Judgement time on East West Link

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Closing Submission to the Assessment Committee on the Comprehensive Impact Statement for the East West Link 

Andrew Herington – Submission 384,  14th April 2014

I would like to thank Rosemary Elliot (Submission 966) for donating her time to me to provide an overview of the case against the East West Link. Given I have limited time I thought I would borrow from Abraham Lincoln to be as brief and convincing as possible.

Nine score hours ago, this Committee sat down to take evidence on this new freeway, conceived in politics and dedicated to the proposition that individual motorists have a self evident right to unimpeded travel, regardless of the cost to the public purse or the availability of more effective public transport alternatives.

Now we find Melbourne engaged in a great civil war, testing whether those rights should remain unchallenged or whether it is time for a new approach to how we build our community.

Will we see a real Triumph of the City as a human environment with Melbourne retaining its title as the world’s most liveable city? Or will we see the triumph of the motor car?

The Assessment Committee is charged with a serious duty to decide whether all the facts have been disclosed, whether the public have a full picture of the costs and impacts and whether the claims made for this project are accurate and substantiated by peer reviewed economics and engineering.

The proponents, LMA were given more than a quarter of the limited time available to expand on their submission. They have also spent much of their cross examination time trying to discredit the long line of experts who gave testimony against the project rather than addressing their evidence.

Apart from the LMA and its consultants, precious few people took time to support the need for this freeway or its purported benefits. In fact of some 1,430 submissions it appears that fewer than a dozen were advocating its construction and only one proponent, the RACV asked to be heard.

Notably absent were any of the responsible Government Departments one would normally expect to hear from in detail about such a huge project.

The Committee has not heard from Vicroads, PTV, Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, Transdev (the operators of the DART Bus service), Melbourne Water and the Health Department among others. The Education Department did not defend its schools and kindergartens, the Office of Housing said nothing in the name of its tenants and Zoos Victoria Management remained silent about the welfare of their animals. The Port of Melbourne failed to follow up its concerns and other Departments were silent.

No Government local MPs and no Councils from the eastern suburbs (the areas supposedly benefitting from the tollway) made representations. The Federal Government and Infrastructure Australia were absent – despite committing $1.5 billion. All without a public Business Case.

The only politicians to address the Assessment Committee came from the ALP and the Greens – and they were uniformly in strong opposition to the project – criticising the haste and lack of process.

I have shared the pain of the Assessment Committee and sat through each day of these hearings.

Apart from those called by the LMA, there has been an almost uninterrupted chorus of opposition to this project.

Nearly 1400 community groups and individuals prepared detailed submissions in response to the CIS. Around 210 have presented to the committee, expanding on their original submissions and giving graphic evidence. Community members, who have their own jobs and family responsibilities, have dedicated many hours to trying to understand the dozens of expert witness reports, and the 500 tabled documents of disconnected information.

Disparate community groups and individuals with different backgrounds, interests and issues, most of whom have never met before have done their best to come together to coordinate the timetable and organise presentations in a logical order to assist the Assessment Committee.

Community members have told consistent tales of significant impacts which have been overlooked or downgraded, a lack of frankness and hollow consultation from the LMA, inadequacies in the CIS and other documentation, confusing and often conflicting information and a lack of transparency.

Numerous proposals have been made to try to address major flaws in the reference design. Additional measures proposed to avoid or minimise impacts, and prudent and feasible alternatives put forward that should have been considered but were not included in the CIS. This is work which should have been done by LMA

Many people, have already experienced negative impacts to their homes and lives from major highway construction and operation due to CityLink, the Eastern Freeway or Hoddle Street road widening. Unfulfilled promises on these projects have left people cynical about the likelihood of the proposed East West Link meeting even its most basic performance requirements.

Many of these people, some in very difficult circumstances, risk losing their homes as a result of the proposed East West Link or find themselves next to a noisy and unwanted major traffic artery.

And a very clogged artery it will be, as Mr Benson’s telling video showed on Friday – Citylink is already heavily congested in the peak and the concept that the Part A tunnel can be built to work on its own as the Government proposes is a fantasy. The idea of “congestion busting” is another fantasy as the queues in the Burnley tunnel, Westgate Bridge and Citylink testify – you can’t build your way out of a traffic jam.

Equally unbelievable is that the unfunded Part B of this freeway could have been designed with such reckless disregard for the residents, community facilities and the Moonee Ponds Creek. As we heard from SP Ausnet, even the electricity supply for inner Melbourne is at risk from this design.

So what is to be done?

As I listened, I have prepared a detailed summary of the issues raised by the numerous expert witnesses who have appeared and highlighted issues. I cannot speak to all these matters in any detail in my brief allocated time. Instead I have set them out in the accompanying document in a form that I hope will make it easy for the Committee to consider and respond to in their recommendations and report to the Minister.

I call this document a “community analysis” not because it has gone through any detailed consultation process in its preparation, there simply hasn’t been time, but because it summarises the numerous messages you have heard from community groups and individuals over the last six weeks.

