Paul AustinSeptember 1, 2010
THE controversial new railway line through Melbourne’s western suburbs will be built regardless of the findings of any study on its impact on residents and the environment, Premier John Brumby says.
Accused of treating affected residents with contemptuous disregard after revelations the government was trying to limit their avenues for protest, Mr Brumby yesterday refused to take a backwards step.
Asked if the $4.3 billion line from Southern Cross Station through Footscray to Little River near Geelong was going ahead ”come hell or high water”, Mr Brumby replied: ”Too right it is.”
He said the project, which is expected to result in dozens of houses being bulldozed, ”needs to happen” to boost Metro services for commuters in the rapidly growing western suburbs and to free up V/Line services to Melbourne from Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat.
Mr Brumby came under fire from Footscray residents, the opposition and Greens after The Age revealed yesterday that the Department of Transport was trying to avoid an environmental effects statement into the project.
A confidential briefing note from law firm Freehills, which is advising the government on the Regional Rail Link, also shows the department wants to avoid the appointment of a government advisory panel ”to inquire into the environmental, social or planning aspects” of the line.
Footscray resident Nick Fahey, who may lose his house to the line, said the revelations showed that his and his neighbours’ faith in the government’s consultation process was ”completely misplaced”.
Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said the consultations with residents about the line had been exposed as a sham.
”This is the Windsor all over again,” Mr Baillieu said, referring to the leaking in February of a memo prepared in Planning Minister Justin Madden’s office that outlined a sham consultation process on the redevelopment of the Hotel Windsor.
Western suburbs Greens MP Colleen Hartland said Mr Brumby was showing ”contemptuous disregard” for residents and the environment in his attitude to the regional rail project.
Mr Brumby said ”every effort” was being made to minimise the impact on local communities. But he made it clear the project would go ahead regardless of the findings of any environmental effects statement.
Asked on Fairfax Radio if the rail project would proceed regardless of the environmental impact, Mr Brumby replied: ”We are committed to the project, let me be clear about that. Every project has an environmental impact.
”If you build a road in the outer suburbs it has an environmental impact, if you build a new building it has an environmental impact, if you build Southern Cross Station it has an environmental impact.”
Mr Brumby said the government was determined to improve public transport, which is why it had already upgraded rail services to regional centres including Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and the Latrobe Valley and why it was buying new trains and putting on extra services in Melbourne.
He said not all major projects needed an environmental effects statement. There had been one into deepening shipping channels in Port Phillip Bay, but none had been required for the $1.4 billion upgrade of the Monash and West Gate freeways.
Mr Madden is expected to decide in October whether to order an EES into the regional rail project, or set up an advisory panel, or neither.