People's Inquiry: WestCONnex and community destruction

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, Kathryn Calman, gave on the devastating community impact of WestCONnex.

Photos from Kathryn Calman's speech

Photos (L-R): M5 East noise walls; Kathryn Calman; Beverly Grove Park; critically endangered Cooks River Clay Plain Scrub Forest.

Have you taken a moment to ponder what impact the focus on only roads for transport has on our community green space and our health?

I live on the M5 at Beverly Hills. I have lived through major construction in 1999, and now reliving intrusive construction again with an early phase of WestConnex.  

I stand witness here today in the NSW Parliament of the impact road building has on our environment. Although I reference my suburb, the experience can be translated to any suburb.

It’s a given that we all need to drive at times. But what is the COST? What is the cost to our mental and physical health.  Roads are space hungry. Parking is space hungry.  And the very first casualty is always our public space.

I watched the first M5 being built. I witnessed the huge social impact the M5 had on our community. Residents watched in horror the awful destruction of our beautiful Beverly Grove Park and most of the critically endangered Cooks River Clay Plain Scrub Forest. The sound of those chainsaws. I can still hear them. It made grown men cry.

We went through years of dirty, noisy construction. And at the end of it, to thank the residents left behind - grieving for compulsory acquired neighbours, and the huge loss of our beautiful trees and green spaces - we were handed cheap, ugly concrete noise walls. The RMS could hardly be bothered with any effort with landscaping.

That was the Government's "thank you" to the community. Our “Berlin wall” at Beverly Hills actually features in the RMS Urban Landscape Design Principles, as an excellent example of what NOT to do.

We needed that park. Still do. Beverly Hills / Kingsgrove is below average for green space and what remains is in fierce demand from junior sports clubs. After the first M5, we were left with a long linear portion of Beverly Grove Park, and just a remnant of our critically endangered woodland.  The protection of this remnant was a condition of the first M5, and so precious, so beautiful still today, this woodland it is protected by a fence.

I ask this question to the audience: Do you remember as a kid riding to school, around the streets with friends, off to the shops with an errand for Mum? Our kids can’t now. It is simply too dangerous due to the significant induced traffic into our suburb. Little kids and cars don’t mix.

This is just one reason why our linear park is highly prized.

It’s about the only safe place where a child can cycle.  This walkway goes for many kilometres, and although the Berlin Wall is ever-present and dominating, it is due to the efforts of residents and council – we replanted, we hand watered through that horrible drought. We augmented the soil with worm castings and compost. We paid for many of the plants. And although a number of visually divisive sections still exist, 10 years of community effort paid off. For the last five years, we could really see a significant difference as these trees and shrubs matured.  A lot more people use the park. What an enormous difference another five years would see.

Our community has nurtured a beautiful tranquil space.  An important space to clear your head after a day of stress and to reconnect with nature.  You WANT to walk there. You WANT to cycle. Families spend hours with their kids with trikes. It has now become the central part of our community for exercise, and being so popular it provides that all important social connectivity of accidental meetings with familiar faces. AND it is safe, even late at night.

Our linear park provides important foraging for the rare grey headed flying fox, as well as the myriad of Australian native birds, which we have noticed have returned in quite significant numbers these last couple of years.

Our shared path is chalked for kids training for their running races.  It is used by our high schools for cross country training. Our local primary schools use the park for weekly sport.  And our beautiful maturing trees now shade the path, reducing the heat island effect.

But it is not just a lovely place to exercise. The M5 Linear walk is also a practical active transport artery that connects the community to shops, schools and the train station. In our suburb, it is very difficult to get out by car in the morning. You can’t turn left. You can’t turn right. But you CAN walk or cycle.

Don’t for a minute imagine this is a large space.  It’s long and narrow – but because we don’t have much left in the way of greenspace, what we have left is now valued very highly.

Unbelievably WestConnex will destroy the critically endangered Cooks River Clay Plain Scrub Forest. Our park will be virtually all gone, with 10 hectares of park replaced with a ten lane motorway.  The cumulative impact of continued road building is never taken into account in subsequent environmental impact statements (EISs).

And what has really outraged me is the insensitivity of the WestConnex designers. In their EIS, they state that although the New M5 constitutes a significant character change on our community, they have used the ugliest sections as an acceptable ‘benchmark’ to justify degrading the rest of our environment.

To add salt to the wound, they plan to install two kilometres of transparent noise walls to “enhance the motorist experience with views across the golf course and our back yards.” It’s the motorists' side that gets the room for landscaping. The remainder of the noise walls will be left mostly bare, because, as the landscaper from AECOM advised me, “It's easier for the maintenance crew to inspect bare walls”.  This is what is planned for the residents. We are not permitted to replant or repair.  

If the ugliness WestConnex will leave in their wake isn’t enough to stop people using the linear walk, the presence of an unfiltered exhaust stack and the operations complex will basically kill off this community asset. 

The cumulative impact caused by the insatiable appetite of the Car-God, and the willingness of his worshipper Duncan Gay, to offer up as a sacrifice the very things the community values.  

WestConnex is a cruel, cruel project. It won’t solve congestion. It has to be stopped. Our health. Our environment. The enjoyment of our suburbs is at stake.







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