Many do not want any freeway at all, some want it to be designed differently to avoid or minimise impacts, some just want to resolve the impact the tollway will have on their home or local community or receive compensation. But none of them want the Reference Design – and that is the design the Assessment Committee has to make recommendations about.

The specific questions you have been commissioned to decide are:

  • whether the Reference Design is the best way to build an East West Link, and
  • whether the applicable approvals should be granted by the Minister.

I submit that this design is a bad one and the approvals shouldn’t be granted.
The tabled community analysis gives 300 reasons why not.
It lists some of the major issues that have been raised and the action that I would be urging the Assessment Committee to take. These are set out in five sections:

  • Table 1 contains a Statement of 54 key reasons why the Assessment Committee should not recommend the applicable approvals. This includes 10 additional processes, listed in Table 1.5, which need to be addressed before a revised CIS should be considered.
  • Table 2 contains 140 proposed amendments to the Reference Design and conditions on approvals that the Committee should make, if it decides to grant some or all of the Applicable Approvals
  • Table 3 will include over 100 proposed amendments to the draft Performance Requirements. Unfortunately, the absence of the LMA and City of Yarra consolidated lists has frustrated completion of this document. I acknowledge what the Chair has already determined, but ask for a special dispensation to lodge these proposals by the close of business on Wednesday 16th after the LMA has delivered its position.
  • Table 4 outlines an alternative to the Urban Design Framework. This is simply an indicative draft suggested by professionals who believe there is nothing to be gained from making minor adjustments to the current draft. It does not necessarily reflect the views of community groups as there hasn’t been time to canvass them. There is a need for strong expert peer review and public consultation to avoid the meaningless jargon and motherhood statements that several submissions highlighted in the proposed UDF. We now know the experts in DTPLI did not support the UDF or the Environmental Management Framework and expected the Committee to make recommendation to substantially change them.
  • Table 5 sets out 14 recommendations for a better process on compensation and acquisition. This was the subject of some of the most passionate submissions. The LMA invited the Committee to make recommendations on particular properties outside the narrowly defined “proposed project boundary”. This is not part of the planning approvals but it is vital the Committee recommends a better, more transparent process. This should be based around an independent Property Ombudsman.

The key points are:

  • A major review of the Act and in the short term defining a “project area” at least 50 metres wider than the “proposed project boundary” for above ground sections– eg: in the east, out to Noone St to the north and including all of Bendigo St
  • Providing people within 150 metres of the Project Area with three options – voluntary acquisition, payment of loss-on-sale or home remediation (for noise etc)
  • Compulsory pre-works documented property inspections within 250 metres of the Project Area and on request for a wider area for fragile buildings.
  • An Independent Property Ombudsman to facilitate resolution of disputes and overcome the woeful record of poor communication

I do not propose to take you through the entire document which amounts to some 50 pages. However, I would like run through the recommended changes to the Top 20 Design Disasters. You are urged to recommend that a new CIS should:

(These are listed in Table 2.1 in order from east to west)

1. Reserve the Eastern Freeway median for the Doncaster rail corridor
2. Delete the Hoddle St flyover from the Reference design and design an alternative that meets community requirements
3. Locate the eastern tunnel portal and vent stack east of Hoddle St
4. Reject the design for a temporary road and reduce the length of cut and cover
5. Rebuild Alexandra Pde, locating parkland on the south side
6. Delete the Elliot Avenue off-ramps from the Reference design
7. Prohibit “cut and cover” and surface works in Royal Park east of the Upfield Rail line
8. Protect Trin Warren Tam-Boore wetlands, remnant vegetation and Whites Skink habitat
9. Fund relocation of non-park land users in Royal Park as an offset to this project
10. Require rail disposal of spoil and a site storage plan for spoil and construction materials
11. Undertake a review of all alternative western portal designs and mound over any ramps across Ross Straw Field
12. Undertake a new traffic study looking specifically at Ormond Rd off ramp
13. Conclude Part B has unacceptable impacts for the Debneys Park precinct which can’t be mitigated or compensated
14. Reject Part B as it is designed and consider alternative arrangements, including building the section in tunnel or east of CityLink
15. Ensure any revised plan is consistent with the Arden-Macaulay Structure plan and Moonee Ponds Creek Management Plan
16. Upgrade the Westgate/CityLink interchange to address current causes of congestion
17. Design the replacement to Part B so it connects to the Port and the WestLink/ Westgate Distributor
18. Full replacement of open space and habitat of equal quality
19. Replacement of all sporting and other community facilities within each municipality
20. Provide public transport and bike track upgrades early and minimise any disruptions

In view of the many unknowns and design problems, it is submitted the Committee should recommend that, prior to granting the applicable approvals, transparent public processes need to be established to resolve the following ten issues, detailed in Table 1.4:

