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WestConnex Stage 3

On October 10, the Friends of Erskineville held a public forum to discuss the WestConnex Stage 3 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). WestConnex Stage 3 consists of dual four-lane road tunnels from St Peters to Haberfield, with a connection to an underground interchange in Rozelle, costed at $8 billion. The EIS is a 7,500-page document, with the community given only 60 days to respond. The key speaker at the forum was Terry Lee-Williams, the City of Sydney’s Chief Transport Advisor. What follows is an abridged version by Andrew Chuter of Terry’s talk, transcribed by Jill Lehmann.

Our biggest concern about this EIS is that it is a sales document. It doesn’t actually propose anything that is concrete; it says anything can change. What they are proposing is in fact to get an approval to sell to the private sector – they are not proposing something that is actually going to be built and that is most evident in the hiving off of the Rozelle interchange from the mainline tunnels in Stage 3.

For the first time in the history of this state, a major infrastructure project – the Rozelle interchange – was put out to tender and they didn’t get a single bid. Nobody can work out how to build it without being given billions of dollars of additional money because there is so much risk involved.

But they’ve still got to sell 51 per cent of the Sydney Motorway Corporation, so to de-risk it they have split it and they’ve said build the main tunnels first, that is a standard job, and we may or may not get around to building the interchange. They address the risk of not building that interchange in one sentence. That is the level of malfeasance that they are operating at. This is a 7,500 page lie and they very deliberately bury the most important things in pages that you don’t expect.

So I really appreciate the fact that residents are trying to put submissions in because it’s incredibly difficult to wrap your head around. If they sell it, of course they have no control over it. That’s the whole point. It becomes hidden in a private corporation, and they don’t actually have to build what they said. They only have to approve whatever the other party wishes to do.

It seems that over the last few months I’ve been speaking to every other financier in the world and a lot of them have got cold feet about this project, which is good, but I’ve got to say the Germans and the Spanish are pretty excited about cracking the Australian market for tollways because it is the biggest market in the world, and they are willing to lose money. They’re just not willing to lose as much money as it looks like they would with this project. So we have to try to keep the government honest because if they do sell it and they don’t get the money for it, they’ve not only built a bad project, they’ve bankrupted the state.

The second most critical element to understand is the justification – or lack of justification – for Stage 3. In the original business case Stage 3 was required to connect Stages 1 and 2 – which sounds pretty logical. Once you put Stage 1 which didn’t make financial sense with Stage 2, which didn’t make financial sense – well Stage 3 just about made financial sense. But what this document says is when you build Stages 1, 2 and 3 together, they don’t make financial sense and there’s a negative economic impact on the state. So what you’ve now got to do is build the F6 to Wollongong through the Royal National Park, you’ve got to build the Western Harbour Tunnel, you’ve got to build an interchange in the middle of the Warringah Freeway, the busiest road in the whole of Australia and shut a third of it down for two years and then you’ve got to connect up to the Northern Beaches. Then toll the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Harbour Tunnel for an additional 30 years and all together, it might break even.

Essentially it is saying that if we keep building more roads, eventually we’ll get to the point where it makes sense. My analogy is you dig a hole and you need something to fill it up, so you dig another hole so then you have to fill that up, and so you keep going and never get there.

Now, I’m old and I’ve been doing this stuff for a bloody long time and I have never seen anything as bad as this. This is just ridiculously bad. People should be ashamed they put this into the public domain as a project, and we should make sure we let the government know that.

A video of the entire talk can be viewed at www.bit.do/terrywcxtalk.

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