The Bays Precinct

Sydney’s proposed WestConnex toll road could have negative effects on the Bays Precinct development, according to an independent analysis of the WestConnex’s updated business case.

The report, prepared by SGS Economics and Planning for Leichhardt City Council, said the business case had given little consideration to the impacts of the (currently) $16.8 billion WestConnex project on the future urban renewal project, including on development yields, commercial and residential uses, and urban design outcomes.

The SGS report said a proposed realignment of WestConnex Stage 3 to include an interchange at Rozelle connecting to the Anzac Bridge and future Western Harbour connection had “significant implications” for traffic flow and congestion in and around the precinct. The toll road, it said, would also undermine the chance for the precinct to become public and active transport orientated.

“Establishing a motorway through the Bays Precinct appears counterintuitive to the aims of the urban renewal project,” the report said.

“By facilitating additional traffic movements into the Bays Precinct, WestConnex may in fact reduce development yield through increased car parking requirements. WestConnex may also hamper efforts to encourage sustainable transport use in the Bays Precinct through provision of car parking and access to the motor way.”

The report said that the WestConnex proposal “fundamentally acts against best practice for urban renewal in inner city areas”.

Leichhardt City Council, which will table the report at its Policy Council meeting on Tuesday, said the Bays Precinct was an opportunity to embed sustainable transport practices, as it was “well recognised that it is much easier to encourage lower levels of private car dependency in new populations than it is to retrofit such a cultural change”.

The concerns have been voiced before, following the Bays Precinct Summit in 2014, when urban planner Rod Simpson, now environment commissioner for the Greater Sydney Commission, told The Fifth Estate he had concerns regarding how the WestConnex connection would meld with UrbanGrowth NSW’s ambitions to treat the Bays – which UrbanGrowth calls a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver innovation” – as a clean slate.

One of many problems

Aside from compromising the Bays Precinct, the report found there were many deficiencies with the business case, including that:

  • there were no realistic alternatives to WestConnex suggested
  • the project objectives prevent a non-road based solution from being considered
  • other global cities are focusing on integrated transport solutions
  • the longevity of the project is unclear
  • costs are high and likely to be higher – in 2015 dollars the project will cost around $510 million a kilometre (compared with Channel Tunnel $426 million/km and Eastern Distributor at $223 million/km)
  • traffic modelling is incomplete and unreliable
  • the cost–benefit analysis is “littered with issues”

Most wasteful infrastructure project in Australia

Leichhardt mayor Darcy Byrne called WestConnex one of Australia’s most wasteful infrastructure projects.

“This motorway is costing more per metre to build then the English Channel Tunnel,” he said. “WestConnex is fast becoming the single most wasteful infrastructure project in Australian history.”

He said the SGS report made clear why the government had stalled the release of an updated business case.

“For years the government has kept the WestConnex Business Case hidden away from view and now we know why – it reveals the motorway to be a wasteful and shambolic project,” he said.

“Now we know that public transport solutions were never really considered and that far from being a scientific assessment this business case is in fact a pro motor car ideological manifesto.

“Cost effective, site specific improvements to the M4 and M5 combined with complementary public transport could greatly reduce congestion but have not even been assessed in this document.”

He said the report showed that the cost–benefit ratio released by the government was farcical.

“The cost of property acquisitions and improving surface roads impacted by new rat runs have been completely ignored, meaning the government’s claimed cost–benefit ratio has basically been plucked from thin air.

“This analysis also shows that costs, which have already increased by more than $5 billion, are very likely to blow out even further.”

Read the full report.

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  1. Interesting that the only thing the report compares WestConnex to is the WestMetro… An $12billion underground rail project – what about the much cheaper proposals put forward by EcoTransit Sydney?

    Parramatta Road light rail to Hombush. Pippita Park n Ride. An inner Sydney light rail orbital line, including the White Bay Green-Link. All of this could be achieved for a small fraction of either WestCon or WestMetro.

    Perhaps the good mayor could do more than simply direct SGS towards ex-Labor Party projects for their comparisons (ie. the WestMetro). The Bays Precinct needs bicycle hire and light rail too! In fact we need all sorts of public transit and active transport corridors provided to fix the InnerWest’s broader congestion, not simply one underground rail line with a very high pricetag attached.