Lower north shore property buyers – beware the unknowns

April 30th, 2018

Reflecting our prominence as lower north shore buyers’ agents, Chris Curtis was invited recently by North Sydney Council to address a public forum on the impact of the proposed Beaches Link and Western Harbour Tunnel on lower north shore residential and commercial property focussing on North Sydney.

That invitation followed an earlier address Chris gave to Northbridge residents about the same projects:

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

Of most concern to the North Sydney forum organisers was the proposal to cluster three of four ventilation stacks for those projects in a precinct which is home to 11 schools and other educational establishments. Our research confirmed that these three stacks were less than 1 klm from each other and centred around Ridge Street, North Sydney.

As we also ascertained, such a concentration of stacks would be unique in Sydney.

Co-speaker and medical specialist Dr Ray Nassar explained how particulate matter (PM) and in particular, the tiny PM 2.5 emitted by such stacks enters the bloodstream and why it is so dangerous to human health; especially in children.

Suggesting that the proposed tunnel designs were driven more by building and operating cost constraints than achieving a world’s best outcome, the other co speaker, independent transport engineer Dr Noel Child, shed light on various technical aspects.

For example:

  • with a total length each way of around 14.5 klm, these tunnels are far longer than any of the five existing Sydney tunnels
  • even longer tunnels overseas have been built to emit oxygen rather than carcinogens and
  • despite the NSW Government’s adamance to the contrary, filtering these stacks is both environmentally beneficial and affordable.

Those who follow us will know we consistently favour public transport solutions over toll roads and, except for industrial property buyers, see the latter more as a downside risk than an upside opportunity for most, including lower north shore residential property buyers.

As with inner west buyers confronting WestConnex , while the choice to buy or not to buy in a region affected by toll roads is ultimately subjective, we believe it should nevertheless be an informed one.

In our experience as a lower north shore buyer’s agent over 11 years, there are those residential and commercial property buyers who base their decision on a known known: ‘the Bradfield Highway has been 16 lanes wide for years, so what difference will these stacks make? ‘

Indeed, this was the view of a client for whom we recently bought an industrial property in Artarmon and may well have been the case with those who fought at auction to buy the highly publicised and sought after 98 West Street, Crows Nest on 14 April 2018.

Less critical buyers accept as another known known the NSW Government’s published line that …”tunnel ventilation stack emissions do not measurably affect local or regional air quality” (NSW Government Advisory Committee on Tunnel Air Quality, TP05, Road Tunnel Stack Emissions July 2014, page 1).

Other buyers are unconcerned by the known unknowns; even after they become knowns.

For example, while many use the Harbour Tunnel few might know that its stacks are secreted within the northern pylons of the Harbour Bridge and have been emitting unfiltered PMs in Kirribilli, Milsons Point and North Sydney as well as into nearby schools for almost 26 years.

Among those few was the client for whom we just bought 1306/88 Alfred Street, Milsons Point:

Image courtesy: McGrath

Days after the North Sydney forum, State Opposition Leader Luke Foley created a new set of known unknowns by announcing that if elected in March 2019, he would scrap the Beaches Link.

That announcement invites the question: ‘who will win?’

Then: ‘if Mr Foley wins, will he keep that promise and does the exclusion of the Western Harbour Tunnel from that announcement mean there will be stacks in any event?’

For us the greatest risks lie in the unknown unknowns for many buyers:

For example:

  • with inevitable delays like those encountered by the CBD and South East Light Rail project, several buyers today will have sold their property by the time these tunnels are built having endured a potentially unrewarding ownership disrupted by noise, dust, spoil removal, contamination and vibration during years of construction
  • NSW Government assurances which do not withstand scrutiny.

For example:

  • compare the above quote with this comment on page 20 of the accompanying Initial report on Tunnel Air Quality: “ A key feature of PM is that no threshold has been identified below which exposure is not associated with adverse health effects, therefore, reductions in ambient concentrations of PM would provide public health benefits.”

Stripped of its suspicious double negative, the comment we have emphasised is saying tunnels and ventilation stacks reduce ambient concentrations of PM whereas the above quote is saying they do not measurably affect such concentrations.

They can’t have it both ways.

More important and as Dr Nassar also observed, the absence of any safe minimum threshold actually reinforces just how dangerous these PMs are to human health.

  • On page 3 of Road Tunnel Ventilation Systems, TP05, Figures 1 and 2 are introduced with these words: “These figures indicate that there has been a fifty-fold reduction in vehicle emissions since the introduction of vehicle emission limits”.

Figures 1 and 2 indicate no such thing.

They refer only to relative emission standards for new heavy duty diesel engines and new petrol passenger vehicles.

They do not refer to actual emissions from vehicles whether old or new.

As others have commented, there will be petrol passenger cars on the roads which do not meet those emission standards for years to come.

And as Dr Child informed us, a fleet of nearly indestructible and heavy diesel emitting vehicles passed down from major transporters like Toll Holdings to mum and dad operators will still be rolling a long way into the 21st century.

Property buyers concerned about these unknowns should ask ‘if these tunnels and stacks are so safe as the Government claims, why are its explanations so tongue tied?’

When they do, it can change their decision as occurred with another and originally keen buyer who did not bid on 98 West Street, Crows Nest once those unknowns became knowns after consulting Curtis Associates.

With Sydney property prices now under threat from many directions, not least of which being the Financial Services Royal Commission, all Sydney property buyers need now to be more careful than ever to do likewise and eliminate as many unknowns as possible.

Main image courtesy: http://www.abc.net.au/