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News from the Front Desk Issue: No 238

Tim Williams

On how Sydney might follow Melbourne’s lead and ditch a big ugly scar threatening its sanity – the WestConnex.

Can Sydney follow Melbourne’s lead and ditch the huge planned road project, the $15 billion WestConnex?

If Committee for Sydney’s Tim Williams has his way, it will.

In Melbourne the East West Link was knocked over by sheer force of numbers – a huge grass roots movement that stretched right to Spring Street and was at least a part of what kicked out the incumbent government.

The thing got messy and raised accusations of sovereign risk, which is a complete nonsense since the incoming government, flagged by strong opinion polls, signalled its intent to cancel the contract clearly.

Sydney doesn’t have to go that far if it pulls out now.

But while there’s been a few protests at the WestConnex, it’s not the populace that’s turning out in droves to demand a cancellation of the plans, it’s business and some powerful cohorts that are rounding on Mr SqueakyClean, the Premier Mike Baird, to say how wrong footed he is on this score.

So even though it’s the lifestyles of the inner west communities that are most at risk (and possibly the most feisty/lefty/greenie in Sydney) it’s not they who are turning the agenda of this Titanic.

What’s happening is a growing awareness that the way business is done and the way planning is done needs to change. It needs to shift from benefitting the club of big builders and bankers (short term micro gains) to the entire city (long term macro gains).

Williams’ feisty speech at the University of Sydney last week, reported by Fairfax Media, is sensational in telling it like it is on infrastructure, the need for public transport to enable denser cities, the dumb thinking that building more roads actually alleviates traffic (it adds to it) and the fact that yet again Australia is going against the tide in world thinking.

Among the Committee for Sydney’s members are an impressive line up of corporates such as Macquarie Group, Lend Lease, Stockland, DEXUS, Charter Hall, Westpac, ANZ, Arup, AECOM and even News Corp. Some of these get work in infrastructure building or financing.

Williams was scathing and magnificent in his vilification of this threatening villain on the landscape. It was wrong thinking, he said, branding his presentation “this is not our vision” and “I wouldn’t start here”.

All sides of politics had “got it wrong” on the city’s transport priorities, he said. They lacked ambition.

And how’s this for some comments feisty enough to make the inner westies blanch: The people proposing the WestConnex were in the “thrall of the road builders”.

We know this already from the investigations by award winning journalist and professor of journalism Wendy Bacon who found ample evidence of “the club” and untruths in various claims to support the project.

If business people and major corporates are getting sick of the cronyism, you know some exciting changes could be afoot. A bit like when the generals start to switch sides on El Presidente, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that.

Williams called on the government to release the business cases for the new mega projects being proposed for Sydney.

See the latest report from City of Sydney, produced by SGS Economics and Planning which said traffic would not be alleviated around the freeway; it would increase as people sought to avoid the toll. Anyone travelling on the City Link Tunnel can attest it’s one of the most lightly used roads in Sydney, thanks to its cost.

With the Roads and Maritime Services as the structural planner for Sydney, Williams said, “I’m sorry to say… I think we’ve got problems.”

He called for the RMS to be reconstructed, and he called for governments to meet the denser cities with public transport and other logical people-friendly facilities.

The rest of the world gets it, he said.

Claims that opposition to the WestConnex was from wealthy people was shameful, he said.

“I am astonished. I think [chief executive of RMS Dennis Cliche] must be panicking. I don’t think his masters would want the dialogue to be conducted like this.

“But also it’s just wrong. Because if you are worried about the inequity of our city and access to public transport, there’s really a good thing to do about it – give them access to public transport in western Sydney.”

Cliche told Fairfax Media that “Sydney needs an integrated transport solution that includes both roads and public transport to keep our city moving. It is not an either/or proposition.”

The weather, the weather

Here’s something different. Frustrated by yet another event impacted by dreadful weather this time in Sydney, this week branded the worst storm event ever, Phil Wilkins who is chief executive of the AIRAH had had enough.

He called together whoever was listening for a “flash meeting” to discuss the flash flooding.

He collected a meeting including AIRAH professionals Paul Stoller, Graham Carter, Liza Taylor, Simon Wild, Sanjeet Singh and Kerryn Wilmott for a discussion on resilience.

As Nepal struggles to deal with a massive earthquake the vulnerability of our built environment must have been another weight that pressed home on this group of people whose job is to ensure buildings do their job.

Wilkinson said the trigger for the meeting was that the Sydney weather was the third time in recent years AIRAH events had been affected by unexpected circumstances. “A few years ago we had delegates stranded in Australia at an international conference we were hosting. This was due to a volcanic eruption the other side of the world. Last year’s National Awards event in Brisbane was delayed due to the horrendous hail storms at the end of the year.

Engineers were those responsible for bringing buildings back to life when they were impacted by nasty events.

AIRAH was starting to think about its responsibility with resilience.

And so should we all.

Retail giants with giant footprints

News came this week that Scentre Group, the Westfield shopping centre spinoff and its co-owners spent more than $20 million on digital screens to get people to buy more stuff.

It will be nice to see if they can come close to approaching that investment in sustainability because among all the property sectors the retail shopping centres are the worst performers and among the sector Scentre and Westfield are the biggest players.

Sure they have plenty of excuses (trust us…they do) but why haven’t we seen Westfield announce a huge new solar installation as others have? Or proudly announced a new award for a high achieving new centre as GPT has at Highpoint Shopping Centre in Melbourne, which has reduced energy by 40 per cent compared to the pre-refurbishment baseline, water by 40 per cent and operational waste from landfill also by 40 per cent.

C’mon Westies, give the planet a go. We know you are the biggest, but surely you don’t want to be the ugliest.

Comments

One Response to “News from the Front Desk Issue: No 238”

  • Ingo Kumic says:

    I’d hesitate to put Melbourne on a pedestal. We’ve simply swapped one bit of tarmac for another

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