Today the Planning Minister Richard Wynne approved the West Gate Tunnel Project to go ahead. We are incredibly disappointed that he rejected tunnel filtration, going against the recommendations of his own appointed planning panel. We are also outraged that no truck bans will be in place for Williamstown Rd, meaning a huge increase in truck numbers for this single lane, residential street.
Earlier this year, Premier Daniel Andrews told MTAG personally that the cost of tunnel filtration would be a ‘drop in the ocean’ compared to the cost of the whole West Gate Tunnel project. He was spot on. It would also be a drop in the ocean compared to the health costs from ongoing diesel pollution exposure to this community for decades to come. So we are incredibly disappointed, angry and somewhat perplexed that the Planning Minister Richard Wynne has gone against the recommendations of his own appointed advisory panel and rejected tunnel filtration in the West Gate Tunnel.
During the EES process, MTAG exposed the Western Distributor Authority’s case against filtration as a blatant attempt to mislead the public. If they were so convinced of the merits of not putting in pollution control, why did they omit the facts on filtration systems in overseas tunnels? Why did they point to a sample size of one, Sydney’s M5 East tunnel, to ‘prove’ that filtration doesn’t work when this particular system is known world wide as being an expensive and ineffective botched job. Why did they lie about what the costs would be and not obtain quotes from one single tunnel filtration company? Why did they state incorrect efficiencies for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide removal based on the failed system in Sydney, efficiencies significantly lower than in any other tunnel filtration system in the world.
The Planning Minister has also ignored the advice of health experts who appeared before the panel and stated that filtration would make a difference to the health of the community. These health experts included the Director of Respiratory Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Professor Lou Irving.
Unfortunately the Planning Minister only listened to the advice of the EPA who seemed to think that filtration would do little to improve local air quality but at the same time say that provisions should be made to add it at a later date if needed. If it’s so ineffective at improving air quality why would they suggest it may be needed later on? Interestingly ex EPA employee, air quality scientist Dr Lyn Dennison, presented to the panel and backed up MTAG’s view that the EES relied on outdated information and that the case for filtration must be further examined.
The advisory panel stated in their report that “Parts of the Project area already have poor air quality and the IAC considered that the Project should aim to contribute to an improvement in that situation. Through the EPR the IAC has recommended that pollution control equipment be installed on the tunnel ventilation system.”
We are wondering what the point is of hiring an expert panel to hear all of the evidence but then go against their recommendations? The Minister’s decision has made a mockery of the process.
The West Gate Tunnel Project, based on today’s announcement, is a lost opportunity that will leave communities with thousands of trucks on residential streets for decades to come. For our community it is unthinkable that the Andrew’s government will spend $5.5 billion on this project and still leave a residential street in Yarraville, Seddon and Kingsville as a truck sewer for decades to come.
Our community has born the brunt of the Port of Melbourne’s dirty road based freight movements for decades already. While the rest of Melbourne has virtually ignored the issue and told us “You don’t have to live there” we have witnessed our health, safety and community amenity suffering.
We have some of the worst health outcomes in Australia because of the 22,000 trucks that use our streets each day in the City of Maribyrnong. Our city has the highest hospital admission rate for children with respiratory ailments in the state. We die from lung cancer rates that are amongst the highest in Australia.
The West Gate Tunnel project predicts that up to 4,000 trucks per day will use Williamstown Road, a residential street that runs through Seddon, Yarraville and Kingsville. This isn’t a major freight road, it’s mostly single lane, running past wooden houses with very little set back to the street. Most alarmingly, VCAT has approved a childcare centre to be built on the corner of Francis Street and Williamstown Road. This means that young kids and babies will spend many hours each day just metres from trucks spewing out carcinogenic pollution. Children’s developing lungs are the most susceptible to the impacts of fine particle pollution such as that caused by burning diesel fuel.
Yarraville West Primary School is also close by, its only recreational playing field abutting Williamstown Road. Yarraville’s children will continue to be exposed to unhealthy levels of diesel pollution as they play outside. It defies logic that a government and its agencies such as the EPA think this is an acceptable outcome. In California new education facilities must have a minimum 250 metre buffer to major roads. Our new childcare centre will have a 2 metre buffer at best, merely the width of a footpath.
How can our planning minister allow this to happen?
We are proud of what MTAG has achieved so far regarding this project. We worked with other community groups to stop the terrible short tunnel design option that ploughed straight through the middle of Hyde St Reserve. We also lobbied with other groups to prevent a design that would result in noisy and ugly flyovers over the West Gate Freeway. We lobbied hard for truck bans and got a commitment from government to put a 24/7 ban on Francis St, Somerville Rd, Moore St and Buckley St when the project opens. We also wrote an incredibly comprehensive submission on filtration, air quality, traffic impacts, noise and health.
We also supported the Hyde Street residents who today found out that their houses would be acquired as part of this project, an outcome they were hoping for.
Just because we have always worked for best outcomes doesn’t mean we love the project. We’ve been highly critical all the way. But we cannot afford to let this be another City Link, a project that was promised as a solution but just made the situation worse.
We will continue to fight for best outcomes, despite todays set back. Having said that, our support has always been conditional on full truck bans and filtration. At this point this project is failing to adequately address the traffic and pollution problems in our neighbourhood.
A project that leaves 4000 trucks rumbling right through a residential area past a school and child care centre will be a failure. What a lost opportunity to fix a major environmental injustice right here in the world’s most liveable city.