People's Inquiry: On WestCONnex and liveable cities

On 6 May 2016, Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong hosted a People's WestCONnex Inquiry at Parliament of NSW. Several WestCONnex Action Group members spoke at the inquiry on various topics. Here's the speech one of our spokespeople, Pauline Lockie, gave on WestCONnex and liveable cities.

Photos from the People's WestCONnex Inquiry

Above: (L) Pauline Lockie speaking at the People's WestCONnex Inquiry; (R) The Inquiry's panel on Liveable Cities: Jude Page of Public Health Association Australia, Mark Ely of Newtown Precinct Business Association, Pauline, Jenny Leong MP and Alex Lofts of the former Ashfield Council.

On WestCONnex and liveable cities

Today I’d like to talk about why our campaign to stop WestCONnex is about more than just stopping a toll road. It’s about what kind of city we want to create, and how we go about creating it. 

Many of you will have heard of Jane Jacobs, who would have turned 100 this week. She of course was the wonderful, ordinary citizen who helped save much of Manhattan from freeway destruction in the 1950s and 60s. 

She said “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” And of course, this is the opposite of what we’re seeing with WestCONnex. 

We’ve got a situation where we as taxpayers are being forced to pay billions of dollars to private companies build WestConnex, because after the collapse of tollways like the Cross City and Lane Cove tunnels, the private sector won’t take on the risk. 

Yet there’s been no transparency around this huge transfer of public funds into private hands, with the Baird Govt refusing to release the full, unredacted business case, and handing responsibility for WestCONnex over to the Sydney Motorway Corporation, a private company that’s unaccountable to the public. 

Construction contracts were signed, and thousands of people forced from their homes and businesses, before any planning approvals were granted. And we now know that companies that won these contracts, such as Leighton and Samsung, have been acting corruptly to win govt contracts overseas. 

And far from being a project that was “created by everybody”, community consultation on WestConnex has been a series of box-ticking exercises, rather than a genuine attempt to find out what people need, and designing solutions to cater for that. 

Even when people sent in a record-breaking number of submissions opposing WestCONnex, the Baird Govt barely broke stride as it rushed to rubber-stamp the projects. 

This complete breakdown in transparency and democracy is now forcing residents to turn to civil disobedience stop WestConnex, before we all pay for it through tolls and taxes, and pollution and destruction.

It shouldn’t be this way, and for this alone, we deserve a full public inquiry on WestCONnex. But we should also be demanding better when it comes to what kind of city we want to create. 

Because there aren’t many world cities that still describe building huge, destructive motorways that dump thousands of extra cars into the inner city as “progress”. 

The idea that you can build roads to solve congestion has been tested to destruction; it’s been proven time and time again that any new roads quickly fill up. 

And the proof of this can be seen in WestCONnex's design: most of it duplicates roads we already have, including the M4, M5 East, and City West Link. These roads were once supposed to be the solution to other congested roads, but instead they made traffic even worse. 

And of course, motorways like WestCONnex cause other huge problems – pollution-related diseases, climate change, inefficient sprawl, community and environmental destruction, lost opportunities to build knowledge economies, loss of the vibrant city centres; the list goes on. 

It’s for this reason cities such as Seoul, Paris, New York, San Francisco and many more are now tearing down freeways instead of building new ones. Because they’re finding this doesn’t cause traffic chaos; instead, it reduces traffic as people switch to other modes of transport, and these former roads become spaces for people, not cars.

Now if Sydney were to combine that approach with initiatives such as better public transport, better cycling and walking facilities, proper investment in creating jobs and vibrant centres in our west, we’d have the beginnings of a wonderful new vision for our city. It’d cost a whole lot less than $16.8bn too. 

It’s not too late to stop WestCONnex and start moving towards such a vision for our city. But the time to act is now. Because if we don’t stop WestCONnex, we won’t just end up with white elephant of a tollway that’s destroyed vibrant communities, and sold people in western Sydney out to toll road companies.

If the Baird Government gets away with all this, it will become the way everything’s done in NSW – with no transparency, no accountability, no consultation, and no long-term benefit for anyone except the companies grabbing billions of our money. And that’s no way to create a liveable city for anyone.


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