Some 400-500 residents of Tempe, St Peters and Alexandria met RTA representatives today as part of the RTA’s $2m community consultation program.  After meeting beforehand in the Tempe wetlands, residents walked around to the RTA marquee on Tempe Reserve.  Judging from the four reps on hand, one large table showing a map, various display panels and half a dozen plastic chairs, I’m not sure RTS was expecting as many as 400 people; from their event management logistics, they appear to have only anticipated 50 at most. NSW Police were present, so I guess the RTA suspected they might get more than 50 and thus need crowd control management.

The free sausage sizzle was patronised and what I found particularly gratifying was a strolling troubadour type giving voice to the Joni Mitchell song about tress and carparks. I guess I’m grateful at my age that anyone actually remembers this anthem about progress, from so many decades ago.

I collected the handouts, consulted the very large map and tried to listen as carefully as I could to the RTA reps. I’m horrified by the their admissions of the failed M5, Those of us who use it know, from daily first-hand experience, that it has long ago become a Tunnel for Trucks. Very brave of the RTA to talk up the M5 when it was being built as a luxurious 80km ride. What a let-down for them to admit the average traffic speed is now half that. Stop the rot, stop encouraging cars and trucks, find alternatives to simply building more and more highways.

As a corporate spindoctor, I’m highly attuned to the logistics and layout of event management. I feel for the RTA reps – there but for the grace of God, etc. But Tempe residents weren’t in the least feral or working class “difficult”. We politely raised hands, as in a classroom, to ask questions.

The changing face of RTA information

I’m also attuned to the ‘legalities’ of information provided according to the medium it’s presented in. If it’s verbal, it can be denied (“I’m sorry you misheard me”), but once it’s in print, it’s hard to deny. So what do I see on the large table – a map showing a road (underground or overground wasn’t indicated) across the golfcourse, around Tempe Reserve and the wetlands and up through industrial land behind IKEA, parallel to the canal. Regardless of the fact that Tempe Reserve and wetlands appear not to be concreted over – at least according to this map, Tempe residents are still looking at 3 years of their green space turned over to the construction of any M5 expansion or “link road” up to North Airport.

Confusion abounds

My interest in the presentations faded when the microphones broke down, when speakers didn’t use the microphones effectively and they started to use descriptors in their speech nowhere to be found in the printed material, things like a “link road” between the M5 and Campbell Road St Peters. What’s a “link road”? Isn’t that code for an overpass at Tempe, half of east Tempe demolished with a large Marsh-St type access installation at Campbell Road? And despite talk of politicians supposedly dropping the idea, it’s still in very great detail in RTA literature, very much front-of-mind for road transport planners. Some keen residents stayed on past noon with the verbal presentations; standing at the back I couldn’t hear or follow the questions and answers. I find it hard to feel sorry for truck drivers supposedly driving in from Bringelly to Alexandria in their hundreds of thousands each day.

So this is the map as presented at the community consultation event today… Things have obviously moved on from an ominous generic arrow overshadowing Tempe Reserve and wetlands into a red arterial/link road from Marsh Street to Campbell Road.

Not being built for traffic into the CBD….?

Of great interest was an ‘access point’ away from the M5 to areas north of the airport. The RTA tells me that no-one is predicted to come off the M5 and drive to Campbell Lane in order to directly access the CBD – at least, only 5% of anticipated trucks are likely to do that. So if I’m to believe this, then it appears that future plans (after any Campbell Road exit) might not include concreting over areas of Sydney Park and creation of additional highway and road-widening into Alexandria and Redfern. Residents today used apt analogies such as “funnelling” of traffic from the west into local residential areas; the RTA reps present could provide no new insights beyond what was already in their printed material. Like any other spin doctors talking about the future, everything dissolves into macaronic, future “strategic options”.

Move the Airport

Apparently most of the traffic comes into the airport. Move the airport or create a second one and hey presto, the truck/car traffic heading east would seem to disappear! Yet, the south of the airport is perfectly well catered for in terms of the Marsh Street exit and the airport roads. I still find projected truck traffic problematic, coming from the west to the north of the Airport, up near Sydney Park. All I see to the east of Sydney Park is residential, new high-rise apartments. Commuters to Green Square and the Airport from Glenfield are more easily fixed by freeing up Aiport line rail stations than by building yet another highway.

Tempe Green Space

Alienation of Tempe green space seems still on the cards, given local construction requirements – trucks have to come and out of any planned construction of tunnels or roads and Tempe green space is the only available. So more alienation, on top of the desal plant, and M5 and Wolli Creek Station and 200 Olympics.

