Westconnex fails Objective 10 : Protect natural & cultural resources and enhance environment

( Editor: This is the third submission prepared from the perspective of the Objectives of the project. The other two did an overview analysis of all ten objectives – here and here

By Kathy Calman

(Kathy Calman is the co-convenor of the Beverly Hills Kingsgrove WestCONnex Action Group. She knows a lot about motorways because she has lived beside the M5 at Beverly Hills for years. She knows what it’s like to be woken by truck noise in the middle of the night, to count the high percentage of cars with single drivers and she recently watched open space and trees she and other members of her community had planted being stripped away for the King Georges Rd interchange that Westconnex’s own figures show will save little or no time for commuters. The community were told that the noise walls that offer some protection from M5 noise would come down for about 15 weeks. The Editor was told by the construction company Fulton Hogan that it could be up to 7 months. No wonder she warns residents of being wary of accepting promises about mitigation of construction impacts that could turn out to be wrong. She’s also aware that native flora and fauna saved as a condition of the M5 would go if the Westconnex M5 duplicate is allowed to go ahead.)

Kathy Calman at Westconnex Action Group early morning stall outside Westconnex headquarters with her frog cakes
Kathy Calman at Westconnex Action Group early morning stall outside Westconnex headquarters with her frog cakes

Analysis of Core Objective 9 : Protect natural and cultural resources and enhance the environment.

The Westconnex’s Core Objectives are drawn from the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan (Transport for NSW 2012a)

The Westconnex project does not meet this core objective

Features of the M4 East project include: Widening roads; unfiltered exhaust stacks close to homes, schools and aged care centres; destruction of trees; temporary and permanent loss of greenspace; induced traffic onto local roads; impact on wetlands, groundwater and endangered species; exposing residents to prolonged high impact acute noise 24/7; hundreds of significant truck movements a day impacting on the safety of residents particularly primary school children; isolation; community dislocation; car dependence.

None of these factors enhance the environment. In fact, this proposal has a very significant negative impact on the urban and natural environment where over a quarter of a million people live and 64,000 work in the M4 section. It will remove valuable cultural resources including heritage buildings.

Sectional planning approach

I object to the sectional planning project approach to the 33 kilometre Westconnex motorway. This prevents serious consideration of the impacts of the larger Westconnex project. While broad justifications for the whole project are used to justify local threats, there has been no overall analysis and evaluation of the environment threats from the whole project.

This submission endeavours to take an holistic approach to the project and refers to both the M4 and M5.

Community Consultation

I object to the poor standard of community consultation.

Many people have reported that the information kiosks and material provide inadequate and misleading information to the public. The kiosks are attended by casual staff with no background experience or education on the subject matter.

Claims of ‘busting congestion’ and the various time savings getting from point to point are contradicted even within Westconnex’s own EIS, not to mention independent infrastructure experts with worldwide experience that slam this project as backward looking and based on poor transport planning principles.

The negative impact on thousands of people is either glossed over or embedded somewhere in the fine print in the Westconnex M4 EIS.

  • Western Sydney is not aware that their daily commute will become a lot more expensive via new and reintroduced tolls

  • Australian and especially NSW tax payers are taking the full risk on the viability of this project

  • Unfiltered exhaust stacks – nine for this project spaced roughly every 3km.

  • Increased pollution and noise

  • Acquisition of parks, green space, homes and business

  • Loss of local employment. (Estimation of hundreds in Haberfield alone).

  • Impact on non-acquired businesses with loss of passing trade opportunities

  • Local roads will be more congested and travel times for many longer

  • Loss of an opportunity for NSW to invest in worthwhile public transport infrastructure that is the most efficient way to provide to move masses of people and freight and better meet the needs of the whole of NSW.

Social Impacts

Significant impacts on residents and businesses

Home acquisitions

The stated recommended mitigations in Appendix M is contradicted by actual outcomes. Home Owners (reported in the media) claim that lower than market value is offered for their homes and that they are bullied by RMS staff. Longstanding communities members are being forced to move far from their social networks.

Renters are also having to seek legal advice for relocation compensation. One long term renter in the same home for 18 years was only offered $5000 to relocate.

The disadvantaged residents in social housing (including independent homes for people with special needs) of RMS property have not had their needs addressed in the rush to evict hundreds of people from their homes.

Most of these people forced from their homes will likely find they have to move some distance away from where they have established support networks. This would be particularly hard on the frail and elderly.

I object to the mitigation of offer of ‘counselling’ which even if it does exist (and some say it has not been offered to them) would be of little assistance.
 

Impacts on social facilities

In the area impacted by the project, there are:

  • 8 aged care and nursing homes
  • 5 primary schools, 3 high schools and 3 kindergarten to Yr 12
  • 5 childcare centres and one tertiary education provider
  • A number of sports and recreation facilities
  • Religious services a
  • Shopping centres

I object to the ‘mitigation’ for organisations that will be left near the tollway construction site ( such as the Willows Private Nursing Home and Peek-a-boo Child Care Centre) described as “consultation for ‘relief periods’ from 24 / 7 construction (destruction) if “feasible and reasonable”. This proposal is shallow and unacceptable.

