How the planning process was corrupted to prop up the toll road corporations
by Dr Chris Standen
Recent modelling by Veitch Lister Consulting confirms the $17 billion WestConnex toll road will increase traffic and congestion in inner Sydney, making getting around more difficult for many of us. But isn’t the purpose of new transport infrastructure to improve mobility?
Well, WestConnex wasn’t conceived by skilled transport planners, aiming to improve mobility and access for Sydney’s growing population. In fact, I don't know of one independent transport expert who thinks the scheme makes sense from a transport, or economic, perspective.
Rather, the scheme was designed to optimise revenues and profits for private toll road corporations – much like the West Gate Tunnel that Transurban, already earning $2.1 billion a year from tolls, has proposed for Melbourne.
These corporations’ business models depend not on improving mobility or liveability, but on cramming more traffic onto metropolitan roads, and on locking us into paying ever-increasing tolls. Indeed, Sydney Motorways Corporation chief, Dennis Cliche, recently described the new M4 toll as “exciting”.
It was crudely shoehorned into the final version of the 2012 NSW Transport Master Plan. Objectives such as "reducing congestion" and "linking Western Sydney to the Airport" were drafted retrospectively, to try to justify the scheme.
Embarrassingly, even these objectives won’t be met. As the new modelling shows, WestConnex will significantly increase congestion. Traffic on Parramatta Road has already surged, due to motorists avoiding the new tolls on the M4. WestConnex won’t actually “connex” to the Airport – and because the existing Airport motorway (M5 East) will be tolled $14 for a round trip from 2020, many people driving from Western Sydney will be switching to slower local roads.
A financial flop before it’s even built
The Commonwealth and NSW governments committed billions of dollars to this private enterprise before a very unconvincing business case was crafted. This funding included proceeds from the sale of income-generating public assets (electricity network).
In a reversal of a normal Public Private Partnership arrangement, the NSW Government then volunteered to build WestConnex on behalf of the private sector – saddling taxpayers with all the financial risk.
Despite public subsidies of over $5.6 billion to date, WestConnex still won’t be able to pay for itself through user charges – it’s a financial flop before it’s even built. To make up the shortfall, new tolls are being slapped on existing, publicly-owned motorways (M4 and M5 East), and extended on the M5 Southwest after 2026, when this motorway will have been paid off. Further substantial taxpayer subsidies are likely.
Will the scheme meet its objective of increasing corporate profits? Probably. While there is still significant uncertainty around future toll revenues and construction costs, the financial risk continues to be borne by taxpayers – because the NSW Government is yet to hand WestConnex over to the private sector.
I expect the future operator will acquire it at a fire-sale price. It will also want revenue guarantees. This is where this week’s announcement of a vehicle registration refund scheme for frequent toll road users comes in. This subsidy, likely to cost taxpayers $1 billion over the next 10 years, will encourage some travellers to switch from free roads and public transport to the private toll roads, shoring up traffic and revenue.
In terms of political popularity, a $358 incentive to use toll roads is unlikely to make up for new tolls of $3,300 a year on the existing M5 East, and $2,000 a year on the M4.
The biggest misuse of public funds in Australia's history?
Clearly, WestConnex is not in the public interest. The scheme involves arguably the biggest misuse of public funds for private gain in Australia's history – billions of dollars that could otherwise have been used for worthwhile infrastructure or services.
The harm to people’s lives is immeasurable. Construction is already destroying communities, affecting people's health, and disrupting sleep and travel – with years more to come. The new tolls on the existing motorways will hurt lower-income households, particularly in Western Sydney. The extra traffic generated through induced demand and toll-avoidance will lead to more road trauma and traffic noise. In particular, we can expect more trucks on local streets day and night, as they avoid the new tolls.
Traffic pollution – an invisible killer
Sydney's air already has unhealthy levels of traffic pollution. Diesel exhaust is a carcinogen in the same class as asbestos. Invisible and odourless petrochemical particulates penetrate deep into our lungs and into our blood supply while we work, exercise and sleep – and we may only become aware of the health consequences years later.
The toll road bosses and their government backers know WestConnex will cause more people to die and suffer chronic illness from traffic pollution in future. Is profit more important to them?
But it’s not a done deal. Stage 3 is still unfunded, and has major engineering challenges. Other cities worldwide have been saved from inner-city motorway schemes in the past. With jobs decentralisation, affordable housing policies, and investment in efficient and rapid mass transit, they are prospering without costly, destructive and polluting tollways.
(This article was originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-planning-process-corrupted-help-toll-road-chris-standen/ on 1 Nov 2017 and has been reproduced here with Dr Standen's kind permission.)
Please help us get the word out about the Fix NSW Transport Lantern Walk with these downloadable posters.
You can print colour or B&W, as a big poster or small flyer. Make it double sided and put your local group's message on the back.
Thanks to Joel Tarling for his great hand drawn style on this one:
Thanks to Rob Manser for this alternative version:
Facebook event - https://www.facebook.com/events/184634588836161/
Short URL - bit.do/fixnsw2
The new WestCONnex CONsortium - Companies alleged to be involved in tax-dodging, bribery & corruption
The three companies selected by the NSW Government this week to build Stage 3 of WestConnex have a troubling recent history of alleged corruption, bribery and tax-dodging. But it seems their combined lack of ethics hasn't prevented Premier Gladys Berejiklian from handing over billions of dollars in taxpayers money to the consortium consisting of Lend Lease, Samsung C&T Corporation and Bouygues Construction (LSB).
