Expert panel calls for answers on east-west link’s impact

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The Age: Expert panel calls for answers on east-west link’s impact. January 14, 2014. Adam Carey and Clay Lucas

The authority in charge of the east-west link has not adequately explained the impact the road will have on people’s lives both during and after its construction, the government planning panel assessing the project says.

The Planning Department’s hearings into the $6-8 billion project began on Tuesday.

Its panel of experts assessing the project tabled 89 questions about the toll road, which the Linking Melbourne Authority must answer within 20 days.

Crucially, the authority must demonstrate to the department that the east-west link – a 5.2-kilometre road to connect the Eastern Freeway with CityLink – will not interfere with future plans for the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel or the Doncaster rail line.

Other questions – on the road’s impact on air quality, noise, overshadowing of homes and disruption to nearby roads – have also yet to be properly answered, the panel said.

It asked for more information about the impact on the 2250 residents of the public housing towers in Debney Park, Flemington, next to where the east-west link would emerge from underground.

No assessment “has been done for the Debney Park Estate even though this community is considered … as a particularly vulnerable group,” the panel said.

The Linking Melbourne Authority’s comprehensive impact statement on the project, released in October, also lacked information on the road’s likely effect on air quality near Clifton Hill Primary School after the road’s completion, and along Alexandra Parade during construction, when a temporary road will be built.

“No air quality assessment of the potential impacts of this temporary road appears to have been included,” the panel said.

Data was also missing on the length of time the Upfield rail line would be closed during construction and on the extent of permanent overshadowing on homes near the road.

More than 100 residents, lawyers, council staff, planning officials and others witnessed the preliminary hearing. They were told by Planning Panels Victoria chief panel member Kathy Mitchell that 30 days of hearings would be held to look at the project, starting on March 3.

Planning lawyer Stuart Morris, QC, a former Supreme Court judge and ex-president of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, appeared for the Linking Melbourne Authority.

Mr Morris said the authority would attempt to answer the questions that the panel had asked.

“If we can provide information we will, subject to the proviso [that it is] within reason,” he said.

Ms Mitchell said there had been more than 1500 submissions made to the planning panel.

Among those to lay out their concerns about the planning approvals process put in place by the Napthine government was Andrew Herington, a former senior adviser to the Brumby government.

Mr Herington said the planning panel and the community had been forced to assess a reference design that could change once the Napthine government selected a final design for the road from tenderers.

“The Linking Melbourne Authority has brought forward the project in a half-baked way and [the east-west link is] not yet ready to be properly assessed,” Mr Herington told the panel.

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