Traffic dumping at St Peters

Still no relief that Campbell Road/Lane won’t suffer from massive increases in traffic. Which must mean knocking down houses to widen existing roads. Which must mean encroachment on to Sydney Park, new widened roads to join up with existing throughways into the CBD.

A sop to the marginal seats out West…

I still don’t see why I need to sacrifice my clean air and green space for truck/car traffic between Camden Valley Road and Port Botany.  Not when there’s already a perfectly good M5, General Holmes Drive/Eastern Distributor, Princes Hwy/Canal Road and hardrail line for container freight.

The Bleeding Obvious, if this was Japan…

I’m still hearing nothing about concreting over Alexandria Canal. Unless someone is saving this up for high-rise housing development.

The Only Conclusion Possible…

The only conclusion from today’s community consultation I can come to is that the RTA is hell-bent on concreting over as much of Wolli Creek/North Rockdale/Tempe/St Peters/Alexandria as it possibly can, so that it can connect Camden with the CBD. All because governments have moved Sydney Harbour port activity to Port Botany, won’t move the Airport or create a Second Sydney Airport somewhere and because they are hardwired into building highways instead of looking at transport alternatives.

Another instance of temporary alienation from our Green Space

I’m sure as I’ve ever been that Tempe Reserve and wetlands, if not completely concreted over, will be subject to temporary alienation, again, as a construction site, for the M5 Eastern expansion into four lanes and any access points where traffic will flood into Tempe and St Peters.

F6 expressway Loftus-to-St Peters

What I also found curious was the complete lack of any mention today of the F6 extension from Sans Souci up to Alexandria (presumably concreting over the wetlands behind Brighton-le-Sands in the process). The written literature is very specific about the Loftus to St Peters expressay.

Political implications

I saw no politicans present, from local Council, State or Federal government. I guess they think that if public servants want to make fools of themselves in public, they as pollies don’t need to help them. I understand Marrickville Council was at the head of the march to the RTA marquee; I was down the back and missed them. There was certainly no obvious interaction between Council and RTA at the event, whcih speaks volumes about public interface between pollies and bureaucrats.

What I find particularly annoying about this exercise is how levels of government hide behind jurisdiction. It seems as an ordinary Australian, I fall between the cracks between the levels of government, left to fend for myself, left to work out for myself why local government promotes action in relation to climate change and quality of local, physical environment, to watch all their work stomped on from a great height by State and Federal politics. While others around the world can’t get decent rule of law, voting rights, multi-party, we, who describe ourselves as enlightened, suffer as a result of over-government and lack of networking between levels of government.

Costs incurred by RTA in community consultation

With the marquee/chairs/display panels/table all most likely owned already owned by RTA, as part of their normal time-honoured public affairs travel setup, and their transport logistics to Tempe Reserve doubtless provided by RTA trucks, I can’t see where my $2m community consultation money is going. Apart from glossy printed maps and brochures, but they’re already printed in large enough printruns for householder mail drops.

I have to concede though that I guess some of the $2m must have gone into my sausage sandwich. With onions, hold the sauce.

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More incredible stuff from the NSW Government’s Transport Department and the RTA!

Reducing congestion and travel times on the M5

The NSW Government built the M5 and now it’s congested. Well, just stop the rot! Don’t encourage them! Take cars off the road. Take trucks carrying sea containers off the road. Run the containers out to the west along the existing hard rail freight line which already runs from Port Botany, along the north of the airport and through Sydenham. Yes, I hear the grinding of the train wheels at night so I know it’s already in use, but what about upgrading it – faster trains with a bit more soundproofing?

New four-lane westbound tunnel on the M5

Won’t an enlarged four-lane westbound tunnel simply draw in more vehicular traffic? More trucks? Won’t it be congested three years after it’s built? When that happens, what’s next? Another four-lane westbound tunnel? Why cater to them, why encourage them? Stop the rot!

‘Access to the airport and industrial/commercial areas to the north of the airport’

I’ve been very careful to repeat the exact words of the RTA here. Access to the airport is perfectly efficient at the moment. For cars and trucks coming from the south and west, there is a spectacular highway from Marsh Street along Airport Drive to the airport and to areas north of the airport. I remain unconvinced of the need for any more highways in the area.