This is an inhumane approach towards the most vulnerable in our society.

Students from Haberfield Primary School protesting on the pedestrian bridge after school
Students from Haberfield Primary School protesting on the pedestrian bridge after school

Amenity Mitigation

This project will have a high impact on thousands of people. Noise 24/7 for three years, loss of visual outlook, and views of construction (destruction) compounds should not be trivialised. This is a prolonged construction period.

I object to the suggestion that decorating hoardings and some temporary plantings around the compounds is ‘mitigation’.

Sports fields

Locals and visiting teams will be playing active sport within an environment of elevated pollution. Emissions from modern vehicles contains fine particulate matter that can penetrate the cells of lungs. ( See Air quality submissions here and here.

I object to a project that places the health of the community at risk.

Unsafe Removal of Asbestos.

This dangerous substance has been located in several locations across the Westconnex project already. There is evidence that trucks removing asbestos have not been following appropriate safety standards such as sprinkler systems, washing down trucks before departure, and neglecting to properly cover loads.

I object to the contempt Westconnex has shown for the health and safety of residents within the locations and on route to Erskine Park where soil contaminated with asbestos has been dumped without being wetted or properly covered at the time of disposal.

Divisive Infrastructure

I object to a ‘solution’ that results in a dreadful outcome on the amenity for all impacted suburbs. A wide, dirty and noisy toll road and the spaghetti interchanges thrust through suburbs that form part of Australia’s 19th and 20th century history including the destruction of heritage listed homes and historic buildings.

Mental Health

The stress imposed on people by the Westconnex will increase the likelihood of anxiety and depression. The grief people will experience watching the suburb and urban landscape they love permanently destroyed has not been sufficiently addressed in the EIS social impact statement.

The permanent impact of this toll road on thousands of people’s physical and mental health through

  • visually divisive spaghetti interchanges

  • noise barriers -that we know little care to landscaping for residents will be addressed –ref M5 KGR landscape design aka bare noise walls

  • prominent and unfiltered exhaust stacks a constant reminder that residents and workers and their families are being poisoned by high levels of pollution

  • loss of accessibility by pedestrians and cyclists

  • impacts on the elderly for mobility, safety, connectivity and isolation

  • impacts to the community and schools with the loss of neighbours

  • impacts on the significant number of people forced to leave their home and community – loss of social networks and loss of school mates.

  • stress and anxiety brought on by living in a permanent high noise and highly polluted environment.

Cumulative Impacts

Claims of reduced traffic on Parramatta road and improving amenity are unsubstantiated. The traffic congestion on the Parramatta road corridor will not improve (source your EIS). With a better solution to mass transport people (public transport) not addressed and increasing population, Parramatta Road will remain congested.

Impact on businesses

There are approximately 600 permanent jobs that will disappear due to this project due to property acquisitions at Haberfield alone. Remaining businesses, including aged care and child care centres, are likely to fail or suffer significant loss of trade. Suggestions that the patronage of construction workers will augment the local economy seem to be clutching at straws to find a solution here.

Social Infrastructure

Stated mitigation – Landscaping treatments for the benefit of residents. Let’s revisit the landscape design of the King Georges Road Interchange – hundreds of metres of bare noise walls because it is easier for the maintenance crew to inspect. Never mind the residents or professional pride or genuine appreciation for the huge disruption caused to residents. Ugly bare walls.

I object to the likely outcome facing residents of the landscaping treatments being a typical, visually divisive structure.

Loss of vegetation

  • Tree canopy for the communities along the 33km route of WestCOnnex is less than 19%. This polluting tollway will remove even more precious greenspace.

  • Even a single hectare lost is devastating for highly urbanised communities, particularly where the shared greenspace is all they have.

  • WestConnex has not included the overall acquisition of greenspace across the whole Westconnex project in any of its community ‘information’ material to enable the general public to form an informed opinion of the costs and benefits of the project.

Car Dependence

Build a city for the people – and they will come. Build a city for cars – and congestion will prevail.

Ironically, it is these suburbs – targeted for destruction by Westconex – that demonstrates what the NSW Govt should be the planning for new outer suburb communities. The walkability factor – with ready public transport and local shopping centres. Local employment opportunities or employment centres (including high value jobs) within 60 minutes by public transport. Shared community spaces for gardening and leisure and social connectivity. Cultural and entertainment facilities for all ages.

The infrastructure planning for the new western suburbs, such as near Camden is woeful, with only 7% of Camden residents using public transport. Westconnex promotes socially isolating car dependence and the environmental impact of ever increasing traffic noise and air pollution – and does not provide residents of the western suburbs with any relief from congestion.

I object to this proposal as it is the wrong project for the wrong time.

