Saturday, 3 May 2014

Who are they?

The Eastern Distributor under Darlinghurst is a tunnel wide enough to to carry three lanes of traffic on two levels. Where it is joined by the off ramp tunnel to William Street it is the widest tunnel in the world. The tunnels were drilled from north of William Street and from Moore  Park  meeting under Taylor Square. Suspending the upper three lanes on precast planks from the walls of the tunnel was a feat of engineering.

I was gobsmacked when Clover Moore rattled out her achievements at the end of the community forum on the light rail in April (she had the only microphone): "They did not want to grade-separate the carriage ways along South Dowling Street". It would have been an extraordinary feat of engineering the bring the lower southbound level up to grade. In my letter to the minister calling for the Harbour Tunnel and the Cahill Espressway to jointly provide the traffic needed  to make the moribund Eastern Distributor project economically viable I had pointed out that there would be a grade-separated highway from Chatswood to Botany Bay and eventually beyond - the grade separation of the carriageway along South Dowling Street was always an essential  part of the business plan.

The EIS for the Distributor, archived in the Fisher Library, lays out what was actually planned and was abetted by "concerned citizens" forums dominated by Moore. The exclusive bus road through Moore Park was to be shut down, and Riley Street and Reservoir Street were to be closed off to force drivers to use the motorway. The objections I and others raised were upheld be the assessors and the Distributor went ahead without controversy. That is to say the assessors accepted that changes to bus routes and road closures were matters that had to be disclosed and made a part of the Assessment process. The revised CSELR EIS, aka Preferred Infrastructure Report, demands that these matters, that were outlined in the EIS, be disregarded and be left for TfNSW to determine before the Project goes into operation.

One of the section figures in the EIS for the Eastern Distributor showed a bus stopped at Drivers Triangle. I pointed out that a passenger who alighted here would have nowhere to go but to jump into the entrance to the tunnel. This would have been regarded as an error in good faith and would not have been grounds for challenging the EIS if it had been a matter of community concern. The newly sworn in Baird government is dominated by politicians of faith, but they are clearly not of good faith.

Viaducts over Anzac Parade

The exhibited EIS contained an entire chapter of 34 pages detailing how the self-proclaimed geniuses at TfNSW had grappled with "the design for the preferred CSELR route". Chapter 4.3.1 dealt with the "vertical alignment through Moore Park". The "two main options considered" were the tunnel under Anzac Parade announced in the December 13 2012 brochure and a viaduct over South Dowling Street, Moore Park west and Anzac Parade.

The EIS conceded that a viaduct would have safety benefits and would "avoid traffic impacts to local roads and South Dowling Street". It would also have lower cost. The EIS failed to realise that elevated platforms would also provide much greater access to crowds arriving and leaving events at Moore Park venues. The section concludes: "Whilst the viaduct is a lower-cost option, avoids an additional signalised intersection at South Dowling Street and would result in a marginal journey time benefit, this is not, on balance, considered to be sufficient to counter the potential visual impact and severance of the Moore Park playing fields".

The then Premier announced on 26 February 2014 that a pedestrian/cyclist bridge would be built over Anzac Parade. This bridge will be as wide as a tram viaduct, will have a greater impact on the Moore Park public spaces with its spiral access ramps and does not provide connections with existing cycle or pedestrian paths. The Premier's announcement stated that consultation has been carried out with stakeholders including event operators, local trusts, businesses, City of Sydney, Veterans Affairs and Transport for NSW. Clover Moore has denounced the plan following his admission of lying to the ICAC so the honesty of this assertion is also in question.

An alternative motivation for the announcement became obvious a couple of weeks later when TfNSW released the Preferred Infrastructure Report revising the preferred route in the exhibited EIS.

The signalised pedestrian crossing adjacent to Sydney Girls High School was to be closed down and a pedestrian bridge built across Anzac Parade with a zig-zag access ramp on land excised from the school grounds. Cyclists have an aversion to zig-zag ramps. So there will be two bridges, neither linked to existing cycle or pedestrian paths, within a stone's throw of one another.

The exhibited EIS stated: "at the EIS preparation phase exhibition for the CSELR undertaken in September 2013 the cut-and-cover tunnel was generally the preferred option of the community... Based on this options assessment, the cut-and-cover tunnel was retained as the preferred alignment". The "exhibition" consisted of handing out a postcard sized questionnaire with boxes to be ticked. Only extremely naive respondents would have returned the cards - not a scientific pole. If the people who responded to the questionnaire had been informed that the alternative to a tram viaduct would be two closely spaced overpasses they would probably have ticked another box.

Since the EIS cites this survey as the only reason for retaining the tunnel option, the survey must needs be repeated when the community has been fully informed before the Assessors can be asked to approve the Project.

A week is a long time in politics

17 April 2014
Over the Easter weekend newspapers carried advertisements by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure seeking to recruit Assessors. The ads cited the number of coal mining projects that would need to be assessed as one of the reasons for the recruitment drive and listed the wide range of qualifications that applicants should possess. The ads concluded that the function of assessors was to give professional, impartial advise to the Minister.

But which Minister? A week after being sworn in as Premier, Baird announced that he would be Minister for Infrastructure and Pru Goward was made Minister for Planning. Brad Hazzard, who had admitted along with Nick Greiner that their statements to the ICAC inquiry into the Metherell affair were wrong, is the new Attorney General - his old department is no more. The recruitment drive has disappeared from the face of the earth.

Nick Greiner had proclaimed O'Farrell to be an infrastructure Premier and Baird has said that infrastructure projects are the key to winning the next election for the coalition, but this is the first time that infrastructure has been separated from planning and the environment.

A week after the latest cabinet was sworn in by the State Governor two of the appointments have resigned after being named in the latest ICAC inquiry. The latest was the Police Minister who was also the government leader in the upper house.

Since the revised CSELR EIS depends on the Liberal Party government still being in power to implement closures of bus routes in the CBD years after the State election on 28 March 2015, the Assessors are faced with a moral and professional dilemma: do they approve an EIS that failed to disclose where terminated buses would physically turn around and rescinded whatever information on bus routes that had been published in the exhibited EIS and hope that the problems can be resolved?

The Manly boys

There was no information on where Baird lived before he became Premier - this was restricted. It turns out his house is in neighbouring Fairlight. Bob Askin lived in Manly all his life but had electorates on the Northern Beaches. Brad Hazzard grew up and went to school in Manly.

Dr Peter Macdonald was the independent MP for Manly and one of the four independent MPs who threatened to vote for a no confidence motion and forced Nick Greiner to resign as Premier. Brad Hazzard was not asked to resign as he was just a back-bencher when he admitted to giving false testimony to the ICAC.

Baird has made himself Infrastructure Minister but the plan to run trams along George Street is seen as a whim of the former Premier O'Farrell. Will Cabinet press ahead with the Project and face spending another 45 years in opposition?

Only the foolish would try to predict what will happen next in New South Wales politics.

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