Citizen’s complaint to Minister for Planning Rob Stokes about failures in Westconnex planning process

Introduction

The People’s M4 EIS website has been quiet since submissions closed. 17 submissions were received from Government agencies and Local Councils. Approximately 4800 community groups and individuals also made submissions.

Normally ‘submitters’ as they are known are sent notification letters with a number that they can then look up in the Response to submissions report to see how ‘the proponent’, in this case Westconnex, has responded to their submission.

On this occasion, the Response to submissions report explicitly stated that letters had been sent – in fact, as far as People’s M4 East EIS is aware, these letters were never sent.  One of the People’s M4 EIS editors  has made a detailed complaint to the Department secretary Carolyn McNally which she has posted on her blog.

Today, we publish a second complaint from a resident John Hyde who lives near the M4 East project in Ashfield. If you have any questions for John or want advice on sending your own letter, post your comment at the bottom of this post.

24 January 2016

 

Dear Minister

WestConnex M4 East EIS

I made an individual submission in relation to the WestConnex M4 East Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and am writing to make a number of complaints about your Department’s related assessment process.

The context is that the then WestConnex Delivery Authority (now Sydney Motorway Corporation) has repeatedly said that the EIS is the primary means of community consultation on the M4 East (notwithstanding they have pre-empted the planning approval process by signing a contract to build it).

In this context, as administered by your Department, the EIS assessment process has manifestly not been the means of meaningful community consultation as we had been promised. My complaints are:

 

  1. Submitters did not have the complete information on the project on which they could base their submissions at the commencement of the M4 East EIS exhibition period.In response to submissions made, RMS’s Submissions Report often refers to information in the WestConnex Updated Strategic Business Case of November 2015, so this must be considered integral to the EIS. Yet the Updated Strategic Business Case was only published after the closing date for the M4 EIS submissions of 2 November 2015.This is important as the M4 East and other stages cannot be considered separately from WestConnex as a whole. And there has never been an opportunity to comment on the WestConnex business case.This is a justification for starting the M4 East EIS exhibition process afresh, so that stakeholders and interested parties have the full information on which to base submissions.
  2. There has not been an independent process of review and assessment of issues raised in submissions on the EIS.The Submissions Report on the Planning website has been prepared by the project’s proponent, Roads and Maritime Services. And clearly they have delegated this to the consultants who prepared the EIS and to the successful tenderer to prepare the responses to the submissions. This is a complete conflict of interest.Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, that as far as I can see in reading parts of the Submissions Report, not one of the many substantive issues identified in thousands of submissions are seen to have any merit by RMS. This absolutely beggars belief.Clearly what RMS are doing, and your Department is party to, is going through a rubber stamping exercise, one that you are all obliged to do under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. It in no way fulfils the spirit and intent of the legislation to ensure meaningful community consultation.
  3. The Submissions Report is highly discriminatory in the way it responds to different classes of submitters.It responds to ‘stakeholder submissions’ (government agencies and local councils) by addressing those submissions point by point. Whereas it makes a general response to ‘community submissions’, clustering points made in these submissions into categories and providing generic responses.‘Community submissions’ come from two sources; private individuals (such as myself) and non government organisations. The submissions by some of the latter are very comprehensive and technically competent, superior to some of the ‘stakeholder submissions’. I draw your attention for example to the submission by the WestConnex Action Group (4872). And I have stumbled on some highly comprehensive and technical individual submissions, for example Kathy Calman (4850), and 1871 with a redacted author. These are remarkable in that they have been prepared by people in their own time and under tight timelines.And yet irrespective of the effort that has gone into the submsission, and the pertinence of the points made, these are bundled into the second class category of ‘community submissions’. This is contrary to notions of a pluralistic civil society which we purport to be, in which communities as well as government are stakeholders.

    At the very least, submissions by non government organisations should be responded to in the same way that is does done with government organisations, that is point by point.

  4. The data base of submissions seems to have errors, and therefore cannot be relied upon.Obviously I have not looked at this comprehensively, but when I attempted to trace the NOW Public Transport submission, 1881 gave me a redacted submission, and 1883 did not seem to fit at all with this organisation. This suggests a significant number of errors in the data base.
  5. The data base also seems to be incomplete.When I tried to see what the NRMA (4878) had to say all I could find is a cover sheet. What else is missing?
  6. The data base contains duplications.My one submission occurs twice because I submitted it both on line and by mail. I notice that some names appear multiple times; OK if they are different submissions, but not if they are multiple copies of one submission.
  7. My points 3, 4 and 5 constitute lack of transparency and justify an audit of the submissions documents Planning have put on line. The documents then need to be revised to provide public confidence they accurately show the submissions made.
  8. I was not advised by Planning that the Submissions Report had been posted on their website.I am advised by other people they have been told by officers in Planning that all submitters had been advised that the responses to their submissions had been posted on the Planning website. I have received no such advice, and would not have known about the Submissions Report if other people had not told me.
  9. It does not appear that all the points in my submission (1608/4808) have been responded to at all in the Submissions Report.Specifically:
    3 Government secrecy and avoidance of public scrutiny
    1.7          The EIS not being the appropriate opportunity to comment on WestConnex
    2.1          WestConnex is poor strategic policy
    2.2          WestConnex is an outdated concept and poor planning policy
    2.12        WestConnex is an aesthetic disaster for the inner west
    6.2          Close off Chandos Street, Ashfield where it meets Parramatta Road

I ask that my complaints be addressed before a determination is made on the M4 East planning application.

I look forward to receiving your response to my letter.

Yours sincerely

John Hyde

CC Ms Carolyn McNally, Secretary, Department of Planning and Environment

 

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