After years of campaigning by thousands of residents, the Upper House of the Parliament of NSW has agreed to conduct an inquiry into the impact of WestConnex. My personal submission to this inquiry runs to 71 pages, and you can read the full version on the parliamentary website. Here's the much shorter cover letter, which summarises my key points.
SUBMISSION TO THE PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE IMPACT OF THE WESTCONNEX PROJECT
Dear Committee Members,
My name is Pauline Lockie, and I am the independent Councillor for the Stanmore ward of the Inner West Council. Prior to this, I was one of the founding members of the WestConnex Action Group (WAG), a community group that campaigns against the WestConnex project, and for sustainable city planning. This document contains my formal submission to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the Impacts of WestConnex.
At a personal level, WestConnex completely changed the course of my life, and the lives of my family. In November 2014, we were still settling into the home in St Peters we’d lived in for less than two months when WestConnex representatives knocked on our door to inform us our home was to be forcibly acquired for the project. This was despite the fact we’d been told by project staff that there were “no current plans” in relation to our property – our first home – just before we purchased it in July 2014.
Over the next three years, my family fought the NSW Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) to receive the compensation to which we were legally entitled. During that period, we were forced to start paying rent to remain in our own home. We were evicted months before it was demolished, and well before any compensation agreement had been reached. The only reason we received the cost of this rent back, and all the other costs and compensation payments we were eventually paid, was because we took the RMS to the Land and Environment Court.
The legislation pertaining to compulsory acquisitions changed during this process, thanks to a combination of cabinet leaks and residents like my family speaking out. But has this actually improved matters for people whose properties are forcibly acquired? And why was the RMS allowed to get away with such an adversarial and unfair approach for so long?
Prior to WestConnex, I had no real involvement in activism, nor had I even vaguely considered running for political office. It is fair to say this would have remained the case, had WestConnex not had such a profound impact on our lives.
However, it wasn’t just the personal impact of WestConnex that led me to this position. During my research into the project, I consulted with and reviewed research by transport planners, urban planners, environmental organisations, scientists, transport economists, local councils, medical professionals, social workers, and other experts. I drastically increased my own knowledge of a range of fields including transport, planning, biodiversity, air pollution, construction impacts, and more.
My research has led me to one inescapable conclusion: WestConnex as proposed is the wrong solution at the wrong time for Sydney. It is out of step with international best practice when it comes to transport policy and creating liveable, sustainable, and economically viable cities in the 21st century.
Experience and research from independent experts here in Australia and overseas has shown that these kinds of toll road mega-projects are hugely expensive and do not ease congestion over the long term. If anything, such projects worsen congestion by increasing overall traffic volumes as the new road capacity fills up.
I have yet to hear of an independent transport expert who backs the project. Even the EISs produced for the various stages of WestConnex show it is not a long-term solution to Sydney's congestion problem. In addition, WestConnex is and will continue to divert billions of dollars of NSW and Federal taxpayer money into a tollway that only 1% of NSW’s population will use.
If WestConnex’s huge and rapidly escalating $16.8 billion cost was invested in more sustainable transport options instead – such as public transport improvements in western and south-west Sydney, better management of Sydney’s existing roads, and so on – it would not only reduce congestion and improve mobility in our capital. It would also free up much-needed public funds for roads, public transport, schools and hospitals in regional NSW. Spending it on a tollway so few people will use is both wasteful and deeply unfair. Yet there has never been a proper, objective analysis of alternative strategies for achieving the project’s goals. Why is that the case?
During my time at WAG, and now as an elected Councillor, I have also deeply disturbed by the cursory and at times contemptuous manner by which WestConnex’s proponents, contractors, and the NSW government have failed to manage the impacts of construction on people who live or work near its work sites.
I have been approached by more residents than I can count whose lives have been severely disrupted – and at times, devastated – by the compulsory acquisitions, air and noise pollution, botched demolitions, day and night construction works, damage to homes, and other impacts of this project. I can safely say that barely a day goes by in my role at Inner West Council when I am not dealing with the impacts caused by this project, and the stress and anguish they are causing.
Yet the response from the WestConnex’s proponents, contractors, and the NSW government has been to deny these impacts, and/or refuse to provide the compensation or mitigation measures needed to alleviate the problems they have created.
These impacts are ongoing, and their financial and social costs have never been properly assessed. But in every sense, they are huge and unacceptable. Why has the project been allowed to inflict such unacceptable impacts on thousands of residents? And why are these impacts continuing, even when the Premier, relevant Ministers, regulatory authorities and project proponents are entirely aware that they exist – and that people are suffering as a result?
For ease of analysis, I have formatted my submission using the terms of reference, and covered the relevant issues under each. I am happy to answer any questions you may have, and would welcome the opportunity to address the Committee at a hearing.
I thank the Committee for agreeing to conduct this important Inquiry, and for considering my submission.
Councillor Pauline Lockie