Why we must stop WestConnex

WestConnex is a 33 kilometre toll road that will extend from the M4 in Sydney’s west, through the inner west, and onto the New M5 in the inner south west of Sydney. Most of WestConnex will be a series of underground road tunnels and at present, is forecast to cost an exorbitant $16.8 billion dollars, which is over half a million dollars per metre. As the most expensive transport infrastructure project in Australia it is disgraceful that public funds of this order will not be used to build the public transport infrastructure that Sydney so badly needs.

This road flies in the face of all international urban planning developments where it’s been shown conclusively that more roads create more traffic and congestion. This dirty tollroad will not solve Sydney’s traffic congestion but only line the pockets of private tollroad operators and construction companies for generations to come and subject communities to serious health risks, loss of homes and green spaces and untenable tolls and continuing traffic congestion for decades.

The Greens oppose WestConnex because of the negative social, environmental and economic impacts it will have. We oppose the compulsory acquisition of people’s homes for this dirty tollway and the destruction of precious parklands and green spaces. We support the redirection of public funds into world-class sustainable public transport.

The Greens are the only party in parliament that has consistently spoken out in opposition to this project.

Both the Government and Opposition in NSW and federally support the building of Westconnex - the most expensive road project in the history of Australia even though the rest of the world - and our community - know that public transport and not dirty tollways are the answer to our transport needs. 

The WestConnex project encapsulates the short-sighted, vested-interest, anti-community, unsustainable culture that has infected politics in NSW for too long. It’s a project surrounded by secrecy and with the establishment of the Sydney Motorway Corporation this secrecy has been further entrenched.

It would be reasonable to think that such a significant project , funded by public money from Federal and State governments, would have broad reaching support and strong advocates, but this is not the case.

WestConnex is coming under increasing scrutiny and facing well founded criticism – not just because the state government is planning to spend billions on a polluting, private tollroad in the middle of metropolitan Sydney rather than investing in integrated, world-class public transport, but because of the irregular and inadequate methods used to progress it in terms of governance, planning and development.

Given the growing list of failed tollroads around the country one would assume that a project of this size and cost would have undergone extremely rigorous planning and budgeting, and that strong governance and independent review mechanisms would have been in place right from the concept stage, but in fact the reverse has been the case as highlighted by the NSW Ombudsman’s report from December 2014 or the City of Sydney’s independent report from Oct 2015.

The NSW Liberal government and the then federal Labor government announced WestConnex in 2012 with the recommendation by Infrastructure NSW of WestConnex as Sydney’s next motorway priority in October 2012 at a cost of $10 billion. It was originally claimed that this project would include a Sydney Airport Access Link and a link to Port Botany which still have not been included in the current 3 Stages of WestConnex , even though the cost has blown out by an additional $6.8 billion in the past 3 ½ years.

Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese put up federal funds to kickstart the project in January 2013. 

The Sydney Motorways Project Office (SMPO) was soon established within the NSW Roads and Maritime Services and this office engaged ‘infrastructure development partners’ to develop design and construction solutions for WestConnex. In 2013 consortiums led by Ferrovial Agroman and Leighton Contractors were contracted to develop key design aspects along Parramatta Road while the first WestConnex business case was developed by officers from Roads and Maritime Services and advisers from a large number of consulting, finance and construction firms, including Ernst & Young, Macquarie Bank, AECOM, Leighton Contractors and Ferrovial Agroman. AECOM was also appointed to develop traffic modelling, which was used for infrastructure development and toll revenue forecasts.

According to NSW Roads Minister Mr Gay, the SMPO’s function was to prepare a business case proving that WestConnex was necessary, achievable and affordable.

Many of these companies, particularly Leightons and AECOM have gone on to receive massive contracts subsequent to the work they did in the SMPO developing the concept and business case for the project.

The entire project is now being overseen by the Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC),which is a public private corporation set up in 2014 to secure the finance and ongoing project delivery (with two high ranking government minister shareholders and a government public service director. This corporation does not fall within the GIPA Act and so the project has been further shrouded in secrecy.

Despite having no public mandate to build the road, Stage 1 A, the M4 Widening has been progressed, Stage 1 B - the M4 East, has been approved despite over 4,800 submissions against this plan and it’s assumed the approval for the New M5 will happen soon, despite the fact that there were 12,866 submissions against this plan. The Greens have condemned the way the thousands of objections against WestConnex have been virtually hidden on the NSW Department of Planning’s website.

Billions of dollars of contracts were signed before any Planning approvals and before the Updated Business Case was released. The NSW Auditor General’s report from Dec 2014 highlighted the lack of independent monitoring of the concept, business case and tendering for WestConnex.

Former Infrastructure Australia board member, Professor Peter Newman slammed WestConnex in April 2015 saying it had not passed any impartial assessment of its merits and that normal planning and consultation processes had been subverted. He claimed WestConnex was an antiquated approach to transport planning driven by an arbitrary political decision by Tony Abbott.

The Liberal federal government has committed $3.5 billion in grants and concessional loans to WestConnex. The project has serious flaws which have been highlighted by independent reports and reviews commissioned by local councils with the SGS report into the Updated Business Case providing a damming critique of the economic and financial claims made in favour of this tollroad.

The government plans to fund WestConnex with $1.8 billion of state funding, $3.5 billion of federal funding, and the rest to be raised through the selloff of Stages 1 and 2 and long term tolls. The following banks have entered into 7 year project loans to back the development of WestConnex - CBA, Credit Agricole CIB, NAB and Westpac.

The original requirement for WestConnex was that it provide links to the western suburbs from Port Botany and Mascot airport however this has not yet occurred with the planning for Stages 1 2 and 3, despite the ballooning budget of this project.

WestConnex will require the compulsory acquisition of hundreds of homes, destroy much of Sydney’s natural environment, carve up our suburbs and pour more congestion and more pollution into our community.

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