Johnston’s Creek Extension: hope for residents

For my project I’ve been working with the No West Connex action group, which is campaigning to stop the proposed West Connex road which, at 33km long, is the largest road project in Australia. West Connex will start as an extension of the M4 in Parramatta and end on the M5 in Beverly Hills. Stage 3 of the road, known as the M4 M5 link, will be built between Haberfield and St Peters and involve the demolition of hundreds of homes. My own house in Newtown will be affected due to projected increased traffic congestion and fumes from pollution stacks.
Worried about my local area, I first attended a community meeting on West Connex in Leichhardt Town Hall held be concerned residents and action groups in 2013. Despite being impressed by the knowledge and spirit of the campaigners, I quietly thought; “but what hope do we, residents, have in stopping this road?”. I left feeling despondent. According to No West Connex campaigners, my pessimistic sentiment is widely shared amongst the community.
However, historically, there have been many examples of community action groups stopping roads being built that the community are probably largely unaware of. Namely, in 2005 residents and action groups such as EcoTransit were able to stop an extension to the F6, called the Johnston’s Creek Extension, which would have run from the Anzac Bridge, through Newtown, and into Randwick. Like West Connex, the four lane highway would have involved the demolition of hundreds of houses and businesses. Furthermore, a road reservation had existed along the corridor since 1945 and the RTA had discretely been buying properties along the route for decades. Despite this, the public had still not been informed that the road was even being built. Luckily, town planner Michelle Zeibots realised the government’s plans and launched a campaign to stop the road. 

100 000 newsleafs were produced and distributed in both Newtown and Randwick, campaigners door-knocked and Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon called for papers in parliament regarding the road. All the while, Labor denied plans for the Johnston’s Creek Extension even existed. Labor minister Carmel Tebbutt, the then local member for Marrickville, threatened to sue the Greens and Eco Transit for fear mongering and defamation.
A break-through occurred when one campaigner, Mary Jane Gleeson, spent an entire week sorting through the documents that had been released to the Greens. Amongst the “mountain of papers” she located one e-mail exchange between members of the RTA that referred to the road’s construction. This email was then presented to Carmel Tebbutt who was visibly shocked. Fearing the backlash from her electorate, Tebbutt was skilfully able to not only scrap the plans for the road, but lift the road reservation altogether, preventing governments from building there in the future.
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I want to spread awareness about the Johnston’s Creek Extension campaign mainly to reignite hope in residents that, yes, community groups can take on governments and, through tireless campaigning, can stop their homes and neighbourhoods being demolished. I know personally through doing this project that my faith has been restored that roads like West Connex are not inevitable.