Berejiklian and the Beaches Link – Premier facing a rebellion in her backyard. From our Principal.

July 10th, 2017

Last week, I was invited by the Northbridge Tunnel Group to address what turned out to be well over 100 people in Northbridge about the possible impact of the proposed Beaches Link on property prices in their suburb.

As far as I know, the Premier was not one of those people. She should have been.

Given that the ‘standing room only’ response was to a grass roots effort mounted by a couple of concerned residents over almost as many days and the fact that with Q & A, the event ran hours over time, it’s fair to infer that the local opposition last Thursday night represented the tip of an iceberg.

This is a subterranean tunnel at the concept stage coinciding with the appearance in various Northbridge streets and in Middle Harbour of drilling rigs extracting geological core samples.

As the residents of every suburb affected by Westconnex would agree, the presence of those rigs in quiet suburban streets is disturbing.

Similar samples are being taken along the proposed route in other northern suburbs.

When plotted over a map of Northbridge, those drill sites virtually bisect the suburb north/south from an eastern entry point that is a submerged tunnel in Middle Harbour to a proposed western exit which could be somewhere around Artarmon, Cammeray or Crows Nest.

Speaking ahead of me were two representatives from the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) who and in what I gathered was for the first time, assured the assembly that there would be no portals and thus, no unfiltered stacks in their suburb.

The other assurance given was that, if built, this would be the deepest of such tunnels at an “average of 90 metres.” Despite earnest efforts by the RMS spokesman to explain just how this average was calculated, the logic remained as much a mystery to me as I suspect it did to others in the room.

Declaring from the outset Curtis Associates’ well publicised opposition to car dependency and to dinosaur developments like toll roads and tunnels where Sydney is an embarrassing international anomaly, my presentation was intended to be a balanced and evidence based assessment of the impact on property prices of similar projects such as the Eastern Distributor (Click here for Presentation Outline)

Reinforcing whatever longer term reassurance that assessment might provide, I emphasised the advent of the electric car in possibly eliminating particulates and the boon these tunnels might be for driverless cars when they become the norm.

I also sought to put this concept design into perspective by reference to a proposed mixed use development at the other end of the spectrum at 117 – 119 Flinders Street, Surry Hills (pictured) which was the subject of an approval granted by the NSW Land and Environment Court on 8 March 2017 and literally envisages 25 residential units hugging one of the unfiltered stacks servicing the Eastern Distributor (SOFS Pty Ltd v City of Sydney [2017] NSWLEC 1115 (8 March 2017).

Despite these observations, it was clear to me from what follows that this audience was not one for turning:

  • By far the longest and loudest applause went to the self confessed car addicted resident who in the Q & A session said public transport and keeping cars out of the city should be the priority. Predictably, the reaction to this on the faces of the men from the RMS was as stony as the core sample handed around at the start of their presentation.
  • The same Q & A session also exposed that no survey had been undertaken by the RMS to determine present and future demand for car access from the northern beaches to Sydney west of Cammeray and that such a survey was now underway. For me, this sounded like the proposed route was a cart put before a horse.
  • An equally alarming revelation on which the RMS spokesman was not but should have been pressed was the hope he expressed that the tunnel would be wide enough to accommodate buses in order to take buses off Military Road. That hope is impossible to reconcile to the B Line which is the other government proposed congestion buster along Military Road and which is bus dependent. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing and is this the sort of planning that explains the continuing absence of any Westconnex link to Port Botany as well as the over budget and stalled progress in George Street along the CBD and South East Light Rail line?
  • Property owners and buyers around Falcon Street, Crows Nest and around Cammeray Golf Course were put on notice that unfiltered stacks were being considered in those areas.

As far as tunnels go, the one proposed for Northbridge seems as benign as you can get – no stacks in the suburb and 90 or so metres deep.

Regardless, these constituents of the Premier do not like the idea of it below them or of unfiltered stacks around them.

While SCEGGS Darlinghurst might have lived with an Eastern Distributor stack within 100 metres of its front door for 20 or so years, if last Thursday night is any guide, I’m not at all sure Premier Berejiklian would be wise to assume voters with children attending schools in those suburbs next to hers will be prepared to do likewise.