I don’t know what data the RTA is using for this argument but the City of Sydney Council has already approved and implemented spectacular amounts of residential housing north of the airport, consolidating a trend since the 1990s of light industry moving out. The leather tanneries and horse knackeries are long gone. Danks St and Green Square occupy what used to be light industrial areas. The Waterloo Council incinerator has gone. The putrid smell of industry no longer hangs in the air. Residents are served magnificently in terms of public transport with a new rail network – gleaming new stations at International Airport, Domestic Airport, Green Square. If that private rail network was part of the larger Sydney CityRail network, then pressure would be taken off the 309 and 310 buses. Ever tried to catch a 309 bus from Botany to the City at the end of the morning shift? Try getting on a bus anywhere on those routes around 2pm…

No, this is rhetoric for car commuters from Wollongong and Sutherland Shire having an alternate route into the city. Shaving an extra ten seconds off their airconditioned private ride into the city. They have a perfectly good Sydney Orbital and Eastern Distributor, but they want more. Car drivers want the entire inner Sydney to be concreted over and turned into highways for their benefit. Stop the rot! Impose taxes on cars in the CBD. Get commuters off the roads and into fast trains.

Tempe as construction site

At first glance, I couldn’t understand why I was being consulted as a Tempe resident. The M5 East Expansion runs from Wolli Creek to Bexley and beyond; the Sydney Orbital and M5 Motorway at the aiport are already in place. Then it hit me: Tempe is going to be used as the construction site. Again. Tempe has already given up its green space many, many times: the 200 Olympics saw our sporting fields turned into a carpark for buses; then there was the M5 Motorway construction when the same playing fields were used to create the tunnel and ferry out the soil; then came the construction of the Wolli Creek rail interchange. Then the completely misguided desalination plant with its pipelines. All these infrastructure constructions meant temporary alienation from green space – for years at a time. This is not NIMBYism; this is the opposite of NIMBYism. We’re constantly turning over our local area for the good of others.

The F6 corridor extension by stealth

When Tempe is included on the map and Tempe residents are consulted, then we know this is code for extending the F6 from the south. We know this is code for concreting over the Tempe wetlands, created at a cost of $17.3m by our local Council.

This is about a NSW government not committed to promotion of public transport, but about punishing the environmental agenda of a local Council. The State government will quash the Tempe wind farm for the same reason. It will confound local action regarding solar panels and grey water and water runoff. It will find new Fees & Charges to inhibit local electricity being created and fed back into the grid.

Plainly, the NSW Government is not interested in making the urban environment liveable for its citizens, not addressing air pollution or climate change or self-sufficiency. The State Government wants to continue building highways in order to promote the use of the car and the car manufacturers. 

Surely once the F6 corridor extension is built, then the NSW Government must, of necessity, have its eyes on running a highway through Sydney Park, through public housing land in Zetland into the CBD. The State Government’s agenda is very clear: build a highway, promote car usage so that one become congested, build another one next to it, let it become congested, build another one next to that one.

The NSW Government’s cash flow for all this is what? Car registrations and party political donations from developers interested in building more highways; it’s too frightened to make users pay. Make residents like those in Tempe pay, the uncomplaining, the commuters on Tempe Station every morning and the passengers of bus 422.

Highways and car/truck transport in this part of Sydney is perfectly adequate as it stands: the recently-built highways and freeways in and around the Airport, South Sydney, the Botany and Marrickville LGAs. Stop concreting over even more of the inner Sydney just so those in the ‘burbs can sit in their cars all day long. For those in living in Woonona and Camden and Cronulla: lobby for faster and more comfortable trains and get sea containers travelling to Ingleburn on existing railway lines, not new freeways!

Hundreds of residents turned up in the rain at Tempe wetlands today to learn more about the RTA’s plans for a F6 corridor freeway extension to nearby St Peters. I understand  that Tempe wetlands, rejuvenated by the local Council at a cost of $17m in recent memory, will be covered over by a four-lane freeway. The concreting over is something straight out of a Joni Mitchell song! That this can even be considered in this day and age with focus on climate change, air pollution, residential highrise replacing former light industrial beggars belief. And this, after expressways and highways have been constructed nearby.

Why are we doubling up on highways already built a few years ago? Why are we doubling the size of the M5 when it was only built a few years ago? Why are we moving trucks carrying containers from Port Botany along this road when we’ve had a perfectly adequate hard rail network doing so for decades?

I’m writing to my local Council wardsman indicating regrettably that the next Council elections are rapidly shaping up to be one-issue elections for me personally. Basically, I can’t vote for a Council wardsman who can’t influence State politicians that concreting over wetlands that they have paid for is not a good look. (Hang on, I think I’ve paid for the wetlands in my Council rates.)

