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Reform of State Planning and Development

For more than a decade, we have had a State Government in thrall to multinational corporations and high-rise property developers. Our Premier appears almost daily, decked out in a shiny new hard hat and high viz overalls, posing for photo opportunities in empty, brightly lit tunnels, on sites for new high rise and along new tollways.

Since 2011, the Liberal/National Government has systematically watered down our environment and planning law to fast-track rampant State sponsored development and provide windfall profits for its developer mates. It has ridden rough-shod over Local Councils, disabled their planning powers and treated them and their communities with contempt.

The Coalition’s obsession with building a legacy of big infrastructure, and its delight at holding court with multinational corporations, has committed not just the new government in March 2023, but those elected for years to come, to repaying billions in capital and interest borrowed during the last decade. It is possible, within this timeframe, that some of this intensive infrastructure may not be necessary.

Despite Treasury’s projection of a budget deficit of $11.3 billion in 2022-23, in the lead up to the March election, the Perrottet Government has been hard at work signing contracts for massive new infrastructure. On 1 December 2022, the Premier came to North Shore to announce he had signed a contract with Spanish multinational, Acciona for $4.24 billion, to deliver Stage 2 of the Western Harbour Tunnel, three lanes in each direction from Birchgrove to Berry’s Bay.

Mr Perrottet informed the media that he had agreed to Acciona’s proposal for a complete change of plan, to excavate the tunnel through a rock layer below the Harbour, rather than the advertised plan - to lay a prefabricated structure along the Harbour floor.

The complete lack of information about this new plan has fuelled speculation and anxiety among local residents. Under the earlier design, Transport New South Wales forecast traffic would be grid-locked at intersections, affecting local suburbs. The deeper tunnel will need a longer gradient to the surface. Where will it surface? How will it impact on local residents, at home or driving to and from local streets? How many ventilation towers will be required to pump out six lanes of exhaust fumes? Where will they be located?

It has been proven around the world that widening expressways does not fix traffic congestion; within a short period they lead to increased congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In the USA, States including California and Colorado have halted plans to widen traffic choked expressways, shifting their efforts to investing in zero emission trucks and moving freight by rail, and setting ambitious targets to improve and extend public transport.

Government contracts with multinational corporations to deliver State significant projects in New South Wales are signed and sealed when plans for these projects are, at best, 30% complete. The Government hands total control to the contractor, without placing conditions on them to consult with Local Councils or with affected residents.

Inexcusable and costly errors have occurred in recent years, when overseas corporations have been given control over delivery of State significant infrastructure with inadequate oversight and quality control by government agencies. For example: the fleet of ferries for the Parramatta run that didn’t fit safely under bridges along the river; River Class ferries full of asbestos; electric trains for the Blue Mountains that could’t fit through the tunnels, requiring reboring and the extensive modification of stations from Springwood to Lithgow; and the huge cracks appearing in Inner West Light Rail trams.

In North Shore, anxiety about the revised tunnel project has been compounded by the ramping up of work on other State infrastructure projects. The scale of these commencements is creating widespread concern. The contractors appear eager to demonstrate support for the Government, to get projects well under way before the election. Over the holiday season, on sites around North Sydney, heavy machinery was rolled out, roads closed, bulldozing and drilling commenced, trees marked for removal, lopped and chopped down.

Overnight, valued parklands around North Sydney have disappeared, stripped of trees, asphalted over to create parking for massive machines, with increasing air and noise pollution that will continue for years. This is particularly damaging for North Sydney, the local government area with one of the lowest ratios of open green space to residents. North Sydney has 550 residents per hectare, compared to Mosman’s 176 and Kur-ring-gai’s 84; it has suffered a more than 25% decline in its tree canopy since 2008.

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