It’s not often we get a win and this one is a biggie.
The Scoping Requirements for the Western Distributor Environmental Effects Statement have been released. The Scoping Requirements set out the matters to be investigated and documented in the EES. MTAG submitted to this process and we are pleased to see that many of our recommendations have been incorporated.
Most significantly, our request that the EES specifically requires an assessment of the impact on the HEALTH of residents during both construction and operation of the project was accepted, with one of the key issues now to be addressed being “health effects for nearby residents from redistribution of heavy vehicle traffic and altered road and traffic conditions during project operations”. This is listed under an evaluation objective that was titled “Amenity and environmental quality”. Our suggestion that health be given more prominence was accepted and this objective is now “Health, amenity and environmental quality”.
For MTAG the truck issue has always been about health so it is essential that it’s taken into consideration with this project. We know that diesel exhaust is a class one carcinogen with other health impacts including asthma, reduced lung function and cardiovascular disease. We also know that we currently have Victoria’s highest rate of hospital admissions for respiratory conditions in children. Health impacts from diesel are a massive concern to this community.
An assessment of the associated health impacts will now be carried out in regards to the project’s construction impacts on residents as well as to any redistribution of truck traffic once it’s built. It is impossible to say how comprehensive the assessment will be but at least it’s a start and an acknowledgement of the issue.
Health professionals were critical that the East West Link Comprehensive Impact Statement did not contain any meaningful considerations for the associated health impacts. In fact the word ‘health’ didn’t even appear once in the East West Link Scoping Directions document! And nor was there a single health expert on the independent Assessment Committee. We now have some hope that the Western Distributor will proceed with some consideration given to the health impacts on this community. MTAG will continue to fight every step of the way to ensure that health is given the prominence it needs. We have also written to Health Minster Jill Hennessy outlining our expectation that her department will do the same.
Some of MTAG’s other recommendations that were accepted include:
- The description of the urban land around the project on page 3 did not mention the existing residential areas of Yarraville and Spotswood when clearly the Western Distributor will have a significant impact on these residential neighbourhoods. In fact the suburb of Spotswood wasn’t mentioned at all in the draft scoping requirements even though it is directly adjacent to the affected part of the West Gate Freeway. The Scoping Requirements now contains a list of all of the affected existing residential areas (although Seddon has been strangely left out).
- The Evaluation Objective relating to “Transport capacity, connectivity and traffic management” on p13 now has “to increase freight movement via the freeway network instead of local and arterial roads” as a desired outcome. Not exactly the wording we suggested but better than nothing.
We were however disappointed that some of our recommendations were not accepted. These include:
- A request that truck bans and curfews should be added as part of the non-infrastructure measures associated with the project. This doesn’t mean that curfews and bans won’t happen, just that the EES scope doesn’t mention them as a possibility.
- A request to strengthen the wording around air quality. This included not averaging air quality measurements out over a 24 hour period, choosing locations for air monitors that give a clear indication of what residents are exposed to on a daily basis, an examination of the likely effects on air quality in the neighbourhood of the tunnel and an examination of the health impacts both inside and outside the tunnel. Whilst it is disappointing that none of these recommendations were accepted, it doesn’t mean that that they won’t happen, just that the EES scope doesn’t specify that they HAVE to be done that way.
So now we await the next steps – the upcoming community consultation sessions, the community liaison group due to start meeting in late April which MTAG will be a part of, and the release of the EES to public submissions in late 2016 or early 2017.