I rise to express my dismay and anger about the New South Wales government’s latest proposal to convert the former tram sheds next to the Leichhardt campus of Sydney Secondary College into an industrial construction site for the WestConnex toll road project.
Last week, without undertaking any consultation with the local community or local elected representatives, the government notified residents it wanted to use this land as a dive site for the construction of the stage 3 tunnel for the WestConnex project. This exemplifies the appalling lack of proper community engagement that has caused so much resentment towards this project.
The Leichhardt campus is already overcrowded. Almost 1,000 students are packed into a site that has little open space and only one school oval. That is why the school community has been campaigning for years to have incorporated into the school the very site that Sydney Motorway Corporation are now targeting. In any normal sized school, this land would already be a part of the grounds. If built, the dive site will become a major construction site, where earth will be removed to build the tunnels that make up stage 3 of the tollway. That anyone would propose this type of major construction virtually on the grounds of a local public high school is beyond belief. Daily truck movements and tunnelling activity will expose students to noise pollution, dust and dangerous traffic conditions.
In 2010 I was proud to open the sports field adjacent to the tram sheds—prior to that, they had none—following a grant to Leichhardt council from the former federal Labor government under our Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. The grounds are heavily used by students as well as local sports clubs on weekdays and weekends. How will sport or any other outdoor activity on the current grounds be enjoyed when they are surrounded, over and under, by an industrial construction site? By any measure, the location is entirely inappropriate for tunnelling.
What is worse is that the government does not even know where the tunnel will be going. In the notification letter sent out to residents, Sydney Motorway Corporation declares that they will ‘soon release a design report that includes the latest tunnel route, all short-listed M4-M5 link potential construction sites and other details’. This is a project where they have started building the tunnel at one end without knowing where it is going or where it is coming up. They are literally making it up as they go along. Because the government does not know where the tunnel is going to end, there is also no final completion date for the project, which means the site will be in use for an indefinite period of time. There is no set end to the disruption.
Besides bad planning, the outrageous thing is that the primary motivation behind choosing Leichhardt High School, or Sydney Secondary College, as it is now known, is simply greed. The choice of site is motivated by Sydney Motorway Corporation—which will be privatised down the track, and its assets sold off—thinking that, because the tram sheds are state-owned land, they will not have to purchase more for the construction site, when other locations are available.
The minutes of a recent meeting between Sydney Motorway Corporation and the Inner West Council reveal that the New South Wales Department of Education has given in-principle support to this absurd proposal. It is a shocking betrayal of the school community for the department to secretly enter into negotiations and give tacit approval to such a dangerous plan.
The new education minister, Rob Stokes, must intervene to protect the students and staff at the Leichhardt campus from this proposal. Premier Berejiklian should intervene and rule out this proposal immediately. To think that placing an industrial construction site next to a public high school was ever a good idea is completely nonsensical, particularly when there are no entry or exit points apart from driving through an oval—the only oval—that services almost a thousand students.
Sydney does need infrastructure. But it does not need to show utter contempt for communities while it is being built, and that is what has happened with this proposal. It is total and utter contempt. It will be opposed by the local community, and the local community will ensure that this does not happen.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.