Biodiversity and natural environment

Australia has the notorious distinction of having possibly the worst extinction record on earth according to Richard Kingsford, professor of environmental science at the University of NSW. This is predicted to continue without serious changes to the way we conserve our environment

Endangered Fauna

Green and Golden Bell Frog

Scientists are studying several species of Australian frogs – including the endangered green and golden bell frog – whose skin secretions are toxic to the multi-drug-resistant golden staph know as MRSA. The GGBF secretions may be the wonder drug of the 21st century. Yet, the overall WestConnex project will more than likely be responsible for the extinction of such an important species.

Rare Grey Headed Flying Fox

The cumulative loss of vegetation for this vulnerable species in the M4 and M5 sections will significantly contribute to the endangerment of yet another species. These flying foxes forage on vegetation regardless if it is original or planted. The Office of Environment and Heritage states that the continued removal of foraging vegetation – and the forced concentration of populations into smaller regions – will result in a continued decline in their numbers.

Eastern Bentwing Bat

The impact on this species will be the loss of foraging habitat and the disturbance of roosting sites. Again, as similar to all of our native animals within Sydney metro, the significant and continued loss of vegetation will have a serious impact on these local communities.

Cooks River Castlereagh Iron Bark bushland

Another cumulative impact on our natural environment, with the loss of a critically endangered stand, a development condition of the first M5, will be destroyed.

Wetlands

Wetlands provide significant economic, social and cultural benefits. They are important for primary products such as pastures, timber and fish and support recreational and tourist activities. Wetlands also help reduce the impacts from storm damage and flooding, maintain good water quality in rivers, recharge groundwater, store carbon, help stabilise climatic conditions and control pests. They are also important sites for biodiversity.

Wetlands cover about 9% of the earth’s surface and are estimated to contain around 35% of global terrestrial carbon. Wetlands act as sinks for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, especially if their vegetation is protected and their natural processes are maintained.

The proposed F6 extension ( which is referred to as a given in the EIS although it is not even in early stages of planning) will likely also impact on the Rockdale wetlands – another significant loss to our natural and human environment.

I object to the sectional approach taken to the Westconnex project which makes it difficult to properly assess the cumulative impact on our wetlands across both Westconnex and Southconnex

I object to the unwarranted destruction of what remains of our natural environment for a project which is managed by politicians and business people who continue to hide the business case on which it is based. Westconnex managers have been unable to properly debate or refute the many informed critiques of the project.

Flooding

During construction, there is the potential for local catchment runoff to enter project excavations at the interchange locations and impact the construction ancillary facilities. Construction activities also have the potential to exacerbate flooding conditions in adjacent developments. The mitigation stated are physical barriers designed to protect the works areas and tunnel entries so as not to increase flooding conditions in adjacent areas. The public needs full independent advice on the safety of the tunnels which is not possible in the short period allowed for consultation.

Urban Salinity

I am concerned about the potential for salinity damage that can shorten the life of urban infrastructure such as roads, buildings, water and sewage pipes. This leads to costly maintenance and repair by homeowners and councils.

The movement of excess water and salt in parks and gardens can affect plant growth and cause plant death. Sports grounds and recreation areas affected by urban salinity may become bare, unattractive and unusable. Soil properties can be altered significantly making it hard to revegetate these areas.

Pockets of native vegetation in and around urban landscapes may also be affected. This can have serious consequences including the disappearance of native flora and fauna and poor downstream water quality.

I am concerned about the impact of groundwater and the potential for increased risk of flooding due to the reduction of greenspace.

The public needs access to more independent technical information so that they can understand the true impacts of the project.

I conclude that Westconnex comprehensively fails one of its claimed core objectives – ‘Protect natural and cultural resources and enhance the environment’ is not met by the Westconnex project.

Trucks waiting to get onto the M5 at Beverly Hills
Trucks waiting to get onto the M5 at Beverly Hills

Here’s another strong submission from a resident at Haberfield.

Aurelia’s story from Homebush also provides more on the social impacts of Westconnex.

Here’s a summary of the Social and Economic Impact Report

Kathy Calman knows from experience what it's like to live near a motorway. Her house in Beverly Hills
Kathy Calman knows from experience what it’s like to live near a motorway. Her house in Beverly Hills
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One thought on “Westconnex fails Objective 10 : Protect natural & cultural resources and enhance environment

  1. The M5 King Georges Road Interchange – Cooloongatta Rd – the noise wall situation is getting worse. An error that we pointed out a year ago in the EIS stated our noise walls were 2.5 metres. They neglected to record that there was a 2 metre mound, making it 4.5 metres (and still we are above RNP night time noise goals at that level).

    According to Fulton Hogan – its 3 metres in the EIS and 3 metres we are getting (though the EIS actually recommended our walls should be 8 metres). To make matters worse, we are getting plastic walls. 128 metres of the stuff – instead of concrete barriers. Nice view of 12 lanes of highway!. Thanks residents for putting up with the destruction for 19 months. Here is the payback. An unliveable suburb.

    Like

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