NO MEETING OF MINDS ON SOCIAL IMPACTS

By Andrew Herington. The focus for Friday (Day 14) was on the social impacts of the East West link. The harsh impact on Kensington and Flemington under the viaduct coming under particular attention through the evidence of Bonnie Rosen, the social impact specialist called by the City of Moonee Valley.

She gave lengthy evidence on the range of social impacts – emphasising the cumulative effects that freeways have on communities. For example, she argued forcefully that a community centre is more than the building – it is the spaces around them and the way people relate to a space.

The engagement that has occurred through the development of things like community gardens and children’s playgrounds can easily be lost and people become cynical if they see things they have fought hard to achieve, swept away in the interests of other communities.

She observed that there was little graffiti around the “community areas” on the Debneys Park estate, demonstrating that there was community respect for these areas compared to underneath the freeway in the concreted areas of the creek where graffiti proliferated.

Solutions are often complex. Putting up a noise wall to mitigate traffic noise but can change the visual outlook and increase the social impact of the project by separating communities which refocus away from the freeway corridor..

Again the issue of the people “left behind” was raised with the telling point that growing up in a construction zone for 5 years was a childhood lost for a school age child.

The counter attack from the LMA was based on positioning social science as very broad discipline that swept up so many issues it was hard to definitely apply it to a single project and attribute negative effects to the presence of new construction when issues like a supportive family, secure housing and a job had more impact on people’s wellbeing. By implication, a social specialist was unqualified to make recommendations about how the social impacts could be reduced if they involved matters that weren’t purely “social” in nature.

This reached the point that Mr Morris started detailed questioning of Ms Rosen about groundwater to undermine her evidence on community gardens. She turned the tables remarking that she had studied hydrology at university and knew quite a lot about the topic. Success at gardening was a rewarding activity – seeing one’s efforts swept away was deflating.

In the afternoon, the focus was on the extent of “adequate consultation” and whether putting out lots of information saying “this is what we are going to do” met the test of real consultation. The late addition of the Ormond Rd ramp to the design was a clear example that despite having supposedly consulted, the LMA changed the plans because they decided queuing in the tunnel was a problem.

For more detail of this day long duel, check out the summary on our Live Blog page.

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