Day 1 – The contest begins with opening statements

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by Andrew Herington

Today saw the opening of the 30 days of hearings. The Linking Melbourne Authority (LMA) had an hour to present its case followed by responses from the four councils and a strong presentation on behalf of the community groups. A number of procedural issues were resolved but the assessment committee chose to hold back on deciding any of the major legal disputes that various parties have raised.

It is clear the committee sees its job as making an independent assessment and is operating in a formal manner, requiring everyone to stick to the rules laid down. However it is conscious of the imbalance between the well-resourced major parties and the individuals who want to plead their case so presenters can expect to receive a good reception – despite the tight time limits.

Stuart Morris QC started the batting for the LMA with a surprisingly laid-back presentation about the nature of cities which was  mostly backward looking – quoting extensively from the Eddington review of 2008. He gave what Yarra Counsel, Adrian Finanzio described as “a book report” of Edward Glaeser’s wildly enthusiastic 2011 book “Triumph of the city” which is subtitled “How our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier”. He did not say which page of the CIS backed up this claim.

In a surprising move he announced that strategic planner, Mark Spiller would not appear as a witness but released a report by his company SGS entitled “Long run economic and land use impacts of major infrastructure projects“. This made optimistic comparisons to the claimed benefits from previous “city shaping projects” including the City Loop, CityLink and the Metropolitan Ring Road to general argue the merits of major investments.

The tabling of this 21 month old report – which could have been released with the CIS – sparked a debate between legal Counsel and a commitment from the LMA to table “documents they were aware of that they would rely on in evidence”. This is an important issue as there are many unreleased documents that submitters have called to be tabled at the hearing. This issue is to be further debated on Tuesday.

Mr Morris announced that the government was now considering building Part B (from Royal Park to the Port of Melbourne) as part of the same tender process and that some of the tenderers would submit proposals to do this as a variation on their proposal for Part A. He invited the committee to look at newspaper reports that the premier and prime minister were discussing additional federal funding to make this feasible. This later drew comments that a government authority appearing before a formal panel should be able to disclose the full story and not rely on newspaper accounts.

The Melbourne City Council launched into the legal arguments presented by the LMA and highlighted the importance of the committee exercising its discretion to consider alternatives and not be limited by the views put forward by the LMA. They presented a forensic argument against the proposed treatment of Royal Park and the reasons why Part B should be excluded.

After lunch, the City of Yarra presented a strong submission questioning the whole basis for the project, the overstatement of benefits and the disproportionate impacts on local residents. A catalogue of problems were listed which will be teased out over the coming days through cross examination of the LMA experts (over the next seven days) and the presentation of cases by each council (in the following 10 days).

Moonee Valley City Council followed up with another detailed critique giving an overview of the range of issues they will be opening up during their presentations. The City of Moreland supported these general points but zeroed in on some specific problems, highlighting the ripple effect from loss of open space and impact this has on sporting clubs and the community generally.

The afternoon bombshell was dropped by the EPA who announced they had issued a clean up notice for the former gasworks site in Alexandra Pde. This requires a clean up plan to be produced by May and measures commenced by November. This is likely to be a critical issue when the groundwater expert evidence is heard.

Tom Pikusa, the barrister representing Protectors of Public Land led off with a strong submission supported by a telling powerpoint presentation (see here: Opening2 ) highlighting both the general problems with the process and the specific impacts on Royal Park. The views of each of the participating groups were included giving a good sense of the overall arguments – although we now have to wait until 1 April before the community groups get their turn to expand on these arguments.

All up it was a good start. The battle lines are firmly drawn and the plethora of issue to fight over have begun to be documented. The next 29 sitting days will be a drawn out fight but the community groups will be there until the end.

Keep following this blog for daily updates and a rolling Live Blog from community monitors following proceedings every day.

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