 33 metre tall unfiltered exhaust stack and a motorway complex. This ‘chimney’ stack will spew concentrated toxins from a 9 km tunnel – a reminder to all us walkers and cyclists of the constant serious threat to our health.

The enjoyment of walkers would be further marred by high noise. The tunnel portals require noisy industrial size fans to manage vehicle emissions which would add to the ever present high traffic noise.

An unfiltered exhaust stack in the valley of Kingsgrove is not reasonable for our community and should not be accepted.

Conclusion

WAG formally and strongly objects to the negative and irreversible socio-economic impacts that will result if WestConnex, including the New M5, is built, and to the inadequate and not fit for purpose analysis of the same undertaken in this EIS. We ask the Minister for Planning to reject the WestConnex New M5 project.

 


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