I’m writing to my local Member of Parliament, the Premier of NSW, indicating also that the F6 corrdior freeway extension is also a one-issue election for me. Roll on March 2011! She has  a perfectly good hard rail goods line running from Port Botany through Sydenham to the west. Why put containers on trucks along the M5? Her RTA wants acess from the Sutherland Shire and Wollongong to industrial areas in South Sydney. Where are those industrial areas? They have moved out of South Sydney to Western Sydney since 1990. Those industrial areas have been replaced by car showrooms and highrise apartment blocks – the likes of Danks Street and Green Square are proof of that.

I’m sure those present at today’s rally will write letters to their local pollies full of human interest stories about the air quality for their littlies and lots of emotional handwringing about Saving the Planet. I’m just going to cut to the chase and indicate I won’t be voting for them – regardless of how bad their competitor campaign candidates are, regardless of ‘other issues’, regardless of what happens between now and the next election.

As if the arguments weren’t already clear enough, here’s some to consider:

Green credentials vs highway construction. I find it absolutely incredulous in this day and age, when the ALP federally is promoting positive action on climate change, that the NSW State government is expediting further above-ground highway construction in Sydney suburbs. Car access from the south is already perfect: up the Princes Highway and around the Eastern Distributor.

State government destroying what Local government creates. I am taken aback at the NSW State government concreting over wetlands rejuvenated at the cost of $17.3m by local Council. Somewhere along the line, my Marrickville Council rates paid for one and taxes will pay for the other. I’m confused about who I can trust with spending my taxes properly. I pay one lot of taxes to have wetlands created; a year or two later, my taxes go to paying for them to be concreted over.

Road to Nowhere. I undersand this F6 extension ends up in ‘nowhere’ at St Peters without any adequate distribution network thereafter. I’m not at all swayed by the fact that this has been in the offing since the 1948 County of Cumberland transport plan. Back then there was a solid public transport system and not a word about pollution or carbon footprints or saving the planet.  I am old enough to remember when the word ‘ecology’ was invented in the late-1970s. The atrocious mis-handling of toll contracts in general and the M5 airstacks in particular, ongoing support for car companies (especially in the latest tax concessions for small business owners) and the mis-handling of the Airport railway stations contract are all at cross-purposes with ALP talk of ‘Saving the Planet’. Out of all these mixed messages surely comes the conclusion that future highways have to be underground and the air emitted from them has to be of the highest possible quality. For things like sea containers in and out of nearby Port Botany, those ‘boxes’ need to travel around by rail, not on our roads.

Government sequestering of Tempe green space. NIMBYism is all about protecting your own territory without “giving” up things for the common good. Well, I am tired at the way green space in Tempe is sequestered on a regular basis by governments: Olympic carpark, M5 freeway construction, desalination plant construction work. Every time a government needs us, we hand over our sporting fields and playing fields and green space without so much as a whimper.  I accept major infrastructure for the common good or the broader public benefit. I’m not sure voters in Liberal-held seats are so compassionate and civic-minded when it comes to their green spaces being taken over in similar ways. Give me some examples of similar altruistic behaviour in St George, Sutherland Shire, Wollongong! Are Tempe’s working class/working families too soft a target? Are Tempe’s ALP voters being taken for a ride? Is the ALP making too many assumptions about rusted-on supporters? While Tempe residents are routinely alienated from their green space, what is particularly galling in this instance is the permanent alienation created by a F6 corridor freeway extension.

‘Growing’ public transport as an alternative. I have lived in Tempe long enough to see bus services not increase over time in response to population growth. Local rail services have decreased. Two platforms on Tempe Railway Station are now idle. They were busy twenty years ago. Politicians at all levels of government remain uncommitted to public transport for the inner city gentrifiers moving into Tempe, nor for the car-dependent long-term NESB migrants who live here. Replicate that across every suburb in Sydney and mine is not some ‘narrow’ perspective of reality: what if my experience is being duplicated across Sydney? 

Mixed messages and political fallout. I can only conclude that the ALP’s commitment to confronting climate change, reducing pollution and improving the quality of the environment is rapidly deteriorating into simply hypocritical lip-service. While talking earnestly about climate change and carbon reduction on the one hand even up to and including the world stage, it is happy for ‘business-as-usual’ back at home with endless highway construction into the future. I appreciate the ALP will do anything to win over voters in non-Labor held seats elsewhere in Sydney by providing them with an extra 30 seconds of car travel-time into and out of Sydney CBD. But in any post-mortems conducted after the ALP loses at Council, State (and perhaps even Federal) elections, it ought not overlook the impact of this F6 extension in particular and transport decision-making in general.

The Hon. David Campbell MP, Minister for Transport and Roads; the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP, Member for Grayndler; the Hon. Kristina Keneally MP.