Background

The NSW Government currently has a proposal for a Beaches Link Tunnel, a tollway from Seaforth and Balgowlah to the Warringah Expressway near Cammeray. Early planning has been combined with a proposed Western Harbour Tunnel, joining North Sydney and Rozelle.

 

Viable Transport Solutions is a community group whose purpose is to share information about the impact of the Northern Beaches Tunnel on the local area including Balgowlah, North Balgowlah, Balgowlah Heights, Fairlight, Manly, Manly Vale, Seaforth, and beyond. We are a group of local residents, and not affiliated with any political party.

Our community group has formed combining groups from Save Balgowlah, Clean Air Seaforth, North Harbour Community Group, Beaches Tunnel – How it impacts you, and North Balgowlah Tunnel information.

Balgowlah Residents Group is a community group made of up residents in the Northern Beaches and beyond. We are Jo Casserly (Chairperson), Jenny Anderson (Co-Chair), Nerissa Levy (Treasurer), Terry le Roux (Secretary) and a team of dedicated volunteers, organisers, and all-round helpers.

Beaches Link Tunnel Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released

 

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Beaches Link tunnel has recently been released by the government and Transport for NSW (TfNSW) in December 2020, with a community consultation period ending 28th February 2021. This stage exists for planners to detail mitigation strategies for the impacts of construction and operation of the project – impacts to both the environment and to residents.

 

The government states this process includes real community consultation, but the large amount of detail of the EIS, and the experience from recent similar projects, has shown no significant changes are made from community consultation during the EIS. For example 30,000+ submissions petitioning changes to the WestConnex EIS resulted in no significant changes being made.

Early information sessions run by TfNSW as part of community consultation have been held online due to COVID-19 restrictions. Many in the community have expressed frustration with this format, as a moderator selects only a small proportion of questions to be answered, choosing only “easy” questions, and leaving many residents’ reasonable questions unanswered.

Years of planning

 

Overall, the local community has been working with the government for almost 4 years to understand plans for the project – but have found problems getting accurate information, with their input falling on deaf ears, and many of their queries going unanswered.

 

Recent market research conducted by the community revealed only 13% support for the tunnel design, with the major objections being unfiltered exhaust stacks near homes and schools, and an access road replacing Balgowlah Golf course.

 

Announcements of small changes to the design have been made by the government from 2018 to 2020 – increasing housing acquisitions, and making minor tweaks to traffic intersections and alignment of the tunnel. Unfortunately, these changes have addressed none of the community’s major objections to the project, and no changes to the design are expected in future.

Justification for the tunnel

 

The government has refused to release the business case for the project, despite requests under Freedom of Information/GIPAA laws. Estimates by residents with relevant expertise have suggested that there is no valid business case for the project – that for every $1 spent, it would return only 70-80 cents worth of benefit to the community.

This is similar to an estimate by Dr Peter Abelson made in May 2019 of a CBA of a 68 cent return. Dr Abelson has a PhD in economics with speciality in cost-benefit analyses, having conducted them in the industry for many years. He was mayor of Mosman Council from 2012-2017, and has publicly stated that he was originally a firm advocate for a tunnel whilst mayor of Mosman, but after looking at the financial viability is now opposed to a tunnel.

 

At a price tag of an estimated $12 billion, or a cost of roughly $45,000 for every single resident on the Northern Beaches, when complete it is estimated to only be worth $3-4 billion to an investor to be profitable.

The only way to make it more profitable is to increase the traffic using the tunnel – achieved by reducing the availability of public transport, significantly increasing visitors by car to the peninsula, and/or increasing population on the Northern Beaches by 20% or more. As part of a standard cost benefit analysis, one of the benefits calculated is the opportunity for population growth – despite overdevelopment not being considered as a “benefit” by the community.

 

We also know the assumptions for traffic in the EIS have not factored in changes to travel habits and working from home due to COVID-19 and into the future, treating COVID-19 as having only a “temporary” impact. Recent studies have shown travel by private vehicle continuing to be down 10-20%, and public transport down 40-60%(1), This is explained by research showing that over 60% of Sydney workers did so from home during 2020, with 75% of workers believing they would continue to do so into the future(2).

When the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved, at least 40% of Northern Beaches residents who commute to the city or elsewhere will no longer commute daily. Not only will they only go to work 1-3 days per week, but they will not necessarily travel during the morning peak period. This will have a comprehensive impact on the “traffic volume trend” from 2016 that TfNSW have used to justify the tunnel.

 

Infrastructure Australia is an independent organisation that exists to advise governments on the priority of large projects – and has categorised the Beaches Link tunnel as the lowest possible priority.

The community asks the government…

 

The community calls on the NSW Government to halt the development process to allow for a suitable review, and to publicly release the results of the review. This review would:-

 

  • Identify the scale of the future transportation needs for the Northern Beaches (including a review of the underlying assumptions, particularly due to the permanent increase in residents working-from-home due to the impacts of COVID-19)
  • Identify and evaluate the range of possible transportation solutions and provide recommendations capable of implementation.

 

The review would have regard to:-

 

  • Developments in transportation strategies (particularly those relating to mass transit and public transport like buses)
  • The impact of any plans on the affected communities (including disruption from construction and the health of residents)
  • The social and environmental impacts of alternative transport solutions, including the impact on green space, and the cost/benefit analysis of any proposal.

What can I do?

 

This project is underway despite not being formally approved yet by government – houses have already been acquired, and over $500M has been allocated from the state budget for marketing, preliminary testing and design work. The EIS is the final step in planning before the project is assessed by the Minister for Planning (Rob Stokes from the seat of Pittwater), then a decision made by the NSW Liberal Government Cabinet.

The Beaches Link tunnel is not a solution for our transport problems. Only significant improvements to public transport provides a long-term and cost-effective solution, giving us a balance between better travel times and protecting our community from overdevelopment.

 

Make sure you email us at beachestunnel@gmail.com and join our email list for regular updates from the community.

We also encourage you to write to your local state MP and let them know your opinions – they are there to represent you.

James Griffin, Member for Manly – Ph: (02) 9976 2773  Email: manly@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Felicity Wilson, Member for North Shore – Ph: (02) 9909 2594  Email: northshore@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Brad Hazzard, Member for Wakehurst – Ph: (02) 9981 1111  Email: wakehurst@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Rob Stokes, Member for Pittwater – Ph: (02) 9999 3599  Email: pittwater@parliament.nsw.gov.au

1) Commuters are still wary to get back on the bus (SMH, February 1, 2021)

https://www.smh.com.au/national/road-traffic-returns-to-pre-covid-levels-as-commuters-shun-public-transport-20210129-p56xw7.html

2) Australians want to work from home more post-COVID (University of Sydney,  Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, Transport Opinion Survey, September 2020)

https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2020/09/28/australians-want-to-work-from-home-more-post-covid.html