WestCONnex has been deliberately planned in stages not only to mask the cumulative impacts, but also to create the impression that each successive stage is necessary to 'link' the project together. As such, Stage 3 is an $8 billion road from the M4 at Haberfield to the M5 at St Peters, with the virtually unbuildable Rozelle interchange tacked on. The government is hoping to create the illusion that this will 'keep the traffic underground'. But if this were the case then WestCONnex would merely act as a giant u-turn.
The reality is that Stage 3 is a western bypass of the CBD, whose purpose is to allow north shore drivers to get a bit closer to the airport before they reach the next bottleneck. The shameful thing is that regardless of whether western Sydney drivers use it, this most expensive stage of WestCONnex is being paid for by forcing them to pay new tolls on previously free public roads.
You can learn more about WestCONnex Stage 3 in this talk by Terry Lee-Williams, the City of Sydney’s Chief Transport Advisor.
We hope this graphic captures some of the absurdity of the entire scheme.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Fix NSW Transport rally and made it such a big success.
We had over a thousand people from over 25 community groups and unions attend. Our message to stop the tolls and put public and active transport first was heard loud and clear and we received prime time coverage on Nine, Seven and ABC news. A number of follow up articles appeared in the Blue Mountains Gazette, the Newcastle Herald, the Mosman Daily, the Inner West Independent, the South Sydney Herald and Australasian Bus & Coach.Read more
Happy New Year and thanks for all your support through 2017. It was our biggest year of activity so far and no doubt our movement will continue to grow in 2018.
(cartoon by Cathy Wilcox for SMH)
Here's a blow-by-blow account of the significant events of 2017 that have contributed to exposing westCONnex as the toxic scam that it truly is.Read more
COALITION AGAINST WESTCONNEX
Media Release - 15/12/2017 12.20 pm
RESIDENTS DEMAND END TO ‘FAKE’ APPROVAL PROCESS.
Anti Westconnex campaigners today occupied the NSW Department of Planning in Pitt Street, Sydney, calling for NSW Planning to reject the Environmental Impact Statement for the Stage 3 Westconnex tollway between St Peters, Haberfield and Rozelle and for an end to ‘fake’ approval processes.
“The community is sick of being pushed aside while decisions driven by the road lobby are being made behind closed doors,” said Paul Jeffery spokesperson for the Coalition against WestConnex, a network of anti-WestConnex community groups involved in today’s protest.
A chanting chorus of activists in 'faceless' masks (stamped REJECT EIS!) and a trio of White Elephants demanded an end to Gladys' FAKE approval process.
NSW Planning received more than 12,000 submissions, including submissions from City of Sydney and the Inner West Council, documenting hundreds of flaws in Sydney Motorway Corporation’s EIS. NSW government departments have also been strongly critical of the EIS which is based only on a concept not an actual design. (http://www.altmedia.net.au/epa-rejectswestconnex-
“Despite the evidence, we’re worried that political pressure will be exerted to override expert concerns so that the Gladys Berejiklian government can move ahead with privatising WestConnex. The Stage 3 project would impose more intolerable impacts on residents and waste a further $7 billion on a solution that will worsen, not solve, traffic congestion.”
“For Planning to approve an EIS based on a vague concept would show utter contempt for communities whose lives have been made intolerable by WestConnex projects, for the people of NSW who’d bear the cost and for the very idea of independent planning,“ said Paul Jeffery.
Contact: Spokesperson for Coalition against WestConnex : Paul Jeffery 0410 636 663
The CAW network includes No WestConnex: Public Transport, Rozelle Against WestConnex, Westconnex Action Group, Leichhardt Against WestConnex, Save Newtown and other groups.
Statement by Coalition against WestConnex
The Coalition against WestConnex (CAW), a network of community groups opposed to WestConnex, has launched the People’s M4/M5 EIS.
The People’s M4/M5 EIS is a website designed to help people make submissions to NSW Planning, which is currently assessing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for WestConnex Stage 3, a tunnel between St Peters and Haberfield and Rozelle in Sydney's Inner West. Despite calls for a longer period, the public has been given only 60 days to respond to an EIS of 7000 pages.
Council elections September 9
Many councils across NSW are having elections this Saturday Sep 9th. Your local council can play a vital role in amplifying your opposition to WestCONnex, fighting to stop the project and getting the public and active transport solutions Sydney so desperately needs. Different areas will have different concerns, it may be huge tolls, exhaust pollution or a lack of public transport.
To help find out where the candidates stand and help you make an informed vote, on July 30th we put up a Facebook post calling on all candidates in the Inner West Council area to respond to a set of questions on WestCONnex. We also invited candidates to submit video responses as well. We posted those responses on our Facebook page as they were received.
COMMENT ON LETTER TO LUKE FOLEY
We had been hoping to bring our supporters up to date with Labor’s position on WestCONnex. So on 16 August, the Coalition Against WestCONnex, which includes twelve community groups opposing WestCONnex, sent NSW Labor leader Luke Foley a letter asking him to answer some questions. We specifically told him that we regarded the answers to these questions as being relevant to the Local government elections this Saturday, 9th of September. We attached a list of strong reasons for Labor opposing WestCONnex.
We asked him to reply in five days. With only three days to go to the election, we have not received a reply so we are releasing the letter so supporters can make up their own minds why NSW Labor will not answer these questions.