Motion on WestConnex noise and air quality concerns report

Back in March, I put a motion to Inner West Council for a report on WestConnex noise and air quality monitoring. That report's now come back and will be tabled at our meeting tonight, and I'm planning to propose the following actions.

You can read the full report under Item 8 on Council's website; it's not terribly long. In short, it states that:

  • The costs for Council to do its own monitoring is prohibitively high - at least $10 million over five years for noise alone, more for air quality;
  • Council does not currently have any staff with the expertise to monitor, analyse and follow up on air quality issues;
  • Council was unable to conduct an in-depth analysis of health impacts of WestConnex Stage 3, and has never performed such an analysis for the project as a whole.

The report also states that Council's role is limited to advocacy. However, I've seen for myself how powerful advocacy can be in realising better results for our residents.

When residents in St Peters started reporting horrific "rotten egg" odours coming from the St Peters Interchange site construction site in early 2017, they were initially assured by the Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) and its project contractors, CPB Contractors Pty Ltd, that there was no issue - that some people were just more sensitive to smell than others. This was despite the fact that people were reporting serious health impacts, and the local school was being forced to keep children inside.

I campaigned heavily with the WestCONnex Action Group (WAG) on this issue. It was only after a sustained campaign led by WAG and other residents to encourage those affected to make complaints and obtain medical evidence, brief media outlets, lobby Councils and MPs, make our own complaints to the authorities, and more, that the EPA forced the contractors to introduce a range of measures to control the odours. In May 2018, the EPA announced it had commenced legal action against the contractors for "allegedly causing offensive odours".

Without serious and informed advocacy on behalf of our residents in relation to air quality in particular, there is little reason to expect the NSW government will do any better for our community when it comes to pollution.

The Council report also states several times that all three stages of WestConnex have been approved, and there is little scope to alter conditions of approval. But what if the environmental impact statements (EISs) on which these approvals were based included misleading or false data in relation to air quality and health?

In any case, much of the detail about how those conditions will be met has been deferred to plans of management, many of which don't as yet exist in relation to Stage 3 in particular. So there is certainly scope for action now to reap real results for our residents.

I therefore plan to move the following motion at Council's meeting tonight. How it gets heard (e.g. as the primary or main motion, or as a foreshadowed or alternative motion) will depend on the Mayor and other councillors. I have shared this motion with them all and invited feedback. And as always, I'd love to know what you think:

RECOMMENDATION:

THAT Council:

1. Convenes a meeting of Councils along the WestConnex route to formulate a regional response to air quality issues, including support for a joint study into air quality to be conducted before and after WestConnex opens.

2. Writes to the State MPs for Balmain, Heffron, Newtown, Summer Hill and Strathfield, and the Federal MPs for Barton, Grayndler, Reid and Sydney, to:

a. Raise the ongoing impacts that WestConnex construction is having on Inner West and other nearby communities, particularly in regards to air quality and noise;

b. Request that they take any actions available to them to alleviate the air quality and noise impacts of WestConnex on their constituents.

3. Establishes an Environmental Health Working Group consisting of representatives from Council, local State and Federal MPs, community groups, experts, and others to ensure that Council and elected decision-makers are informed on the key impacts of WestConnex and other projects on our communities, and to inform responses to environmental health issues.

4. Employs an officer with suitable expertise in air quality and/or environmental health for an initial period of at least 12 months to:

a. Represent Council on the Air Quality Community Consultation Committee (AQCCC) for all stages of WestConnex;

b. Monitor and analyse readings provided by existing air quality monitors;

c. Notify the Chair of the AQCCC and the relevant authorities of any exceedances and ensure that appropriate regulatory action is pursued;

d. Follow up on resident complaints regarding air quality and environmental health issues;

e. Assist on other non-WestConnex air quality issues as appropriate;

f. Report to Council on a monthly basis.

5. Commissions a comprehensive and independent report prepared by experts on present and predicted health impacts of WestConnex on Inner West residents.

6. Writes to the Premier and relevant Ministers to:

a. Outline the actions Council is taking on behalf of the community in regards to air quality, noise and environmental health impacts of WestConnex;

b. Reiterate that Council is taking these actions because of the lack of confidence and trust residents in the Inner West have in the Sydney Motorway Corporation and relevant government agencies to protect them from the severe air quality and noise impacts caused by the WestConnex projects;

c. Formally request state funding to cover Council costs, given that responsibility for these actions should sit with the State government and its relevant agencies and contractors.

7. Identifies any necessary funding sources in the next quarterly budget review.

If you'd like to speak at the meeting about this item, you'll need to register on Council's website before 2pm today (Tuesday 22 May).

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