EAST WEST LINK CANCELLED
By Marianne McDade and Charlotte Pordage
Christmas came early for many Northsiders this year when, after 18 months of rigorous campaigning, plans for the controversial East West Link toll road were declared officially scrapped.
“It’s the best Christmas gift of all to those hundreds of residents and businesses who stood to lose homes, property, access to customers and quality of life. It’s a gift to Northsiders as, rather than entrenching car dominance on the streets of the inner north, the state government will be forced to look at alternatives,” said Langridge Ward Councillor for the Greens, Amanda Stone.
The $6-8 billion dollar toll road has proved a worthy battleground for local political parties in the lead-up to this year’s state election. However, it was the local community members who fought relentlessly to have their voices heard and their concerns brought to their councils, who are the real winners in this scenario.
There were almost 1500 formal Comprehensive Impact Statement submissions made by local residents, councils, community groups, and businesses, and 260 community residents addressed the formal public hearing process that took place in November 2013 and March 2014. Socialist Party Councillors were successful in getting Yarra Council to fund $100,000 for the ‘Trains Not Toll Roads’ campaign, which facilitated input from the outer suburbs with actions such as ‘Take the Pledge’ and the campaign received almost 12,000 signatures on Change.org. The faithfully consistent picketing of planned construction testing sites was a crucial component to achieving the final result. This direct action slowed down the project and prevented construction till after the Election when public opinion could no longer be ignored and the government could be forced to ‘rip up’ the contracts.
“The active involvement of hundreds of individuals, groups and organisations across Victoria turned a ‘done deal’ into a dead end.” Said Michael Petit from Moreland Community Against the East West Tunnel (MCAT).
Socialist Party Leader, Cr. Steven Jolly, said that while this is a big win for the community and for those whose homes are now saved, the result should have come sooner.
“It’s too late for those who have already sold and that’s why the Australian Labour Party’s (ALP) late conversion to opposing the tunnel is so unconscionable. If they’d promised to scrap contracts from the start these locals would not have had their lives turned upside down,” said Cr. Jolly.
While the Socialist Party may not be the most prominent on Melbourne’s mainstream political scene, they have been one of the frontrunners in organizing actions against the Toll Road and can be credited for pulling the community together early on in the campaign. It was this united and fierce opposition, which influenced the Local Councils of Moreland, Yarra, and Moonee Valley, to join in challenging the proposal, bringing the public voice to a platform where it could no longer be ignored.
So what now?
Throughout this campaign, it has become apparent just how important the improvement of public transport services is to the North Melbourne community, and local councils seem united in representing that aspiration.
“Moonee Valley Council has long been advocating that more should be spent on improving public transport including the Melbourne Rail Link project and we will continue to advocate for this, and other public transport initiatives.” Said Moonee Valley Mayor, Cr Narelle Sharpe.
Socialist Party member Cr. Steven Jolly said it is time redirect the funding to previously promised transport services.
“We need to use the $17.8 billion saved by stopping the tunnel for a massive expansion of job-creating public transport – starting with the Doncaster rail link.” Said Cr. Jolly.
Langridge Ward Councillor Amanda Stone said they will have to push for “real alternatives” in public transport otherwise “The East West Link will prove irresistible for future governments to resist”.
Time will only tell how great the outcome of this campaign will affect Melbourne’s transport and environmental future, but the complete flip on this “done deal” is a groundbreaking result for Melbourne’s political scene. It is testament to what is possible when the community joins together to participate in influencing the future of their local landscape. It is these incredible and ordinary community members to which all credit is due.
What Northsiders are saying about the cancelled project…
“If the money isn’t being spent on East West link then the money should be used for public transport.” Thomas Anderson, Brunswick
“East West Link – NO! Public transport – YES! I would rather have tram correcting.” Jasmina, 50, Brunswick
“I support the East West Link as it would cut down on traffic, cut down on pollution and get me to my destination faster.” Angelo, 75, Pascoe Vale
“I’m pro public transport so the scrapping of the East West Link is a win for Victoria.” Sienna, 39, Sydney
“I wouldn’t use the East West Link; that’s why I voted labour. I think the money would be better spent in terms of education, TAFE and hospitals.” Sally Hampson, 40, Broadmeadows
“The people protesting it haven’t been out there, and geographically the centre of Melbourne is about 20km east of Melbourne CBD.” Geoff, Ascot Vale
East/West Link Timeline:
Tunnel linking the Eastern and Tullamarine freeways was first proposed by Premier Jeff Kennett.
Northern Central City Corridor Study prepared by the state Department of Infrastructure.
Project is one of the key recommendations of 2008 East-West Link Needs Assessment report by Sir Rod Eddington.
Brumby Labor government releases its Victorian Transport Plan, which includes commitment to start work on the western end of Eddington’s overall proposal
The Linking Melbourne Authority was established, a preferred route was released, then the Coalition took over and scrapped Labour’s plans to re-evaluate.
Premier Denis Napthine announced Government was committing to fund stage one of the project, with construction contracts to be signed in 2014.
September: Socialist Party Australia calls first community picket. Numbers grew steadily over the months and the pickets were held frequently and consistently till the end of the following year.
April: Project was challenged in Supreme Court of Victoria citing government’s “misleading representations” about benefits.
June: Yarra Council joins with Moreland Council to issue a legal challenge to the Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s approval of project on grounds it was “infected by jurisdictional error” due to planning flaws.
Rally for public transport with 3000 people occupying intersection of Flinders St Station with demands to ‘scrap the east west link, rip up the contracts, and invest in PT’.
August: Moonee Vally Council Joins the legal action.
September: State Opposition Leader, Daniel Andrews, proposes support of Council’s legal action to challenge East/West Link, should he win.
November: Labour wins election and the following day Andrews announces that the East West Link officially cancelled.