1. Consideration of any design variations and unknown features, to be proposed by the successful bidder- especially those motivated by minimising cost rather than the public good;
2. Proper consideration of alternative solutions to traffic congestion and the numerous alternative designs proposed through the supplementary CIS process
3. Release of the detailed Business case and how the project is to be funded;
4. Reconsideration of the traffic data incorporating the proposed toll levels;
5. Modelling the impact of committed public transport upgrades, including the Melbourne Metro and operation of the Doncaster Rail Line before 2031 , as contained in the current PTV Rail Network Development Plan (Dec 2012);
6. Extending the Doncaster Rail study to look at bus and light rail
7. Establishing an independent process for land acquisition and compensation;
8. Finalisation of the vent stack locations;
9. Assessment of the proposed additional lane on the Eastern Freeway;
10. Disclose the outcome of the Project Zebra negotiations over associated works proposed for Citylink and the future of the transit lane ;

In the end, there are three choices before the Committee, it can

  • Recommend the applicable approvals, despite the evidence and the weight of submissions against;
  • Recommend the approvals be granted subject to substantial changes to the reference design and with binding conditions on the Government, LMA and ProjectCo to address the myriad of problems; or
  • Send the CIS back for further work to address the numerous deficiencies and include consideration of selected design.

If the project proceeds it is likely to unleash a new period of civil conflict over the construction of a project that clearly lacks a social licence or an economic justification. As Andrew Kelly (498) memorably said in his submission “As a society, can we afford a project whose first sod is turned inside a barbed wire cage ringed by riot police?”

The world will little note, nor long remember all the evidence that has been presented here.

But, as numerous submitters have said in their own way, Melbourne will live forever with the conclusions that the Committee draws. It is a turning point for our city and Victoria.

Are we to follow the dubious economics of road engineers or are we to make a bold statement that in a time of scarce tax payer dollars, decisions must be publicly justified by proven outcomes – and assessed against the alternatives in transparent, public processes.

Infrastructure Australia was set up to do this – but even it does not have the full Business Case and it wasn’t available to provide evidence to this hearing.

The values of our city must be protected and priority given to public transport to play the same important role in Melbourne that it does in London, Paris and New York – indeed in all the best large cities of the world. As several people have said – no one would dream of a cut and cover freeway through Central Park or Hyde Park

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On a personal note I would like to thank the committee for giving the community representatives a fair go and despite the impossible imbalance of the time allocations and resources we have given it our best shot. You have listened to all the submissions that have been made – personal and technical, emotional and well argued. You have been patient with people for whom this is an intimidating process that they haven’t encountered before and heard them out as they used their few minutes at the microphone to explain how this project threatens to turn inner Melbourne and their lives upside down.

You gave them all a fair hearing and we now look to you to reflect all that you have heard in your report.

As a former Collingwood resident, I have been pleased to have been able to take on the task of assisting the community groups and individuals to present at this hearing as a retirement project. Thirty-five years ago I worked for the Collingwood and Fitzroy Councils to oppose what was then called the Western Approaches Study for the F19 Freeway. The proposal then was an eight lane surface freeway up Alexandra Parade and through Carlton cutting a swathe through what was depicted as almost slum housing.

That freeway was, of course, never built and nobody today would regret that outcome. That hasn’t stopped Melbourne prospering and growing dramatically in the last 35 years. Traffic on Alexandra Parade grew to capacity and has since slowly declined. In the meantime public transport patronage has doubled from a post War low of 260 million passengers a year in 1980 to 520 million today.
I believe the East West Link is another bad idea. It is badly planned and should not be built.

And I believe that when people look back in 2031 no-one will regret that there is no tunnel.

Melbourne will be a thriving city of 6 million people with an effective and more extensive public transport system, a network of major activity centres and a functioning road network that continues to provide for its growth and prosperity.

People will not be regretting the lack of a freeway through Royal Park or a second viaduct down the Moonee Ponds Creek.

Instead, they will still enjoy the park as a central part of Melbourne, the Moonee Ponds Creek as a reborn natural feature of a vibrant inner west and appreciate the public transport improvements made possible by the money not having all been spent on this freeway.

When these future Melburnians look back in 15 years time at the proposals the LMA put to this hearing they will simply say:

“What on earth were they thinking?” and “Thank heavens it didn’t get approved”.

Additional Documentation

One thought on “Judgement time on East West Link”

  1. Jim says:

    “Thirty-five years ago an eight lane surface freeway was proposed up Alexandra Parade and through Carlton, cutting a swathe through what was depicted as almost slum housing. It was never built, something nobody today would regret.”

    “That hasn’t stopped Melbourne prospering and growing dramatically. Traffic on Alexandra Parade grew to capacity and has since slowly declined. Yet public transport patronage has doubled from a low of 260 million passengers a year in 1980 to 520 million today.”

    Should repeat this over and over again to everyone we meet.

    We should also constantly point to those underground white elephants in Brisbane and Sydney, Clem7, Airport Link, Lane Cove and Cross City. Can’t happen here? LOL

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